Hattiesburg using past disappointments to fuel playoff push

By CAMAL PETRO,

It’s been more than 700 days since the Hattiesburg Tigers walked off the field of Trustmark Park as the 5A runner-ups. While the Oxford Chargers were celebrating their 5A State Title, the Tigers walked off in disappointment after a winning 26 games in 2016.

There wasn’t any doubt the seniors that season provided the leadership it took to get to that point, but everyone knew the sophomore class was the special one. Joe Gray and Dexter Jordan, who are now seniors on the Hattiesburg team, are Major League Baseball prospects and the two are expected to go in the MLB Draft in June, and senior A.J. Stinson joins the two as Division I baseball signees.

The memories of the state championship sweep still linger in their minds, then add in the letdown of last season’s loss to Pearl River Central in the 5A South State Series, the senior class has been building on this moment for quite awhile.

“They’ve worked hard,” Hattiesburg coach Joe Hartfield said. “They knew they had to get a little bit better to get there. Last year, we just weren’t quite good enough. There were some things we had to do to improve as a team and it started in the bullpen. That’s the most important part of baseball, and the guys in there from Joe Gray to Dexter Jordan and all of them, even our JV guys got in there and worked their tail off.”

Starting Tuesday, the Hattiesburg Tigers will square off against the Lewisburg Patriots (26-7) for the 5A State Championship. Game 1 is set for 7 p.m. at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The rest of the series schedule hasn’t been set yet, but Game 2 is slated for Thursday.

“(The State Championship) has been the only thing on our minds since the first practice. Mission accomplished,” Gray said. “We’re just ready to get back to Trustmark and do our thing.”

Gray is undoubtedly one of the senior leaders of the Tigers. He understands that he’ll play a big part in getting his team ready for Tuesday.

“I hit almost every day,” he said. “I’ll for sure make sure that the guys get all the cuts they need so when we get to Trustmark, they’ll be comfortable, relaxed and they’re not doubting themselves. Same thing goes for me.

“I think the biggest thing for me and my team is just relax. We got here, did our thing and that’s the same thing we have to do at Trustmark.”

The Patriots feature a dangerous lineup with five players hitting better than .300 with at least 90 at-bats, while two of those are hitting .400 or better. Senior Landon Wilkerson paces the offense with a .444 average, 15 doubles and 28 RBI, and senior Bryce Brock leads the offense with 15 home runs, 41 RBI and he’s second on the team with a .443 average.

On the mound, Brock has 11 starts and six complete games to go along with his 11-0 record and 0.79 earned run average. He has logged 62 innings, 111 strikeouts and 11 walks, and he’s only allowed 16 runs – seven earned. He’s almost certainly going to matchup with Hattiesburg’s Dexter Jordan (6-3, 1.47 ERA) in Game 1.

Sophomore Weston Fuller is second on the team with seven starts, but his 31.1 innings pitched is third on the team, behind senior Cooper Dowell’s 32.2 innings. Fuller is 2-1 on the season with a 5.36 ERA, while Dowell is 5-1 and has a 1.93 ERA in five starts.

Hattiesburg’s A.J. Stinson (4-3, 3.89 ERA) has been its Game 2 starter in the 2018 postseason, and Gray (5-0, 2.69 ERA) started the only Game 3 the Tigers played, which came in the third round.

“It’s unfinished business, to be honest,” Gray said. “When we get to Trustmark, we’ll be all about business. We’ll take care of our jobs, do what we’re supposed to do and hopefully come out with a win.”

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