FULTON, Miss. — When No. 6 Pearl River packed for Fulton and the Region XXIII Tournament, the Wildcats made sure to bring an extra box — containing "championship gold" uniforms.
The tradition was started by Hall of Fame coach Jay Artigues back when his Wildcats won the region to head to the 2002 JUCO World Series.
The Wildcats haven't been back to Enid, Oklahoma since — until now. Wearing the golds, Pearl River routed No. 1 LSU-Eunice 11-2 at Itawamba's Roy Cresap Field on Saturday to claim the Region XXIII Title and solidify their place in the national tournament.
The Diamond Wildcats are the second PRCC squad to reach the national tournament this season, joining Coach Chris Oney's men's basketball team, which advanced to the Sweet 16 in the NJCAA Tournament.
"That's tradition. That's what Pearl River is, baseball. It's tradition. It's history," Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. "That was started by Coach Artigues and we were able to carry on the tradition and get Pearl River back to the World Series. The old saying is there's magic in those championship golds.
"We packed 'em this week and we said we're not packing them to waste space; we're packing 'em to use them."
SCORING IN BUNCHES
The magic was flowing early for the Wildcats (40-12 overall).
LSUE opened the scoring in the bottom of the first but Pearl River catcher Luke Harper (Meridian; Northeast Lauderdale) gunned down a base runner at third and then starter Colin Danley (Lucedale; East Central) struck out the next Bengal to end the threat.
The Wildcats responded by scoring two runs in each of the second and third innings. Harper was hit by a pitch to plate PRCC's first run of the game and then Matt Taylor (Raleigh) grounded out to give the Wildcats a 2-1 advantage.
After a 1-2-3 inning from Danley in the bottom of the second, Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg) gave PRCC a 4-1 lead by belting his 17th homer of the season, a two-run shot over the scoreboard in left field.
LSUE got a runner aboard in the fourth and attempted to steal second on a ball that initially got away from Harper, but the North Alabama signee gunned a throw down to Jordan at second to erase the runner.
Jordan gave Pearl River another boost in the top of the seventh, hitting his second two-run homer of the game.
"As I said in the last interview, big time players make big time plays," Jordan said. "Coach preached that to the whole team. It was time for us to step up so I made things happen coach told me to do it so I got it down."
Barron later came around and scored on an air-mailed throw home — narrowly avoiding the tag when the ball ricocheted off the brickwork behind home and bounced directly to the Bengal catcher — to extend PRCC's lead to 7-1.
Although LSUE got a run back in the eighth, the Wildcats kept coming in the ninth when Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) belted a three-run homer — his team-best third home run of the four-day tournament.
"That was a big hit which was kind of a nail in the coffin for us," Avalon said.
LSUE (51-8) doubled to open the ninth but PRCC closer Jerod Meggs (Kosciusko) sandwiched a strikeout between two groundouts — including the final grounder to Wiley Cleland (Columbia; Columbia Academy). Even before the throw popped Shemar Page's mitt at first base, the Wildcats poured onto the field in complete pandemonium, eventually dog piling on the pitcher's mound.
"First and foremost I thank God for putting us all here and giving us this opportunity because I think He placed these young men on this team; I think He placed these coaches together; I think He placed this administration together, fans, families. I think He definitely had the biggest hand in all of this."
LEADING THE WAY
Every starter reached base safely Saturday. Barron had a break-out performance to lead PRCC, going 4-for-4 with three runs scored. Jordan, Ewing and Donaldson all had two hits. Jordan led PRCC with four RBIs. Donaldson plated three to finish second on the team.
PRCC hit .343 as a team in the tournament with 10 homers and 44 RBIs. Page led the team with a .636 batting average. Donaldson, Jordan and Ewing were close behind, hitting .556, .409 and .389 respectively.
Despite not making it out of the first inning in PRCC's comeback victory over Northwest on Thursday, Danley was able to return to the mound Saturday. The Lucedale native was practically dialed in from the first inning.
Danley retired eight straight Bengals at one point and never let up.
"That young man stepped up huge today," Avalon said.
Danley earned his ninth win on the season, scattering two runs on three hits and two walks over 7 1/3 innings. Danley also struck out six Bengals.
"I knew I had to bounce back. As soon as I had that start the other day I had it on my mind. As soon as we strapped on these mustards we got out there and got after it," Danley said. "I just try to locate my pitches. That was my problem the other day is locating pitches and I just went to work and got that under my belt."
Meggs closed out the game, throwing 1 2/3 scoreless frames.
"Today you had a lot of people that wanted the baseball and that wanted to hit," Avalon said. "The big thing is just there toughness is what sticks out in this tournament. We went through the toughest of teams and we finished it. I'm so proud of them."
ROAD TO ENID
In order to return to the JUCO World Series for the first time since 2004, PRCC beat rival No. 4 Jones College 4-2, No. 9 Northwest 12-11 in 11 innings, No. 2 Itawamba 21-13 and then No. 1 LSU-Eunice 11-2.
"You had five of the top nine teams in the national rankings in this tournament; which is a travesty to our region because a lot of these teams could go compete on that stage next week," Avalon said. "We look forward to doing it and seeing what it's about. I think we have a team that can go out there and compete. I don't think we are finished yet."
The JUCO World Series runs May 25-June 1 at David Allen Memorial Ballpark.
When the Wildcats pack for David Allen Ballpark next week, expect an extra box to be in toe.
"I think we have a lot of baseball ahead of us," Avalon said.