By Robert Wilson
Photos by Brandon Jackson

       Madison Central is one of the hottest baseball teams in Mississippi right now and that’s bad news for the rest of the MHSAA Class 6A teams.

       The Jaguars won their seventh game in a row with a 5-4 victory over Southaven to complete a sweep in the best of three series in the first round of the 6A state playoffs Friday night at Madison Central in Madison.

       Madison Central, the No. 3 team from Region 4, improved to 14-14 and meets Oxford, 20-8 and the No. 1 team from Region 1, next week in a best-of-three series. The teams are scheduled to play Game 1 Tuesday at Oxford, Game 2 Friday at Madison Central and Game 3, if necessary, Saturday at Oxford. Southaven, the No. 2 team from Region 3, finished 12-16-1.

       Madison Central – which was ranked No. 1 in the country in the final poll two years ago when these seniors were sophomores – are rolling. In a surprising turnaround, the Jaguars were 7-14 before they put it together and haven’t lost since losing three straight region games to Clinton, the last one on April 1.

       Madison Central defeated perennial Class 4A power West Lauderdale, 6A Region 6 champion Warren Central and defending 6A state champion Northwest Rankin before starting the playoffs this week.

       Madison Central junior right-handed pitcher and first baseman-third baseman Chase Russell – a Southern Miss commitment who was named the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Player of the Week this week – threw a no-hitter and hit his seventh home run of the season in a 11-0 victory over Southaven in five innings in Game 1 Monday at Southaven.

       “Our guys have played much better the past few weeks,” said Madison Central coach Patrick Robey, who was named National Coach of the Year two years ago. “The young guys are gaining confidence and the seniors have gotten experience. We are in a good position, playing good baseball in the later part of the season.”

       Madison Central senior right-handed pitcher and Pearl River Community College signee Reed McGrillis, sophomore right-handed pitcher Gavin Parrow and Russell combined for a five-hitter with 10 strikeouts to hold off Southaven Friday.

       “Reed was not his best, but he pitched well enough to give us a chance,” Robey said. “We talk to a lot of our pitchers about the fact that they will seldom actually have their “A” game and they have to find a way to compete with their “B” and “C” game. He did that. We didn’t have a great night offensively but their guy, (senior pitcher Chapman) Whatley, was good so that had a lot to do with it.”

       Madison Central also made some big defensive plays.

       “We executed a crucial rundown between second and third with our middle infield (Caleb Thompson, Will Jackson and Chase Russell),” Robey said. “(Catcher) Walker Robey (son of head coach Patrick Robey) erased a base runner attempting to steal early in the game and (senior and Hinds CC signee) Thomas Nichols made a tough catch in left field). A 1-2-3 (pitcher-catcher-first base) double play helped us get out of a jam in the middle innings.”

       Madison Central scored three runs in the first inning and added two more in the third to take a 5-1 lead and held off Southaven. Southaven scored two runs in the fourth inning and one in the fifth inning. Southaven had the tying run at first base in the seventh inning.