Sponsored by Performance Therapy
By Robert Wilson
Photos by Hays Collins
Northwest Rankin High’s baseball team is nationally ranked in four high school polls – No. 12 by Baseball America, No. 14 by MaxPreps, No. 25 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 32 by Perfect Game.
For the third time this season, Rankin County rival Brandon found out firsthand why the Cougars have received so much national attention.
Northwest Rankin banged out 14 hits and took advantage of eight free passes (six walks and two hits batsmen) off four Brandon pitchers for a 12-7 victory in the first game of the best-of-three series in the MHSAA Class 6A semifinals Saturday night before an estimated 1,500 at Brandon’s Vinson Field.
Northwest Rankin improved to 31-2 and won its 22nd consecutive game. Brandon dropped to 26-7. Northwest Rankin defeated Brandon 10-2 and 2-1 during the regular season. The two teams meet Sunday at 3 p.m. in the second game of the playoff series at Northwest Rankin in Flowood. A third game, if necessary, is scheduled for Monday at 7 p.m. at Brandon.
Northwest Rankin is trying to reach the Class 6A state championship series for the second consecutive season. The Cougars lost to Madison Central last year for the state title. Northwest Rankin last won a state championship in 2005 under long time Cougar coach Jeff McClaskey.
Brandon hasn’t been this far in the playoffs since Coach Stacy Hester took the Bulldogs to the semifinals in 2014 before losing to Oak Grove.
Northwest Rankin set the tone early with three runs in the top of the first inning when the Cougars sent nine batters to the plate.
Starting and winning pitcher, senior right-hander and Southern Miss signee Nick Monistere – a member of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team – helped himself with a double and scored on senior catcher and Meridian Community College signee Brady Thomas’ single for a 4-1 Northwest Rankin lead in the second inning. Monistere hit a three-run home run – his team-leading eighth of the season – to give Northwest Rankin a 10-1 lead in the fifth inning.
Monistere improved to 10-1 this season with an outstanding pitching performance. He allowed five hits and one run – Brandon senior second baseman and leadoff hitter Mo Little hit his team-high eighth home run of the season in the first inning – and struck out seven. Monistere has a 1.25 earned run average and has 108 strikeouts and only 19 walks in 67 innings.
“I thought our team came out focused and had great intensity,” said second-year Northwest Rankin coach KK Aldridge, who was named the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Coach of the Year last season. “Coming out and scoring three runs in the first was huge. I was very pleased with how we swung the bat 1-9 tonight. Even some of our outs were hit on the nose. One guy that was really big tonight was Chase Brown. He hasn’t had many at bats this year but stepped in and his two-run single in the first was huge. He also added a RBI single later in the game. Being able to extend several times and add to the lead proved to be huge once that last out started trying to allude us.”
“I felt like everything was clicking tonight,” Monistere said. “They came out hot with a homer and after that I thought we were lights out. Our bats were clicking 1-9 all night long. Tomorrow is going to be a dogfight and I couldn’t be more excited about it.”
“Nick was tremendous on the mound,” Aldridge said. “He is such a competitor out there. Nick gives you everything he has every time he is on the mound. He can throw any pitch in any count, which makes him tough to hit. Nick also had some good swings at the plate. His three-run home run gave us some separation we needed.”
Thomas led the Northwest Rankin hitting parade with three hits. Monistere, senior second baseman and Jones CC signee Evan Rogers, senior first baseman and Copiah-Lincoln CC signee Christian Cameron, junior designated hitter Chase Brown and senior centerfielder and Hinds CC signee Ryan Herbison had two hits each. Monistere and Brown and three runs batted in each and junior right fielder and Hinds CC commitment Dawson Munzenmay had two RBIs. Rogers and courtesy runners, senior Christopher Tillman and sophomore Bryson Jones, scored two runs each.
Brandon scored six runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh against a couple of Northwest Rankin relief pitchers.
Little had his home run in the first inning, singled in the fifth and walked and scored in the seventh.