(FIRST AND SECOND TEAMS ARE LISTED BELOW)
Robert Wilson spent 23 years at The Clarion-Ledger/Jackson Daily News as a sportswriter with more than half of those years covering high school sports, mostly in the Metro Jackson area. He helped choose the All-Metro teams in various sports for more than a decade. Wilson rebirthed this team with Mississippi Scoreboard last year. This year’s Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard All-Metro Jackson Baseball Team has 28 players and a Coach and Player of the Year. With the help of high school and college coaches, Wilson selected the best players from Hinds, Madison and Rankin Counties.
By Robert Wilson
Braden Montgomery and KK Aldridge were both heavily involved in the MHSAA Class 6A state championship baseball series this season at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Montgomery was the star player and wearing blue and orange for Madison Central. Aldridge was the head coach and wearing black and gold for Northwest Rankin. They were battling against each other with everything they had.
Today, the talented duo are on the same team. Montgomery and Aldridge have been named the Player and Coach of the Year on the 2021 Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard All Metro Jackson Baseball Team.
Montgomery, a senior right-handed pitcher and outfielder considered one of the top high school players in the country and ranked in the Top 65 for the upcoming Major League Baseball draft, hit .479 and an 9-0 record with a 0.74 earned run average. The Stanford signee and switch-hitter led Madison Central to a 34-2 record, the 6A state title and a No. 1 national ranking by Baseball America.
Aldridge, in his first year as head coach at Northwest Rankin, led the Cougars to a 27-9 record and a 6A state championship appearance for the first time since 2005. Aldridge, a Northwest Rankin alumnus, played in the late 1990s under long time Cougar coach Jeff McClaskey. Aldridge was promoted from assistant coach to be McClaskey’s replacement and took Northwest Rankin to the championship series, something McClaskey accomplished four times in his career, winning one title in 2005.
The 6-foot-2, 200-pound Montgomery had 46 hits in 96 at-bats, two hits short of hitting an even .500, with 30 runs, 50 runs batted in, 7 doubles, 5 triples, 7 home runs, a .590 on base percentage and a .875 slugging percentage. He had a .935 fielding percentage and made only two errors this season. Montgomery allowed only 17 hits – only two extra base hits (one double and one home run) – and had 116 strikeouts and 27 walks in 56 2/3 innings. Opponents had a .108 batting average against him.
“Braden is considered by many to be one of the best players in the country because he is an all-around good player,” Madison Central coach Patrick Robey said. “Arm strength, range, ability to read the ball off the bat. A legitimate switch hitter with power from both sides of the dish. Braden had a great season. He handled all the attention like a true professional. He was, throughout the whole season, a great teammate. All the attention was never a distraction to what our team was striving to accomplish. One of the things that makes him a great pitcher is his arm health. Braden always takes care of himself. Sleep, nutrition, arm care, rest and a solid process/routine. Braden has a great personality that allows him to be “just another guy” with his teammates but an impeccable work ethic that screams of professionalism. Braden has been raised well, a family that values education, and hard work. His future will be bright whichever route he takes. He has good guidance at home and a great head on his shoulders. I feel sure he will make the decision that is best for his future.”
Montgomery showed his dominance in the state championship series against Northwest Rankin, allowing only one hit with 15 strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings in a 3-2 victory in Game 1. He did not allow a hit until two out in the sixth inning.
“It was an unbelievable experience getting the chance to win state in my last year of high school,” Montgomery said. “It meant the world to be able to etch our names in the school history by bringing back a state title. I attribute my success as a player to my hard work. To improve, I stayed in the weight room to add strength and I hit in the batting cage almost every day to improve my swing and feel. In the future, I expect enjoy playing baseball wherever I can, and I definitely plan on playing in the Major League one day.”
Montgomery worked out last week at the Major League Baseball Combine in North Carolina and did well, rating high in batting practice, broad jump and agility drills. He is ranked No. 65 by MLB Pipeline. He is four spots behind Ole Miss first-team All-American pitcher Doug Nikhazy. The draft is July 11-13 in Denver.
“Braden had a great season,” Aldridge said. “He is a true five tool player with tremendous upside. We faced him twice when he was on the mound and he was dominant both times. He deserves all the recognition he is getting. I was very impressed when talking with him after the state championship series and look forward to watching his baseball career develop as he moves onto the next chapter.”
After playing for McClaskey at Northwest Rankin, Aldridge played shortstop and second base at Millsaps under coach Jim Page and helped the Majors to the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference title in 2003. Aldridge, 40, has been an assistant coach at Hattiesburg High, Brandon and Northwest Rankin and was head coach at Pelahatchie for two seasons. He returned to Northwest Rankin last season.
“When you come in after someone that has had such a great career, you don’t try to fill their shoes,” Aldridge said. “That can’t be done. You have to trust who you are and continue to learn each step of the way. The reason we were able to get to the championship series is because we had such a great group of players and coaches. Our players love one another and they love to compete. You could tell when we started last summer that this group had something special brewing. They love the game and they have bought into the mindset that we try to instill that hard work pays off. It also definitely helped out that we played our best baseball down the stretch.”
