POPLARVILLE, Miss. — No. 5 Pearl River made the most of its opportunities on a beautiful Tuesday at Dub Herring Park as the Wildcats routed Nunez 12-4 in seven innings and 14-2 in five innings.
"We played well enough to get two wins. There are still some things we have to improve on," Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. "We're a little shaky at times, we just have to focus and compete a little harder throughout."
The Wildcats continued to be one of the nation's top power teams. Pearl River's 36 homers entering the day were good enough for second nationally. After 12 innings of baseball — and six more homers — Pearl River is tied with Western Oklahoma State for first nationally.
"That's definitely a part of our game and we understand that. The tricky thing is coaching guys to be mature about it," Avalon said. "I'm a firm believer 95 percent of homers are not intentional. You just need to make sure you barrel up the baseball. We have strength and size, we know that. We just have to continue to make solid contact and a quality approach."
Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) led PRCC with two homers on the day.
"He's a perfect example of what I'm talking about," Avalon said. "When he stays short and simple, he'll hit the ball hard. He just doesn't have to tryto. He just needs to barrel the ball up and put a good swing on it."
Coming off the bench, Reis Trager (Hurley; East Central) really caught Avalon's attention with his glove. He played second base in the first game and then manned the hot corner in the second. Trager had a big hand in three double plays and then made a nifty play down the third base line to register a big out.
"He's just a baseball player," Avalon said. "He plays third, short, second, first and could play in the outfield. I don't know that he catches, but if I asked him to I know he'd say 'yes sir' and do it."
GAME 1: PRCC 12, NCC4 (7 inn.)
Nunez scored twice in the third but PRCC (19-4 overall) responded with four more runs in the third. Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg) scored on a wild pitch. After Noah Barron (Hoover, Ala.) drove in another run on a sacrifice fly, Britt McKay (Wiggins; Ocean Springs) struck out but reached base on a wild pitch, allowing the Wildcats to score a third run. Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central) drew a bases-loaded walk to cap the inning's offense.
The Pelicans (9-25) scored in the fourth and fifth innings but PRCC responded in the bottom of the fifth, scoring on a Wiley Cleland (Columbia; Columbia Academy) infield single. Homers from Donaldson and Deyton Lingle (Lake) in the sixth capped the game's scoring. The round tripper was Lingle's first of the season.
Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) earned the win for Pearl River, striking out five while allowing two runs (one earned) in 2 1/3 innings of work. Evan Bynum (Soso; West Jones) allowed two runs and struck out two in 2 1/3 innings, while Reid Reynolds (Heidelberg; Northeast Jones) struck out three in 2 1/3.
"He's continued to make strides," Avalon said of Reynolds, who made his sixth appearance Tuesday. "I wouldn't be surprised to see him get a start. His stuff is good and he has proven the last three times out now that he can command the zone."
Following the doubleheader, Avalon made a point to single out Lingle, who went 1-for-2 for three runs scored and two walks, and highlight the play of Trager for a second time.
"Both those guys are quality baseball guys and probably don't get the reps they deserve," he said. "Both of them got in there today and affected the games in a positive way. It was good to see them ready to play."
GAME 2: PRCC 14, NCC 2 (5 inn.)
The Wildcats kept the good vibes going in Game 2, plating eight runs in the first. Izzio hit a two-run homer over the center field wall and after Jordan scored from first on a Cleland double, Donaldson sent a no doubter out of The Dub for his second of the day. Singles from Luke Harper (Meridian; Northeast Lauderdale) and Izzio, plus a sacrifice fly from Jordan concluded the inning's offense.
PRCC had another big inning in the second, scoring five more on a Cleland leadoff homer, a two-run double from Ewing, a defensive blunder from Nunez and RBI hits from Izzio and Jordan.
"Offensively we did a better job squaring some things up and even some of the outs I thought we had good swings," Avalon said. "I thought we did a better job of improving our offensive efficiency and discipline."
Izzio led PRCC with three hits and four RBIs. Cleland and Page added two hits apiece.
Cade Hodges (Brookhaven; Loyd Star) allowed two runs in two innings to earn the win. Wes Starr (Auburn, Ala.), Trace McNabb (Foxworth; West Marion) and Reid Golemon (Moselle; South Jones) each threw one scoreless inning apiece with McNabb and Golemon striking out two.
"Reid Golemon was big," Avalon said. "We have to have him and are counting on him. He's going to get it done. I thought Cade showed some improvement. He just needs to find some consistency. We need those guys to figure some things out and step up for us."
Pearl River moved a bit in the latest national rankings. The Wildcats slipped one spot in both the NJCAA poll and JUCO Baseball Blog ranking to No. 5 and 2 respectively. The Wildcats stayed at No. 17 in Perfect Game's Top 25, which includes teams from every JUCO league.
Pearl River's inaugural Alumni Day is a month away. Any former PRCC baseball players who are interested in participating in the April 27 home run derby are encouraged to sign up for the event at PRCCBaseballCamps.com. The fun-filled day will also feature brunch, a crawfish lunch in the right field lounge and great seats for PRCC's doubleheader against MACJC foe Coahoma.
The Wildcats now embark on a six-game road trip through MACJC play. Pearl River visits Meridian on Saturday for a 2 p.m. doubleheader and then heads east to play Gulf Coast in a 3 p.m. doubleheader Tuesday. The Wildcats will wrap up the road trip at Avalon's previous school Mississippi Delta, on Saturday, April 6, with a 1 p.m. doubleheader. PRCC returns to The Dub on Wednesday, April 10 for a 3 p.m. doubleheader against East Central.
All weekend conference games will be carried by WRJW 1320 AM. All conference games will be broadcast on WRJWRadio.comand are also available on the WRJW smart phone app.