Panthers tackle Pontotoc in 4A state title game Sat.
Players took turns smashing rubber-covered baseballs in thebatting cage while catchers and pitchers warmed up nearby on mushyMoyer Field. A broiling, afternoon sun kicked up the humidityseveral percentage points as Brookhaven head baseball coach RandySprings watched his Panthers sweat through their workout.
Spring’s Panthers (29-8) meet the Pontotoc Warriors (33-5)Saturday afternoon in Jackson for the Class 4A State Championship.Game time is 4 p.m., in Smith-Wills Stadium.
“It still seems kind of weird talking about it,” Springadmitted. “Then it hits you. It’s like Game Seven of the WorldSeries.”
The Panthers are seeking their first-ever state title on thediamond. Pontotoc won three state crowns in the 1980s when theWarriors were dominating Class 3A.
Spring said his Panthers were taking the preparations in stride.”This is like a regular practice for us. We are taking care ofbusiness. We are excited but not overwhelmed.”
Brookhaven overwhelmed Pontotoc Monday night at Pontotoc,whipping the Warriors 11-0 to force a third and decisive game inthe title chase. Pontotoc had rallied to beat the Panthers 6-5 onMoyer Field in Game One, which was played May 13.
“Our players showed a lot of maturity when they won atPontotoc,” said Spring. “It is a neat place to play and a greatatmosphere if you’re the home team. It was about as well as we’veplayed all year.”
BHS senior right-hander Scotty Smith (11-2) handcuffed Pontotocwith a 4-hitter, striking out 9 batters and walking 1. Histeammates played flawless defense and collected 17 hits against twoWarrior pitchers.
Spring said Smith would start Saturday’s game. “Scotty has hadfour days rest so he should be in good shape. They will have theirace (Caleb Kidd) ready, too.”
Smith said he was confident the Panthers can produce anotherstrong performance on offense and defense. “We played good baseballup there and we can do it again. We swung the bats a lotbetter.”
Senior catcher Adam Ogden agreed. “It’s a big game and we haveworked hard to get there. If we take care of business, it shouldn’tbe a problem. It felt good to shut them down on their field.”
Smith-Wills, located on Lakeland Dr., has been the home ofseveral minor league baseball franchises. The latest resident isthe Jackson Senators.
Spring said the Panthers are looking forward to playing at alarge park but the outfield dimensions are similar to Moyer Field.”There are covered bleachers and a grandstand up there. That couldgive it a noise factor we are not familiar with.”
Centerfielder Xavier Qualls had the opportunity to play atSmith-Wills during a fall league as a member of Jackson SportsAcademy. He said winning the state championship is a team goal.
“We have been working hard for this since Day One,” said Qualls.”We really know our team can play.”
Qualls slugged a first-inning homer against Pontotoc and ignitedBrookhaven’s offense Monday night. Senior teammate W.T. King alsohomered, hitting a 2-run shot in the fifth.
Designated hitter Josh Patrick said hitting is contagious. “Weall hit the ball well early. Xavier got us going with that homerun.
“We have confidence in Scotty,” added Patrick. “If we playdefense and hit the ball, we will come out and be the statechamps.”
Spring said he would go with his usual starting lineup. Itincludes junior Darius Perkins (.418) in left field, seniorcenterfielder Xavier Qualls (.411) in center field, senior BrooksHall (.403) at shortstop, senior Adam Ogden (.459) at catcher,senior Josh Patrick (.333) at designated hitter, senior ScottySmith (.389) on the mound, junior Grant McDonnieal (.371) at firstbase, senior Cody Dunaway (.289) at third base, senior W.T. King(.316) in right field and freshman Elliot Warren at secondbase.
Patrick said Spring’s midseason discussion with his team hascome true. “Midway through the season, coach told us we are thebest team in Mississippi. We just have to prove it.”