Oak Grove sends three to play college baseball

With nearly 48 hours until the start of the 2017 regular season, Oak Grove senior baseball players Drew Boyd, Mack Pickering and Payton Harris signed to play at the next level on Wednesday.

Boyd inked with hometown team Southern Miss, Harris will be down the road with the defending National Champions Jones County Junior College and Pickering will join the Meridian Community College Eagles.

“It’s good timing,” Boyd said. “It’s right before baseball and you’re in the baseball mood, but it’s not going to be a distraction midseason. It’s a good time to do it.”

Boyd, Oak Grove’s ace on the mound and starting first baseman, has been committed to the Golden Eagles since the summer after his sophomore year. Southern Miss was the first Division I school to give him an offer, and after two short weeks, he committed to the program.

USM was Boyd’s No. 1 choice from the beginning, and it’s a place he’s always pictured himself playing.

“I’m excited to finally make it official,” he said. “To get to do with Mack and Payton, players I’ve been playing with all my life, to just achieve our goals and to have this day to celebrate it, it’s just awesome.

“It’s been a long process, but this day came quicker than I could have ever thought. It feels like just yesterday I just made the team as a freshman. These past three years have just flown. I’m enjoying every minute of it.”

Boyd will join four former Oak Grove Warriors at Southern Miss: redshirt freshman Matthew Guidry, sophomore J.C. Keys and juniors Kirk McCarty and Taylor Braley.

“It’s going to be fun to just reunite with all of them,” Boyd said. “I hope they’re all still there. With how Braley is doing, he’s probably going to get drafted, and Kirk, too. It’s going to be really fun if I have the opportunity to play with them again. I miss them and I had a really good time with them my freshman year, but to get to play with them again would be awesome.”

The 6-foot-1 senior made a name for himself on the mound at Oak Grove. He made 10 appearances with a 7-1 record with a 1.31 earned run average. He struck out 74 of the 217 batters he faced (34 percent) and walked only seven in 53.1 innings of work. At the plate, Boyd hit for a .293 average, two home runs and 14 RBI.

It’s still up in the air on where he’ll fit in at Southern Miss, though. When he committed, the USM coaches told him to let the next couple high school seasons shape out, and the two parties will figure it out once he’s on campus.

Boyd laughed when he was reminded former teammate Braley was making his first career start on the mound at Southern Miss as a junior on Wednesday against Alabama.

But, as far as his goals for the 2017 season? Obviously he wants to help his team win a state championship, but he has a few other individual things he wants to accomplish, as well.

“Definitely to become a better leader,” Boyd answered quickly. “I try to say as little words as possible. I try to lead by example, continue the tradition and set a good example for the young kids on our team. Show them the Oak Grove way.”

Harris’ recruitment was unlike any other. While sitting in the movie theater, he received a call from an unknown number, and being a good movie patron, he let it go to voicemail. Afterwards when he called back, it was JCJC head coach Chris Kirkland.

The process moved quickly after that.  

“I called them back, and he was like, ‘I’d like for you to come visit,’ and whenever I got down there they offered me and I accepted that day,” Harris said.

So, what was the movie Harris was watching at the time? After a few seconds of thinking about it, he answered, “Central Intelligence.”

“I’m excited,” Harris said. “I couldn’t believe when I first found out, but I can’t wait to get to the program.”

As a junior, Harris was primarily a pitcher. He appeared in nine games with a 4-2 record and a 3.19 ERA. In 41.2 innings, the second most on the team behind Boyd, he struck out 36 and walked 13.

Harris will join a rival in Petal’s Taylor Gatwood on the Jones County pitching staff, too.

“I’ve never really met him, but he’s pretty good,” Harris said. “I’ve seen him play a lot.”

Pickering visited multiple junior colleges across the state, but the coaching staff at Meridian Community College sold him on the program. He took visits to East Mississippi, East Central and Jones as well as Meridian, and he was offered by all four, but the baseball atmosphere and coaching staff at MCC trumped them all.

“It’s awesome,” Pickering said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to play at the next level. My visit to Meridian was awesome and I love the coaching staff, so I’m really excited to be an Eagle.”

Getting this day over with two days before his senior season was big for him, too, especially after the pressure of last season.

“It feels like a lot of weight off my shoulders,” he said. “Last year, I needed to do well to get a scholarship, because I wanted to play at the next level, so it’s a lot of weight off my shoulders.”

Pickering is a dual threat for the Warriors. He plays shortstop, led the team in batting average a season ago and was the team’s closer. He hit .405 as the leadoff hitter in 2016, with 25 runs scored on 30 hits, 14 walks and he reached on an error three times. That means he crossed the plate 53 perfect of the time he reached base.

The Meridian coaching staff has some lofty goals for Pickering as soon as he reaches campus.

“Whenever I went there, they wanted me to start at shortstop my freshman year,” Pickering said. “They really didn’t say much about pitching, which I’m OK with, because pitching is not my favorite. Really just shortstop and leadoff batter.”

While he hit for a high average last season, Pickering admitted it would be tough to improve that stat. So, more doubles and a couple of home runs is his goal for his final season in an Oak Grove uniform.

The Warriors begin the season with a 4:15 p.m. game against Purvis Friday, then a 12:15 p.m. date with Hattiesburg on Saturday.