Photo by Chris Todd

By Robert Wilson

By Robert Wilson

       MADISON – Jackson Prep had one of the most explosive lineups in the country with a .396 team batting average, a .504 team on base percentage and was averaging 10 runs per game going into Wednesday.

       Those dangerous hitters came through to give Prep its Mississippi record sixth consecutive MAIS Class 6A state championship.

       No. 1 seed Prep scored 10 runs in the fifth inning to break open the game and defeat No. 2 seed Madison-Ridgeland Academy 13-7 to sweep the best-of-three series Wednesday night before an estimated 1,300 at MRA.

       Prep – ranked No. 19 in the country by Perfect Game – finished 31-4, won for the 22nd time in the last 24 games and defeated MRA in all five meetings this season. This was Prep’s 22nd state title in school history. MRA finished 23-12 and finished state runner-up to Prep for the fourth consecutive season. MRA last won a state title in 2016.

       Prep’s decisive 10-run inning was MRA’s undoing. MRA had just scored three runs to bounce back to tie the game at 3-3 all in the bottom of the fourth inning. Prep had five hits and MRA used four pitchers who walked five and hit three more in the inning.

       Prep had 11 hits and had 12 other baserunners (eight walks, three hit by pitch and one MRA error) Wednesday despite not having its best hitter, junior shortstop-pitcher Konnor Griffin – the No. 1 player in the country in the Class of 2024 by Perfect Game – who played shortstop but didn’t hit (still recovering from a strain in his non-throwing shoulder). Griffin hit a team-high .537 this season.

       Senior second baseman and Meridian Community College signee Matthew Cochran had three hits and three runs batted in. Senior centerfielder and Mississippi State signee Rives Reynolds and senior pitcher-first baseman Graham Busbea had two hits each. Reynolds scored two runs and Busbea scored two runs and had two RBIs. Junior left fielder Peyton Puckett hit a two-run home run, scored two runs, and had three RBIs.

       Prep’s powerful lineup had two hitters over .500 (Griffin and Busbea at .510) and two others over .400 (senior catcher and South Alabama signee Duncan Mathews at .488, sophomore third baseman Tre Bryant at .448).

       Wednesday was the 16th time this season Prep had scored 10 runs or more. Griffin scored 43 runs and Reynolds 42 this season.

       “I can’t say enough about these guys, just how hard they work and how much fun it was to watch them celebrate,” said Prep coach Brent Heavener, who now has won six state titles in six years of playing for a state title (not counting the covid year of 2020). We have some of the best coaches and players in the state and it just shows tonight how dominant this run has been.

       “We put together some graded bats in the fifth inning, put pressure on their pitchers and we just kept scoring. Our players work hard at it every day to make pitchers throw strikes.

       “For this group of seniors did not lose a state championship is truly impressive. We’re going to miss them. We are so proud of them and can’t wait to see what the future holds for them. We are going to take a few weeks and enjoy this one before we get back to work.”

       “We challenge every hitter to have more walks and hit by pitches than strikeouts,” said Prep associate head coach and hitting coach Jay Powell, who pitched in the major leagues for 11 seasons. “We want our hitters to really value to walk. They’ve really bought into that the last few years. This was probably one of the most complete offensive teams I’ve coached. We only had five sacrifice bunts, compared to 43 home runs, that tells you how explosive this team was.”

       Prep used five pitchers – Busbea, senior left-hander and Hinds CC signee Ford McDaniel, sophomore left-hander Matthew McKinley, sophomore left-hander Cole Gideon and Bryant – to limit MRA to five hits. McDaniel was credited with the pitching win.

Prep used five pitchers – Busbea, senior left-hander and Hinds CC signee Ford McDaniel, sophomore left-hander Matthew McKinley, sophomore left-hander Cole Gideon and Bryant – to limit MRA to five hits. McDaniel was credited with the pitching win.

       Mathews, Prep’s captain, was a part of three state title teams.

       “The feeling of winning a state championship is always amazing,” said Mathews, who was the starting second baseman on last year’s state title team and switched to catcher this year, replacing senior Eli Berch. “It is a type of feeling that a lot of people don’t really get to understand. Being able to dogpile on someone else’s field was also a type of feeling that I have never had before. I’m proud that I was fortunate enough to be able to be on three different teams that have won a championship and that feeling will never get old.

       “Our offense is always able to take advantage of the other team’s mistakes. We don’t take any pitches for granted and we are able to do our job when we are up there. We are able to hit the ball 1-9 and there wasn’t a weak spot in our lineup.”

       MRA had four extra base hits, senior first baseman and Ole Miss signee Jackson Evers and junior centerfielder Nicholas Arnold hit one home run each and junior right fielder JW Snopek and senior catcher Bennett Cloud hit one double each.

       “We missed some opportunities early in the game, bases loaded with one out and didn’t score in the first inning and runners in scoring position and didn’t score in the second inning,” MRA coach Allen Pavatte said. “We tied the game in the bottom of the third, but we couldn’t throw strikes in the top of the fourth and Prep answered. That’s what good teams do. We couldn’t stop them. It snowballed on us. I was proud that our kids didn’t give up.”

MRA played difficult non-conference schedule – eight MHSAA Class 6A teams – and battled injuries to five key players who missed many games during the season but got on a roll in conference play and finished second to Prep in the regular season with a 10-5 record.

       Pavatte was proud of how his team battled this season, which fell one series short of his third state title. Pavatte has won state titles in 2012 and 2016 in his 11 seasons at MRA.

       “When we started the season, we didn’t know how we going to do against a tough schedule and then we had to deal with multiple injuries, starting at the end of February,” Pavatte said. “We went one stretch without our three-, four- and five-hole hitters and several pitchers. But our kids kept battling. We got hot after the Prep series and started playing well when we came back twice in the PCS (Presbyterian Christian School) series. We were playing at the end of the season.”