Photos by Chris Todd
Story by Robert Wilson

MADISON – The Madison-Ridgeland Academy baseball team went into “chill” mode last week during its bye week as the No. 2 seed in the MAIS Class 6A playoffs.

But Tuesday night, the Patriots turned on the heat when the lights came on in the first game of their best-of-three semifinal series against Jackson Academy.

MRA banged out nine hits – including three home runs – took advantage of seven walks and two hit batsmen by three JA pitchers to roll to a 16-5 victory in five innings at MRA.

MRA improved to 34-4 and has won 14 of its last 15 games. No. 3 seed JA dropped to 21-13. MRA’s only loss in those 15 games was a 10-5 decision to JA April 22 in the third game of its three game, regular season series. MRA won the first two games, 4-3 and 19-15.

MRA and JA meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. in Game 2 of this best of three series. MRA’s scheduled starting pitcher is sophomore Drew Lambert (7-0, 2.66 earned run average). JA will go with either junior Clayton White (2-5, 7.69 ERA) or senior Grayson Lee (4-2, 3.83 ERA).

MRA scored three unearned runs in the first inning, 10 runs in the third inning and two in the fifth to 10-run rule JA.

MRA senior catcher Conner Stewart, the cleanup hitter, led the hitting Tuesday with a run-scoring double in the first, a single and a three-run home run off the scoreboard in left field in the third. Stewart improved his batting average to .394, leads the team with 43 RBIs and has six home runs, second only to senior outfielder and South Carolina football and baseball signee Stone Blanton.

But Stewart and his MRA teammates took last week to relax a little. “It was a real chill week,” Stewart said. “We still were very intentional with our practices, but instead of intersquading like we had in the past, we did live at bats and didn’t go 100 percent.

“We let JA hang around during the regular season series and we knew we needed to jump on them offensively tonight.”

“You never know when you took a week of what it’s going to do to you and not playing,” MRA coach Allen Pavatte said. “Our focus last week was we wanted to rest our guys. We’ve had a long season. We’ve played 37 games. No rainouts. So we haven’t had any days off. We kind of got them to take care of their bodies rather than play and scrimmage and all that kind of stuff. I was proud of the fact they came out today and had the energy and we swung the bats well.

“Connor has been a steady hitter for us all year. I think he’s one of the best catchers in the area. He has been stellar for us this year. He’s an under the radar guy, but he’s hit almost 400 all year long.”

Blanton had a three-run home run in the third inning and ended the game with another home run in the fifth, but it only counted as a two RBI single because of the 10-run rule.Sophomore first baseman Corey Watkins hit a two RBI home run and a single and had four RBIs. Senior left field and Northwest Mississippi Community College signee Peyton Martin, MRA’s leading hitter with a .450 batting average, did not get a hit, but scored three runs and leads Mississippi with 53 runs scored and tied for 13th in the nation, according to MaxPreps.

Junior right-hander and Ole Miss commitment Jackson Evers got the complete game, pitching victory to improve to 8-2.

“We gave them some walks and errors here and there and we ran up our pitch counts,” JA coach Parker Harris said. “They swung the bats well tonight. They have a great team. Our kids will bounce back and be ready for tomorrow and play them at home and see what happens. It’s do or die. We will leave it all out there tomorrow. One mistake led to several runs. That’s kind of been our season. A walk here, a hit batter there, an error here and it opens the floodgates. They did a good job tonight of taking advantage of it.”

Senior right fielder and Mississippi State football and baseball signee Dakota Jordan hit his school record 16th home run of the season with a three-run shot in the fourth inning. Jordan, who is rated as the 30th top high school prospect in the Major League Draft by Athlon Sports, is tied for third in the nation in home runs – one behind the leaders – according to MaxPreps. He also is four short of the MAIS home run record, set by Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Hunter Renfroe, who hit 20 as a senior at Copiah Academy in 2010.

Jordan is close to breaking three more school records. He is one short of RBIs record (56 by Matt Denny in 2011), two short of hits record (55 by Edwin Smith in 2018), two short of doubles record (16 by Denny in 2011). Jordan will break school records for batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage this season. He has a .525 batting average, a .639 on-base percentage and a 1.198 slugging percentage.