By Robert Wilson
Metro Jackson will be represented with six players each on the rosters of Southern Miss and Ole Miss when the two baseball teams meet this weekend in the NCAA Tournament Super Regional in Hattiesburg.
Never before have two Mississippi teams met in such an important series. The winner is one of eight teams to advance to the College World Series.
Game 1 of the best-of-three series is Saturday at 3 p.m. on ESPNU. Game 2 is scheduled for Sunday at 3 p.m. on either ESPNU or ESPN2. Game 3, if necessary, is scheduled for Monday at a time and network to be announced.
This is a rematch of last year’s Oxford Regional when Ole Miss defeated Southern Miss for the regional championship.
Madison Central alumnus Justin Storm and Jackson Prep alumnus Mason Nichols made headlines last week for Southern Miss and Ole Miss respectively in the regionals.
Storm, a 6-foot-7 sophomore left-hander, allowed only two hits and no runs with seven strikeouts and a career-high 85 pitches in five innings in relief to lead No. 1 regional seed Southern Miss to an 8-4 victory over No. 2 regional seed LSU Sunday to force a regional championship game Monday.
Nichols, a 6-5 freshman right-hander, retired all seven batters he faced and had three strikeouts in middle relief to get the pitching victory in No. 3 regional seed Ole Miss’ 2-1 win over No. 6 national seed and No. 1 regional seed and host Miami Sunday to put the Rebels in the regional championship game Monday.
If not for those two performances, Southern Miss and Ole Miss’ seasons could have been over. But instead, the Golden Eagles and Rebels are playing in an All Mississippi Super Regional.
“Justin’s five inning relief appearance vs. LSU was instrumental in getting us to the Monday championship game,” Southern Miss coach Scott Berry said. “Justin is in his second year and continues to develop as a piece in our bullpen. His tall lanky frame and loose downhill delivery makes it hard on opposing hitters.”
Storm is now 3-0 and a 3.07 ERA with 20 strikeouts and only four walks in 14 2/3 innings this season. His previous longest outing was 1 2/3 innings.
Storm appeared in 12 games, all in relief, and pitched 9 2/3 innings with six strikeouts as a freshman.
He was named to the Two Men and a Truck/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson team in the shortened covid season at Madison Central as a senior in 2020. Storm also helped the Jaguars to the MHSAA Class 6A basketball playoffs as a senior.
“Nichols has had some moments in SEC play, but nothing like this and he continued to put outs on the board for us,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “He gave us a chance to win the game. If Mason doesn’t do what he did, what (Tim) Elko did (hitting the game winning, two RBI double) doesn’t come up as a topic.”
Nichols now has appeared in 18 games and has a 3.21 earned run average and has 34 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 28 innings. This was his first pitching decision of the season.
Nichols had a 6-1 record with a 0.85 ERA with 96 strikeouts as a senior and helped Prep to three state championships. He was a member of the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson team and two-time MAIS first team All-State selection.
Now Storm and Nichols get to face off against guys they grew up with and played with and against with a College World Series appearance on the line.
“I’ve played against a lot of these kids before,” Nichols said. “For me, my mom (Kim) played tennis at Southern Miss, both my parents (Kim and Michael) went to Southern Miss. All my folks are from around Hattiesburg. It’s big. I just really want to get to Omaha for these guys. It doesn’t really have anything to do with me growing up watching Southern Miss baseball or anything. I just want to get to Omaha for (first baseman and captain) Tim (Elko), (outfielder) Kevin (Graham), all these older guys who really deserve it.”
“There is a ton on talent in the Metro Jackson area and all over Mississippi. Having two teams from Mississippi in the Super Regional shows that,” Storm said. “It’s going to be an exciting weekend.”
There are two other pitchers from Metro Jackson – Northwest Rankin alumni Garrett Ramsey and Dalton Rogers – who have helped Southern Miss tremendously this season.
Ramsey, a junior right-hander, has a 5-1 record, 4 saves and a 2.61 ERA with 11 walks and 45 strikeouts in 31 innings in 21 appearances. Rogers, a sophomore left-hander and Jones County Junior College transfer, has a 1-1 record, 6 saves and a 2.04 ERA with 21 walks and 54 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings in 22 appearances.
“Garrett has been a big part of our success the past two years,” Berry said. “His ability to come in as a reliever and hold or close a game out has been invaluable. Garrett processes really good stuff with pitch ability.
“Dalton has been outstanding in his first year in the program. His confidence and competitive makeup are infectious to those around him. He has played a major role in our bullpen and the success we’ve had. He’s a person that doesn’t like to lose.”
