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Photos by Robert Smith and Hays Collins
Story by Robert Wilson
Jackson Prep senior right-hander and Mississippi State signee Will Gibbs finished Tuesday night’s game with Madison-Ridgeland Academy the same way he did in last year’s MAIS state championship game – getting the last out to clinch the victory.
But unlike last year when Gibbs only pitched the final and seventh inning, he threw the complete game.
Gibbs scattered seven hits, allowed only one run and struck out eight and walked just two to lead four-time defending MAIS state champion Prep to a 3-1 victory in the first Class 6A conference game of the season before an estimated 500 at Prep in Flowood.
Prep – ranked No. 21 in the nation by Perfect Game – improved to 16-3 and won its seventh straight game. MRA dropped to 20-2 and broke a nine-game winning streak. The two teams will play a doubleheader Friday at 4:30 p.m. at MRA in Madison.
Gibbs pitched the final inning of last year’s 5-1 Prep victory over MRA to sweep the best-of-three series for the 5A state title. Prep finished 34-3 and won its 14th straight game while MRA finished 27-11.
Prep lost its top two starting pitchers Riley Maddox and Mason Nichols – both now pitching for Ole Miss – from that state championship team last season, but Gibbs is back in a new role as the senior and number one starter. Gibbs – a member of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite 11 Team – is Prep’s ace. He improved to 3-1. Gibbs has a 0.85 earned run average with 65 strikeouts and only 12 walks in 33 1/3 innings this season.
“I thought Will proved way he’s the true ace of our staff,” Prep coach Brent Heavener said. “He didn’t have his best stuff, but he found a way to battle and compete and got the win. Will wanted the ball with the game on the line.”
“I thought after I was able to settle in, both my fastball and slider were working very well for me and I was comfortable throwing them in all counts to keep them off balance,” Gibbs said.
“Last year, I was our third game pitcher, so a lot of time I was facing the other team’s third pitcher and we never really had any close games because our offense was able to give me such big leads most of the time. This year, I’ve embraced my role of being the ace for our team. I always face the other team’s best pitcher, which means I have to be extra dialed in because I know we may not have those huge leads that I was used to last year. I have loved getting to do that this year because I feel like I can give our team everything I have in order to win our biggest games.”
Prep scored all the runs it needed in the fourth. Junior second baseman Duncan Mathews led off with a double and senior catcher and Louisiana Tech signee Eli Berch hit a run-scoring single. Junior right fielder Graham Busbea walked and senior left fielder and Louisiana Monroe signee Trey Bridges legged out a bunt single. With one out with the bases loaded, junior first baseman Owen Ishee walked to force in Prep courtesy runner Josh White.
Bridges scored an insurance run in the sixth when MRA made a couple of errors to increase the Prep lead to 3-1.
MRA’s eighth and ninth hitters in the lineup – sophomore third baseman John Witt Snopek and senior right fielder Layton Landry – led the seventh with back-to-back singles off of Gibbs and leadoff hitter and junior shortstop Kaleb Lipscomb’s sacrifice put the tying run on second with one out. But Gibbs struck out sophomore designated hitter Nicholas Arnold on a full count and senior left fielder and Northwest Community College signee Peyton Martin – who came into the series with MRA’s highest batting average at .428 – grounded out to Prep freshman shortstop Konnor Griffin to end the threat and the game.
“In the seventh, I tried not to let the moment get too big and trust my pitches,” Gibbs said. “I was able to get a big strikeout for the second out and Konnor made a great play to get the final out of the game. Overall, it was a great team win and I was glad to do my part.”
“I thought it was a great game and a great atmosphere tonight,” Heavener said. “Two great pitchers battling it out on the mound. A couple of key plays in the game shifted it to our side. It couldn’t have gone either way. I thought it was two really good high school teams going at it. I was proud of our guys for finding ways to get runs in and score. I thought our defense played really good tonight behind Will (Prep had no errors).”
MRA junior right-hander and Ole Miss commitment Jackson Evers pitched well in a losing cause. He allowed seven hits and two earned runs with five strikeouts and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. Evers is now 3-2 and a 2.96 ERA on the season.
Snopek – son of former major league infielder and MRA assistant coach Chris Snopek – was the only MRA player with two hits. He hit a single to score senior right fielder and South Carolina signee Stone Blanton to give MRA a 1-0 lead in the second inning and had a single to lead off the seventh.
“We knew it was going to a tough game with Will pitching,” MRA coach Allen Pavette said. “He is and will be one of the best pitchers we face all year. But our kids battled and competed. We just couldn’t come up with the big hit. We had bases loaded in the sixth inning and runners on second and third in the seventh inning. Credit to Will for pitching out of some tough spots and for their defense making some great plays. It was a great high school baseball game, and we are looking forward to play again Friday.”
The projected starters for the first game Friday are freshman right-hander Konnor Griffin for Prep (4-1 record and a 0.40 earned run average) and sophomore Drew Lambert for MRA (4-0, 1.36 ERA). Griffin is rated the No. 1 player in the country in his class by Perfect Game and was on the USA 15-and-under Team this past year.