By Robert Wilson
Allen Pavatte has been a head baseball coach for 31 years, including the last 13 years at Madison-Ridgeland Academy, but this year has been a first for him.
Five key players – senior pitcher-first baseman and Ole Miss signee Jackson Evers, senior pitcher and Pearl River Community College signee Brennan Jones, junior outfielder-third baseman John Witt Snopek, junior outfielder and Meridian CC commitment Ethan Mallett and junior pitcher and Meridian CC commitment Ryan Carpenter, a transfer from St. Andrew’s – have missed time this season with injuries.
“I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Pavatte, who has won two MAIS state titles at MRA (2012 and 2016) and finished runner-up to Prep for the past three seasons for the Class 6A championship. “Getting these guys back has been a slow process.”
But there is hope. Evers – a member of the PriorityOne Bank/MSB Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team – isn’t 100 percent, but he pitched the best game since the first start of the season last Tuesday against Presbyterian Christian School. (4 innings, 2 hits, 0 runs). He has missed four games due to illness and injury. Evers has been hit by pitch 10 times this season, including several to the head. He got staples taken out Friday, Pavatte said.
Snopek – son of MRA assistant coach and former major leaguer Chris Snopek – came back with a bang Friday. Snopek – who had been out since late February with an upper back injury – had five hits, including three doubles, and 10 runs batted in in a doubleheader sweep over PCS last week. Snopek hit a bases-loaded double in the bottom of the seventh to tie the game as MRA scored four runs to win 14-13.
“JW has been swinging the bat off and on,” Pavatte said. “His injury really hurt when he was hitting, but he’s back free of pain now.”
Snopek, who started at third base last season as a sophomore, played right field and designated hitter against PCS because freshman Will Bizot has had an outstanding year at third base. Bizot – son of Mississippi College athletic director Kenny Bizot – is hitting .355 and playing solid defensively.
“Bizot been a pleasant surprise,” Pavatte said. “We knew he was going to be a good player for us defensively, but he has hit well for us. He missed a lot of time because he played varsity basketball and is learning our system, but he’s making progress.”
Two more injured players might be getting back this week. Pavatte said Jones – who has been out with a lower back injury since early March – could be used as a relief pitcher later in the week and Carpenter might pitch in the junior varsity game Tuesday. Carpenter had partial Tommy John surgery last March at St. Andrew’s and had some pain this preseason, so he hasn’t thrown since the first of February.
Mallett, who has an injured hamstring, could possibly be available for the playoffs. He has been out since mid-March.
Junior first baseman Corey Watkins has been having a terrific season. He leads the team in batting average (.391), RBIs (27), doubles (9), triples (2), and home runs (4). Junior second baseman Jack Dye is also having solid year, hitting .347 and scored a team-high 28 runs. Senior shortstop Kaleb Lipscomb – son of MRA assistant Chad Lipscomb – is hitting .325 with 22 runs scored and five doubles. Watkins and Lipscomb had six hits each and Dye scored six runs in the doubleheader sweep of PCS last week.
Junior Drew Lambert (3-1 record and a 3.80 earned run average) and freshman Jack Poole (3-0 and 3.68 ERA) have been the top pitchers. Poole has been a pleasant surprise for Pavatte. Lambert has been a consistent starter this season after having an excellent sophomore season last year (9-0, 2.78 ERA).
Despite the injuries, MRA is still fighting for a high seed in the playoffs. The Patriots have a 16-9 overall record – with five losses to MHSAA Class 6A schools and three to five-time MAIS Class 6A and nationally ranked Jackson Prep. MRA is in third place with a 5-4 conference record, one game behind second place Hartfield Academy. Prep is in first at 9-0.
MRA plays JA (10-12 overall and 3-6 in league play) this week in a three game conference series. MRA visits JA in Game 1 Tuesday at 6. Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday at 7 at JA. Game 3 is scheduled for Thursday at 4:30 p.m. at MRA.
Said Pavatte: “We are hoping to put it together and jell at the right time.”
Getting those key players back will give MRA a much better shot of making a run at a state championship.