Photo by Brad Bridges

By Robert Wilson

       Six-time defending MAIS Class 6A state champion and No. 4 nationally ranked Jackson Prep and Hartfield Academy – the top two ranked baseball teams in Mississippi – collide in a three-game conference series this week.

       Prep – ranked No. 4 nationally by MaxPreps and SBlive – has a 26-2 overall record, an 11-game winning streak and a 6-0 league mark. The Patriots’ only two losses are to a pair of MHSAA Class 7A teams – Tupelo and Ocean Springs. Prep has won 25 games in a row against MAIS teams since a 12-2 loss to Presbyterian Christian School last season in Game 2 of the 6A state semifinals. The Patriots haven’t lost a regular season conference series since 2019 when Jackson Academy took two of three from Prep in the regular season.

       Hartfield – ranked No. 2 in Mississippi by MaxPreps right behind Prep – has a 22-3 overall record, a seven-game winning streak and a 6-0 league mark. Hartfield’s losses are to MHSAA Class 7A Gulfport, MHSAA Class 6A Warren Central and Prep in a non-conference game. The Hawks have lost 12 consecutive games to Prep and haven’t won since a 5-4 regular season game in 2020. Hartfield lost to Prep 9-0, 7-4, 12-11 and 8-4 last season.

Photo by Brad Bridges

       Game 1 is scheduled for Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Prep. Prep senior right-hander and LSU signee Konnor Griffin (a 6-0 record, a 0.37 earned run average) and Hartfield senior left-hander and Hinds Community College signee Reid Gaston (2-2, 2.60 ERA) are the scheduled starting pitchers.

       Game 2 is scheduled for Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Hartfield and Game 3 Friday at 6 p.m. at Prep.

       Griffin – projected to be the No. 8 selection and first high school player taken in July’s Major League Baseball Draft by – is Prep’s leader. He has a .577 batting average (sixth in Mississippi), 55 runs (first in the country), a school record 61 stolen bases (first in the country), 22 runs batted in, 10 doubles, 1 triple, 7 home runs (tied for seventh in the country), 34 walks, a .718 on-base percentage (second in Mississippi), a 1.042 slugging percentage (third in Mississippi) and only five strikeouts in 110 plate appearances. He has 69 strikeouts (fifth in Mississippi) and only 13 walks in 38 innings 

       He was the only high school player out of 45 players – the other 44 were college players – named last week by USA Baseball to the Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List, an award for the nation’s most outstanding amateur player. 

       Other top players from Prep are junior third baseman-pitcher Tre Bryant (.432, 29 runs, 7 doubles, a team-high 38 RBIs, 1-0 pitching record, 2 saves, 1.75 ERA), senior outfielder Peyton Puckett (.429, 34 RBIs, 6 doubles, 4 home runs), junior outfielder-pitcher Gardner Young (.365, 5 doubles, 2 triples, 4 home runs, 7-0, 3.23 ERA) and junior first baseman-pitcher Matthew “Ham” McKinley (.343, 9 doubles, 5-0, 1.64 ERA).

Photo by Brad Bridges

       Hartfield is led by junior centerfielder Sam Sheffield (a team-high .391 batting average and a team-high 25 runs), junior shortstop Graham Jackson (.378, team-high 8 doubles), pitcher-first baseman Reid Gaston (.368, team-high 22 RBIs), senior pitcher-third baseman and Hinds CC signee Sam Stumph (9-0, 1.73 ERA, .366) and Stumph’s twin brother, senior pitcher and Hinds CC signee Cole Stumph (5-0, 0.96 ERA).

       “This should be a really good series this week,” said Prep coach Brent Heavener, who is in his eighth season at Prep as head coach after being promoted from an assistant when Chuck Box left for Hartfield. “Both teams are undefeated in conference and playing really good baseball. It’s the kind of matchup you like to see. Our guys are fired up and excited to play. We feel like when Konnor is on the mound, we have a chance. These are the games he loves to pitch in.

       “(Hartfield) Coach (Justin) Smith does a really good job over there. He’ll have his guys ready to go and it should be one of the best matchups in the state this week.”

       “I’m really excited to watch our guys play right now,” said Hartfield coach Justin Smith, who is in his third season as head coach after being promoted from assistant when Box left to become the director of player personnel at Texas A&M. “They are relaxed and loose and playing at a high level.

       “Brent has done a really good job keeping their team a powerhouse year in and year out. New guys get their chance in his lineup and have immediate production. That proves that he has a good system and culture around that program.”