By Robert Wilson
Photos by Robert Smith and Chris Todd
Even the top-rated freshman baseball player in the country – Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin – needs help from his teammates to win a game, especially a key MAIS Class 6A Conference battle with Metro Jackson rival Madison-Ridgeland Academy.
Griffin was the winning pitcher – he allowed four hits and no earned runs with seven strikeouts in six innings – and got on base three times and scored two runs, including the eventual winning run, to lead four-time MAIS defending state champion Prep to a 4-3 victory over MRA Friday afternoon in the first game of a doubleheader at MRA in Madison.
But Griffin had plenty of help, especially in the bottom of the seventh inning with the game on the line. Junior left hander Ford McDaniel replaced Griffin to start the seventh and allowed one hit and no runs and picked up his second save of the season. But McDaniel got some major help from his defense. MRA junior first baseman and Ole Miss commitment Jackson Evers – the ninth hitter in the lineup – ripped a McDaniel pitch to the base of the wall in centerfield to open the inning. But Prep junior centerfielder Rives Reynolds made a quick play on the ball off the wall, fired to junior shortstop Owen Abney, who relayed to junior second baseman Duncan Mathews, who tagged a sliding Evers for the first out of the inning.
“Rives is a very good outfielder with good speed,” Prep coach Brent Heavener said. “We work on that all the time, making sure you are looking up and making a good throw. That was a great relay by Owen and Duncan. That’s what you want your players to do. Make the plays when it counts.”
MRA junior right fielder Kaleb Lipscomb – the leadoff hitter – grounded out to senior first baseman Jagger Mooneyham – who replaced Owen Ishee in the sixth inning – and MRA sophomore Nicholas Arnold popped out to Abney for the final out.
“Ford has been really good out of the bullpen,” Heavener said. “We really like him. He’s a change of speed from Konnor and it affects you as a hitter. The leadoff guys had seen Konner three times and we didn’t want them to see him a fourth time. We knew Ford would keep them off balance.”
Griffin – the No. 1 rated freshman in the country by Perfect Game – came into the game with a 3-1 record and an 0.40 earned run average and 29 strikeouts and only seven walks in 17.1 innings. Also a shortstop and Prep’s leadoff hitter, Griffin entered Friday hitting .435 with six doubles, two triples, 21 runs scored, 10 stolen bases and a .600 on base percentage. He has struck out only four times in 65 at bats – the least number of strikeouts among the regular starters – and walked a team-high 13 times.
“Konnor is a bulldog out there,” Heavener said. “He didn’t have his best stuff. Probably the first time this year he has been challenged in the heat of the moment. We were just hoping to get four or five innings out of him. He came in in the fifth and said he wanted the sixth. And when your guy says that, you let him go. The fastball had a little more life as the game went on.
“We talked to our guys about staying with it (when MRA jumped out to a 3-0 lead after one inning. It’s a long game. We’ve got to find ways to get runs. I thought we did that. We didn’t get them all at once. We took our time. We stayed in the game and that’s what I was proud of.”
“We came out and good approaches early and as the game went on, we got away from what we did well in the first part of the game,” MRA coach Allen Pavette said after the first game. “All night long, they were constantly coming at us. We didn’t keep going after them. You’ve got to tip the hat to them. They didn’t quit when they got down 3-0. They kept battling, battling, and battling. That’s something our team has to learn how to do. We have a good team, we just haven’t figured that out how to step it up to the next level.”
MRA jumped out to its 3-0 lead in the first, but Prep battled back with two runs in the third – senior catcher and Louisiana Tech signee Eli Berch had a run-scoring single – and two runs in the sixth – Berch added another a run-scoring single to score Griffin with the eventual winning run.
MRA bounced back to win the second game of the doubleheader 5-4 over Prep to break Prep’s eight game winning streak. Prep made it close in the seventh when senior left fielder and Louisiana Monroe signee Trey Bridges scored on a throwing error to make it 5-4. Prep had the tying run at second and the go ahead run at second with two outs when junior left hander Graham Heard struck out Mooneyham to end the game.
Prep junior third baseman Matthew Cochran had six hits in the doubleheader to lead both teams in hitting.
Prep, ranked No. 21 in the nation by Perfect Game, is now 17-5 overall and 2-1 in conference play. MRA is now 21-3 and 1-2. Prep plays Hartfield Academy and MRA plays Parklane next week in a pair of three game Class 6A conference series. Both Prep and MRA are on the road Tuesday and play a doubleheader at home next Friday.