POPLARVILLE – Going into his senior year at Ponchatoula (La.) High School, Simon Landry had big dreams, and playing junior college ball wasn't a part of those dreams.
But after struggling at the plate more than expected, Landry revised his goals, and Pearl River Community College is awfully glad he did.
Landry, PRCC's first baseman the past two seasons, has been a star from the first day he stepped on campus in the fall of 2016, and he has provided the beating heart for the MACJC state champion Wildcats as they prepare for what they hope is a long postseason run.
"I had some success early in my (high school) career, and I really didn't think too much about junior college," said Landry. "But I struggled a bit my senior year, and decided that might be the way to go.
"I had a buddy back home (former Wildcat shortstop Zack Clark) who came here and said he loved it. So I checked it out, and it just felt like home."
Landry and the 37-9 Wildcats have the week off after winning the state title, and they will compete in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament at Eunice, La., beginning on Wednesday.
By the standards of most players, Landry had an excellent freshman season. He batted .301, with 16 home runs, 13 doubles and 46 runs batted in. His totals in homers, doubles and RBIs, along with his hit and at-bat totals, were all tops on the team.
Landry, who answers to the nickname of Mo, helped the Wildcats to a 29-20 overall record last season, 16-12 in the MACJC, advancing to the semifinal round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament.
This season, though, he has dwarfed those numbers. Landry completed the regular season with a .403 batting average, with 19 home runs, 15 doubles and 66 RBIs. His homer total ranks Landry third in the nation in NJCAA Division II and he is sixth in RBIs.
"The main thing was maturing as a hitter, and being more selective at the plate," said Landry. "Swing at certain pitches and lay off the curveballs in the dirt."
Landry's 19 home runs broke the school record of 18 that had stood since 2004. And the person whose record he broke was in the third-base coach's box cheering him on all the way.
"I was super-pumped for him," said Rhyne Hughes, the former PRCC All-America who serves the Wildcats as hitting coach. "There was not a person out here who was happier for him than I was. To be out here and be a part of him breaking that record was a special thing."
Landry stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 220 pounds and when the sweet part of his bat finds just the right pitch, it can be breathtaking.
Scouts are still talking about a moonshot he hit at Hinds earlier this season and he has sent a number of balls into the parking lot beyond the leftfield fence at Dub Herring Park on the PRCC campus.
"He's put in a lot of work," said Hughes. "He used to come to the camps we had when I was at Southeastern Louisiana. He just separated himself, and you could just tell that he had a little bit more talent than the other guys
"But from the moment he stepped foot on this campus, he's worked his butt off."
Having such a big stick in the middle of the Wildcat batting order has allowed the PRCC coaching staff to move some players around to maximize the offense and keep teams from zeroing in on Landry.
"He's been a marked man all year, so what he's been able to do this year is just remarkable," said PRCC coach Michael Avalon.
"With about 20 games or so left in the season, we made a big move, taking Derek Eberly out of the leadoff spot and putting him in the 3-hole, and moving Matt Taylor into the leadoff spot to give those guys a little better chance of driving in some runs and keeping teams from loading up on Mo."
For Eberly, who transferred to PRCC as a sophomore after playing for Chipola (Fla.) College as a freshman, it was a new challenge, and one he's warmed to.
"It was definitely something different." said Eberly. "I've always been either a leadoff hitter or in the 2-spot. But I was excited to try it out. When you have somebody like Mo batting behind you, you definitely see some better pitches."
Pearl River has a talented group of players, but they will all tell you they look up to Landry, who speaks softly, but carries a mighty big stick.
"No question, he's our leader on the field, in the classroom and off the field," said Avalon. "He's our bell cow and hopefully he's got a few more weeks of leadership in him."
Although his focus is on the regional tournament, Landry is also starting to look at his future beyond PRCC. Landry signed in November with the University of Houston, but he could have a tough decision if he hears his name called early in the June MLB Draft.
"Being biased, I think he's a Top 10-round guy," said Hughes, who had a nine-year professional career after leaving PRCC that included a brief stint with the Baltimore Orioles.
"I know that's been a dream of his for a long time. To see your name on that ticker for the first time is something I hope he gets to experience, because it's a once-in-a-lifetime thing."