By Robert Wilson
Ryan Herbison wasn’t wearing a Superman cape Sunday afternoon in the MHSAA Class 6A state championship series, but he put on a super heroic type effort.
Said Northwest Rankin coach KK Aldridge: “That outing will go down as probably one of the gutsiest performances I’ve witnessed as a high school coach.”
Herbison, a Northwest Rankin senior right-handed pitcher and Hinds Community College signee, made his first start of the season and scattered eight hits with five strikeouts and only one walk in seven innings to lead nationally ranked Northwest Rankin to a 3-2 victory over Desoto Central in the deciding, Game 3 of the 6A state championship series at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
For his outstanding performance, Herbison has been named the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Baseball Player of the Week.
Herbison missed last year’s state playoffs when he suffered a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder, but he has had a healthy and productive senior season.
Herbison came into Sunday without giving up an earned run all season. He had made 13 appearances, all in relief, and thrown 16 2/3 innings with 31 strikeouts and only four walks this season. He showed tremendous endurance Sunday, throwing 107 pitches, 73 for strikes, for the complete game victory. With the tying runner on second base with one out, Herbison struck out Desoto Central’s No. 4 and 5 hitters, senior right fielder and Mississippi State signee Brock Tapper and senior designated hitter Ryan Musselwhite, to clinch the championship.
Herbison also pitched the final three outs – all three by strikeout – in Northwest Rankin’s 9-4 victory Friday night in Game 1 of the series.
“Ryan told me Saturday night after we lost that he wanted the ball on Sunday,” Aldridge said. “That’s what you want as a coach is a player that wants the ball in his hand. I was a little concerned about him running out of gas because he hadn’t that long an outing since we mainly used him as our closer (two innings was his longest this season before Sunday). We had recently started expanding his live bullpens in case we needed him to have a longer outing. I never really envisioned him going all seven like he did in the decisive game though. Ryan told me walking into the stadium that day that I didn’t need to worry about relief. He backed it up with his dominating outing.
“Ryan attacked the zone early in the count. We didn’t use too many waste pitches even ahead in the counts because we wanted him to be able to give us as many innings as possible. We had a couple of other guys ready to go, but Ryan looked just as sharp in the seventh as he did in the early innings.”
Herbison, who started in centerfield all season, hit .293 with 22 runs scored, 16 runs batted in, 6 doubles, 1 home run and 24 stolen bases and made only 1 error this season.
Northwest Rankin – ranked No. 5 in the nation by Baseball America, No. 6 by Collegiate Baseball, No. 8 by MaxPreps and No. 25 by Perfect Game – finished 34-3 and won 24 of its last 25 games. It was the second consecutive year the Cougars had played in the 6A state championship series, losing to Madison Central last season. It was the first state baseball title since longtime coach Jeff McClaskey led Northwest Rankin to a state title and a No. 6 national ranking in 2005.