Jackson Prep hosted the baseball version of the Patriots battle against Madison-Ridgeland Academy on Tuesday, March 28, 2023

By Robert Wilson

       FLOWOOD – Jackson Prep’s Konnor Griffin – the No. 1 player in the country in the Class of 2024 – said his plan was to dominate Madison-Ridgeland Academy in Game 1 of the MAIS Class 6A conference series in a rematch of last year’s state championship series.

       Griffin – whose fastball was clocked as fast as 96 miles per hour on the Prep’s radar gun throughout the game – accomplished his goal as he allowed only four hits and one earned run with 10 strikeouts and one walk in six innings to lead the five-time defending 6A state champion and nationally ranked Prep to a 9-2 victory Tuesday night at Prep.

       Not only did Griffin dominate on the mound, he hit a solo home run in the sixth inning and a double in the fourth inning and made an outstanding defensive play from shortstop in the seventh inning after senior pitcher and Hinds Community College signee Ford McDaniel replaced him on the mound.

       Prep – ranked No. 30 in the nation by Perfect Game – improved to 13-3 overall and 1-0 in league play. Prep is 7-0 vs. MAIS teams and 3-1 vs. MHSAA teams with its loss to 6A George County. Prep’s other two losses were to out of state teams.

MRA dropped to 11-6 overall and 0-1 in league play. MRA has a 5-1 record vs. MAIS teams and a 4-5 record vs. MHSAA teams.

The two teams meet Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at MRA and Friday at 6 p.m. at Prep. Prep is scheduled to start senior right-hander Graham Busbea (0-0 record, 1.75 earned run average). MRA has not announced a starter. Prep defeated MRA two games to one last season in the 6A state championship series. Prep has defeated MRA for the last three seasons in the state title series.

       The 6-foot-4, 205-pound Griffin – rated as the No. 1 player in the country in the Class of 2024 by Perfect Game – looked the part Tuesday. The LSU commitment had control of his fastball and his slider and kept ahead in the count of the MRA hitters. He threw only 79 pitches, 56 for strikes. Griffin allowed three singles and a home run (junior centerfielder Nicholas Arnold’s solo homer in the fourth inning). Griffin came into Tuesday with a 2-1 record, a 2.67 earned run average with 22 strikeouts and six walks in 12 2/3 innings. Not bad for a guy who doesn’t have his legs back yet from leading his team to the Overall Tournament championship in basketball and was the team’s leader in several offensive categories.

       “I thought Konnor did a good job in the zone tonight getting ahead,” said Prep coach Brent Heavener, who has been been a part of eight state championships at Prep, five as a head coach and three as an assistant under Chuck Box. “The only time he had trouble was when he got behind a couple of times. It was good to see him come out and strike out 10 and only have 79 pitches.”

       “I just wanted to be a dog on the mound tonight,” Griffin said. “I wanted to control the game and dominate. It was important that I got ahead in the count, and I felt like I did that the majority of the time. I felt like my fastball was really jumping out of my hand tonight and my slider felt great. I was able to find a good release point early in the ball game and was able to pitch backwards to some hitters tonight by getting ahead with the slider and then it seemed like they started guessing a little bit.”

       Prep, which came in with a .409 team batting average on the season, scored four runs in the first inning and never trailed. Senior catcher and South Alabama signee Duncan Mathews walked to lead off the inning, senior centerfielder and Mississippi State signee Rives Reynolds hit a one-out triple, senior second baseman and Hinds CC signee Matthew Cochran hit a double, sophomore third baseman and Orange Beach, Ala., transfer Tre’ Bryant walked, and junior left fielder Peyton Puckett hit run-scoring double.

       Mathews, who was hitting a team-high .561 before Tuesday, hit a three-run home run in the fourth for a 7-2 lead. Bryant, who came in hitting .455, added a solo homer in the fifth and Griffin, who came in hitting .541, hit Prep’s third homer in the sixth.

       “I thought we did a good job at the plate and our hitters battled when they needed to,” Heavener said. “We were able to jump on some good pitches and score runs and keep building off of the four run first inning.”

       “As a team, when we are selective offensively and swinging at strikes, there’s not as easy out in our lineup,” Griffin said. “Right now, everyone is being patient and doing a good job working the count in their favor.”

       Meanwhile, MRA struggled. The Patriots were missing five key players Tuesday, senior pitcher-first baseman and Ole Miss signee Jackson Evers, junior third baseman JW Snopek, junior outfielder and Meridian CC commitment Ethan Mallett and senior pitcher and Pearl River CC signee Brennan Jones and junior pitcher, St. Andrew’s transfer and Meridian CC commitment Ryan Carpenter. MRA coach Allen Pavette said Jackson was sick and Snopek, Mallett, Jones and Carpenter are injured and not sure when they will be back.

       “We competed tonight, and we were three big hits from it being a 2-2 game,” Pavette said. “We hope to get all these players back before the end of the season and have a full team for the playoffs.”