Photo by Robert Smith

By Robert Wilson

       Madison-Ridgeland Academy baseball coach Allen Pavatte has had an outstanding career with 715 wins, five state championships and eight state runner-up finishes.

       The Memphis native and former Delta State football player has his Patriots off to another great start, in his 31st season as a high school head baseball coach.

       MRA has an 8-3 record playing possibly the toughest non-conference schedule Pavatte has put together in his 13 years at MRA.

Nicholas Arnold – Photo by Robert Smith

       The Patriots defeated two MHSAA Class 7A teams Saturday with a 9-8 victory over Desoto Central and a 3-1 victory over Hernando.

       MRA has lost twice (6-3 and 3-1) to West Jones, one of the favorites to win MHSAA Class 6A state championship this season, and once (4-3 in eighth innings) to Baton Rouge Catholic, ranked in the Top 10 in the country.

       MRA lost three starters to graduation (first baseman-pitcher Jackson Evers, shortstop Caleb Lipscomb and catcher Bennett Cloud) and return a talented group, especially one of the top sophomore classes Pavatte has ever had in his coaching career.

       “This team reminds me of the one we had a couple of years ago when our three seniors – Peyton Martin, Stone Blanton and Conner Stewart – led to a 36-6 record (a school record for wins and the most wins in Pavatte’s career),” Pavatte said. “We entered this season with some questions marks, but we’ve gotten some answers.”

       The biggest question for MRA is can it reach the top of the mountain and defeat rival and Jackson Prep, which once again come in nationally ranked, led by the nation’s top high school player, pitcher-shortstop Konnor Griffin. Prep has won six consecutive state championships – a Mississippi record – and defeated MRA seven times in the state title series during Pavette’s career.

First Baseman, Corey Watkins – Photo by Robert Smith

       “We don’t talk about Prep when we start the season,” said Pavatte, who has two state titles at MRA (2012 and 2016). “Our goal is to win a state championship. We talk about how we are going to do it. That’s the approach we take every season. I tell my guys our biggest opponent is ourselves. It’s about throwing strikes, putting balls in play, and making plays. This game isn’t hard. But you can make it hard by not doing those three things.” 

       So far MRA has done all three of those things well.

       The leader is senior first baseman-relief pitcher and Northwest Mississippi Community College signee Corey Watkins – a member of the PriorityOne Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team. Watkins has a .310 batting average with 3 doubles, 8 runs scored and 3 runs batted in and a 1-1 record and one save.

       Senior outfielder Nicholas Arnold leads the team with a .333 batting average and nine RBIs. Senior second baseman and Northwest Mississippi CC signee Jack Dye is hitting .310 with a team-high 11 runs scored and has stolen a team-high 18 bases and been caught only once.

       Senior pitcher Ryan Carpenter has been the most pleasant surprise this season. Carpenter transferred from St. Andrew’s but missed last season after having Tommy John surgery. He has been outstanding so far this spring with a 0.47 earned run average and 24 strikeouts and only two walks in 15 innings. Carpenter threw a no-hitter with 13 strikeouts and only one walk in an 8-0 victory over Apalachee, Ga., in the Perfect Game High School Showdown at Hoover, Ala., two weeks ago. He allowed only two hits and no runs with six strikeouts and no walks in the first three innings against a talented Hernando lineup Saturday night.

       That’s what Pavatte is also pleased about. He’s not like he has the same lineup every game. He is experimenting with different players and different lineups and using a lot of pitchers. He is even alternating three catchers.

Jack Dye – Photo by Robert Smith

       Said Pavatte: “I’m trying to find the right pieces to the puzzle.”

       One of the most talented pieces – three-sport sensation Will Bizot – hasn’t been back for long after helping the MRA basketball team to an Overall runner-up finish. As a freshman, Bizot replaced injured JW Snopek at third base last season and hit. 333 and was solid at third base. Bizot is working his way into the lineup and will likely play either third base or shortstop.

       Bizot is just one of many sophomores expected to contribute like shortstop Alex Lambert, outfielders Gunnar Swanson and Case Thomas and pitchers Jack Poole, Jack Grove and Aiden Peets.

       Senior Drew Lambert is back for his third season as a starting pitcher and has a 1-0 record and a 1.71 ERA and 23 strikeouts with only two walks. Lambert was terrific against Baton Rouge Catholic, allowing only two hits, no runs with 10 strikeouts and one walk in five innings. Senior Camp Segrest and Poole have two wins each. 

       Pavatte’s career win total – 715 with 310 at MRA – puts him third among active coaches in Mississippi behind Manchester Academy’s Stacy Hester (969) and Sacred Heart’s Larry Watkins (932), those wins are entering this season, according to MaxPreps. That doesn’t count Mississippi’s all-time leader, former West Lauderdale High coach Jerry Boatner, who is in his second season coaching in Georgia. Boatner has 1,205 victories entering this season, according to MaxPreps.

       “I’ve coached a lot of games and I still enjoy it,” said Pavatte, who coached two seasons at his alma mater Skyview Academy, eight years at Covington High (Tenn.) and eight years at Briarcrest Christian (Tenn.) before coming to MRA. “My goal is to win another state championship.”

       Pavatte’s tough scheduling could pay off with a state title. The first test is later this month when MRA plays Prep in a three-game series to open Class 6A conference play. Game One is scheduled for March 26 at MRA.

       “Prep is very good, but this league is as tough as it’s ever been,” Pavatte said. “It’s going to be a battle every week.”

       But first MRA is on the Mississippi Gulf Coast this week and plays MHSAA Class 5A Vancleave Monday, Tennessee private school St. George and MHSAA Class 7A Gulfport Tuesday and MHSAA Class 6A Center Hill Wednesday.