“Both Dalton and Garrett have played a big role along with all the pitchers this year,” said former Northwest Rankin coach Jeff McClaskey, who coached Rogers and Ramsey, before retiring two years ago. “I think they’re strong suit is pitching, and I think those two young men have played a major role and helped them get to where they are today.”
Storm knows that everyone will be needed to win this Super Regional.
“We had a team meeting with the pitchers and (Southern Miss associate head coach and pitching coach Christian Ostrander) Coach Oz was telling us everyone needs to be on the top step of the dugout giving support to our teammates on the field each game,” Storm said. “There can be only one pitcher in the game at a time and the dugout needs to bring energy and be locked in on every play. There is a direct correlation between the success of our team and the energy we bring from the dugout. It’s contagious.”
“This season has been a lot of fun,” Ramsey said. “We got hot, had a 15-game winning streak, had some bumps in the road, then have responded and have finished strong. We are looking forward to playing this weekend.”
Rogers knows how rich the talent level in the Metro Jackson area and beyond.
“People who live in Metro Jackson have an opportunity to start travel ball at a young age and continue to improve,” Rogers said. “You see many Division I players come from that area.”
Nichols, Ramsey, Rogers and Storm have played the most of the dozen Metro Jackson players on the two teams’ rosters, but the other eight have played some or are expected to play in the future.
St. Andrew’s alumnus Banks Tolley, a junior outfielder and Meridian CC transfer, has played in 26 games and is hitting .267 (4 of 15) with two doubles for Ole Miss this season. Tolley, who played football, soccer, and baseball at St. Andrew’s, played soccer his freshman year at Mercer University, then transferred to Meridian CC to play baseball.
“Banks is always a good teammate and seems to be the guy at the ballpark having the most fun,” St. Andrew’s coach Mark Fanning said. “He relates to people so easily and becomes that guy who people love to be around.”
Jackson Prep alumnus Riley Maddox, a freshman right-handed pitcher, had a 2-1 record with a 5.24 ERA with nine walks and 16 strikeouts in 14 appearances for Ole Miss before an elbow injury, which required season-ending surgery.
Madison Central alumnus Knox Loposer, a senior catcher, has played in nine games and is hitting .222 (2 for 9) for Ole Miss.
Madison Central alumnus Logan Savell, a junior right-handed pitcher, has pitched two innings in two appearances with one walk and four strikeouts for Ole Miss.
Madison-Ridgeland Academy alumnus Niko Mazza, a freshman right-handed pitcher, has pitched three innings with one walk and five strikeouts in four appearances for Southern Miss.
MRA alumnus and Ole Miss freshman right-handed pitcher Brayden Jones, Madison Central alumnus and Southern Miss freshman infielder Creek Robertson and Germantown alumnus and Southern Miss freshman outfielder Bryce Fowler have not played this season.
“Justin certainly made a big impact last week for the regionals for the Eagles,” Madison Central coach Patrick Robey said. “He has pitched sparingly until last week. He has the ability to pitch in the big leagues one day. A dual sport athlete in high school, Justin is just a natural born leader. Creek is the same way. A dual sport guy (Robertson was the only player to make the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football and Baseball teams in the 2020-2021 school year), Creek is a great defensive player that no doubt will make a big impact for USM after (starting shortstop Dustin) Dickerson graduates or moves to pro ball.
“Knox was a great leader for us his senior year after transferring from Jackson Prep. Knox had an injury plagued year while he was with us. Nonetheless he was a great teammate. Logan graduated with his degree, and I believe Knox did as well. We are proud of all those guys.”
“We are extremely proud of those guys and how hard they work and represent Jackson Prep,” Prep coach Brent Heavener said. “It takes a lot of time and effort to play baseball at the next level. We have had some great players at Prep and when you see them to continue to play and have success you know you are doing something right to get them ready for the next level. We are so proud of our guys.”
“Both Brayden and Niko were outstanding high school pitchers for our program,” MRA coach Allen Pavette said. “They both were hard workers who have a strong work ethic. It was an honor to coach them, and I am so proud of what they have accomplished.”
“Bryce is an exceptional athlete and can help his team win in a lot of different ways,” Germantown coach Brian Hardy said. “He is very competitive and expects to get the job done when the game is on the line. I think this year was good for Bryce. He’s a student of the game and I know he soaked it all in. USM is a great fit for Bryce. Coach Berry runs his program around toughness and competition. I was happy to see Bryce have the opportunity to become a Southern Miss Golden Eagle.”