Northwest Rankin defeated West Harrison 12-1 and 5-0, d’Iberville 12-1 and 6-4 and Oak Grove 4-0 in Game 1 and 13-12 in Game 3 to reach the championship series. After losing to Oak Grove 5-3 in Game 2 of the semifinals, senior third baseman Luke Lycette hit a run-scoring single to score Sam Whatley with no outs in the bottom of the seventh inning for the Game 3 win. Oak Grove had scored eight runs in the top of the sixth inning to take an 12-11 lead before Christian Cameron and Whatley hit back-to-back singles, then a balk scored pinch runner Chris Tillman before Lycette’s heroics.
“What made our run at the end of the year special was that it seemed like each game someone new was stepping up,” Aldridge said. “Every player on our team plays a vital role in our success. We had several guys make All-District and two that received some All-State recognition. (Junior pitcher-shortstop) Nick Monistere, our Southern Miss commit, was dominant for us on the mound and also led our team at the plate. (Junior catcher) Brady Thomas also had a big year for us and came through in some key situations. Defensively, he served as a strong anchor behind the plate. (Senior third baseman) Luke Lycette and (senior pitcher-outfielder) Blake Summerlin provided great leadership and both had some great moments in the playoffs. Summerlin threw a no-hitter and pitched great in Game 1 against Madison Central. Lycette had the big walk-off hit that allowed us to capture the South State Championship. Ryan Herbison and Christian Cameron were two guys that also really stepped up for us this year and had some big-time moments.”
“Coach Aldridge is a laid-back coach who is very relational and knows how to win ballgames,” Lycette said. “He always knew the right things to say at the right times. He lead the way he wanted us to lead and I believe we collectively bought into that and that’s why we were so successful. The season was great and only got better as it went on. This award is well deserved for him and I look forward to his success moving forward.”
Aldridge gives credit to many important people in his life along this baseball journey.
“There are several people that have influenced me throughout my baseball career,” Aldridge said. “First was my father Carey Aldridge that taught me how to play the game. I learned a lot from Coach McClaskey and Coach Jim Page at Millsaps that coached me during my playing career. Coaching under successful coaches such as Joe Hartfield (Hattiesburg), Stacy Hester (Brandon), and Coach McClaskey (Northwest Rankin) has helped shape some of the key aspects that I will try to instill in our program at Northwest. It’s also nice to be surrounded presently by a great coaching staff. (Northwest Rankin assistants) Coach (Thad) Bennett, Coach (Nathan) Purvis, Coach (Chase) Douglas, and Coach (Derek) Topik deserve just as much of this recognition. I also have a roster full of great players that communicate with me about the things we are doing that are working and the things we might need to adjust to get the most out of them. I also want to give credit to my wife (Malorie) for being so supportive and allowing me to do what I love. Getting to share this with her and our children (son Acey, 3, daughter Kaynslie, 2, and another child expected in July) this year has been extremely special.”
McClaskey is a big believer in Aldridge and wasn’t surprised as his success this year.
“KK is the total package. He played for me and coached with me and we wanted someone to replace me to carry on what we have built here. He’s the perfect guy for this job,” said McClaskey, who won 801 games in his 31 seasons at Northwest Rankin and was named the ABCA National High School Baseball Coach of the Year when he won a state title and finished ranked No. 6 in the nation in 2005. “He’s my guy. He loves the game. KK has a passion for life. He’s been around this program a long time (KK graduated from Northwest in 1999). We wanted someone who has lived Northwest Rankin baseball for many years. We wanted it going in the same direction. We’re a Top 10 baseball team in the state almost every year. We wanted to continue that. KK is an even keel person, but he will put his foot down when he needs to. He’s a great family man, a great Christian man. KK instilled the same ideals that I wanted in our players, good morals, good grades, Christian values. KK did a great job of motivating and getting his kids to play hard this season.”
Starting Pitcher: Brayden Jones, MRA, Sr.
Starting Pitcher: Mason Nichols, Jackson Prep, Sr.
Starting Pitcher: Ranard Grace, Madison Central, Sr.
Relief Pitcher: Will Gibbs, Jackson Prep, Jr.
C: Eli Berch, Jackson Prep, Jr.
1B: Lincoln Sheffield, Hartfield, Jr.
2B: Austin Green, Pearl, Sr.
SS: Colton Gardner, Germantown, Sr.
3B: Andrew Jones, Brandon, Sr.
OF: Trey Bridges, Jackson Prep, Jr.
OF: Jake Cook, Madison Central, Jr.
OF: Dakota Jordan, Canton Academy, Jr.
DH: Tyler Janos, Clinton, Jr.
Utility: Bryce Fowler, Germantown, Sr.