ENID, Oklahoma— It would have been easy for Pearl River’s No. 1 baseball team to retire after falling in Game 1 of the Championship Series, but the Wildcats never lost faith. They responded forcefully in game two, winning 19-1 to force a decisive third game. Dressed in the all-gold uniform, Pearl River took to the court one last time on Saturday and earned a 7-2 victory over No. 2 Madison to claim the program’s first national championship.
The band’s list of accomplishments has continued to grow throughout the year. With the National Championship win, the Wildcats captured the Championship Triple Crown after previously winning the MACCC Championship and Region 23 Championship. The team’s 45 wins are the most in program history. Additionally, the victory was head coach Michael Avalon’s 200th at the helm of the Pearl River baseball program.
“They didn’t make it easy, that’s for sure. This is how we wanted it and this is how we prepared all year,” Avalon said. “We were down early and these guys never gave up. It’s just not who we are. Man, what a special group. They simply made history today. All day today I looked outside and thought that was the last time I was training Woody (Taylor Woodcock) and JG (John Griffin Bell) between. This is the last time I can call pitches with Matt Mercier. The last time I get to train Tate Parker who is the best player I have ever coached and he is so humble about it. It’s a storybook that ends with one of the best chapters of my life. I can’t thank all these guys enough for this, because they are a very special group. All these guys would tell you it’s bigger than us. There have been a lot of very good players and very good teams who have not had the chance to be here. This band will live forever and that’s what’s special. It is the best program in the country. It is the best community college in the country. I’m just grateful and blessed to be a part of it and to be in Pearl River.
“The last thing my dad and I talked about before he passed away was when he told me to come back here and win it all. We did it. I’m proud of it. I miss him but I knew that he was there before we went out. Before the last round, glory day play. It was her favorite song and she was playing on the speakers. I knew he was here.
Pearl River Community College President Dr. Adam Breerwood spoke of the victory.
“Mission accomplished. It’s just a remarkable team and a remarkable coaching staff. I’m in awe of them,” he said. “Everything they’ve done this year has been amazing. We’re standing here and we’re standing as a family. Hats off to the Avalon coach, his staff and these players. It’s incredible. We are so proud of them for winning the first national championship.
HOW DID IT HAPPEN
Although Pearl River (45-11 overall) was the first team to come to the plate, it was Madison (49-11) that entered the run column first. The Wolfpack hit a two-run homer late in the first inning to take the lead.
It was a frustrating start to the day for the Wildcats, as every loaded baseball seemed to find a Madison glove. Fortunately for Pearl River, Cole Tolbert (Laurel; West Jones) was electric on the mound through the next seven innings of the game to keep the Wildcats within striking distance.
The Bats finally got going in the sixth inning as the team’s offensive leader. Tate Parker (Gulfport; West Harrison) walked into the plate and went down the zone to smash a solo homer to cut the one-run deficit to 2-1. The circuit was his 19th of the season. That’s when the rally really began. Alex Perry (McComb; North Pike) hit the first pitch of his at-bat for a single and DK Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) followed it up with their own single. Matt Mercier (Richton; Petal) was then hit by a pitch to load the bases for Ian Montz (Lafayette, Louisiana; Acadiana). The freshman right fielder saw 10 pitches and committed seven before stringing the 11th into right field for a two-run single, giving the PRCC a 3-2 lead in the process.
Two crucial insurance runs came for the Wildcats in the seventh frame to extend the lead to 5-2. Gabe Broadus (Wilmer, Alabama; Faith Academy) threw a single between the shortstop and the third baseman to get things going. A walk from Parker followed by Perry reaching on a Wolfpack error loaded Donaldson’s bases. As if Donaldson hadn’t produced enough hits in the World Series, the first baseman cut a hard single just out of shortstop Madison’s reach for two RBIs.
Montz opened the eighth inning with a single and advanced to second base on an error by pitcher Wolfpack. He then moved to third base after a wild pitch before a dismissal from Madison sent him home to extend the 6-2 lead.
Perry added another big run in the ninth inning, blasting a 1-0 pitch off the wall to give Pearl River a 7-2 lead.
Turner Switchak (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove) had the ball in the ninth inning and retired the first two batters quickly. Finally, the third batter of the inning threw the fourth pitch of his at-bat into left field where Broadus was standing. The left fielder drifted to his right, grabbed the ball, and then pandemonium ensued as the Wildcat dugout stormed the field for a dogpile.
Tolbert was nearly untouchable in just his third start of the year. The right-hander finished his outing pitching seven innings and allowing just two runs. He scattered five hits and a walk while striking out 11 batters.
“It’s like I told you before. We needed an energetic start. Tolbert gave it to us today,” pitching coach Brandon Pennington said. “They’re a competitor. They’re a good team there, they’re really good. I understand why they’ve won so many games. They can do a lot. Tolbert wanked his cock tonight and he’s really going I miss him. He’s going to leave big shoes to fill.
Swistak pitched the last two innings for the Wildcats, allowing one hit and striking out another.
Donaldson did it again on the flat, going 3 for 5 with two RBIs and a run scored. Perry went 2 for 5 with an RBI. Montz went 2 for 4 with two RBIs.
Donaldson won the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award on home soil after finishing Week 13 of 24 with nine RBIs and five runs scored.
“It’s nothing short of a blessing to be a part of this,” Donaldson said. “We made history today and I can’t be more grateful for that. It brings me to tears thinking that there will never be another band as close as us. I’ve made friends for life and it has been a special year.
Parker received the Best Offensive Player award. He finished the tournament 10 for 24 with 10 runs scored, nine RBIs and three homers.
“Tate is that guy who always gets that big hit. He’s the same all the time,” Avalon said. “We had a lot of great players, but leading this team to the national championship says a lot. Someone had to get this big hit and it did time and time again. He deserves to play professional baseball. He’s an absolute hitter. He’s a winner and he’s going to do it.
John Griffin Bell (Mobile, Alabama; Faith Academy) received the Best Defensive Player award. The shortstop was turned off on the field, ending the week with one error on 16 total chances. Tolbert received the outstanding pitcher award, finishing the week with nine innings pitched and 16 strikeouts to just five hits, two runs and a walk. Head coach Michael Avalon was named coach of the tournament after leading his team to the title.