Playoff position on the line next Wednesday

Published 10:07 am Friday, April 12, 2024

SUMMIT — It is fitting that the Wednesday following this weekend’s baseball series between Ole Miss and Mississippi State will be filled by another huge rivalry in Southwest Mississippi. Co-Lin Community College and Southwest Mississippi Community College will meet in the return of the Coca-Cola Classic and with a lot at stake. 

Southwest is currently 19-26 on the season with a 7-11 conference record. It is not too shabby considering the Bears lost six arms at the start of the season. One of those arms just returned from a shoulder injury and is starting to get back into the game. 

Co-Lin is currently 19-21 with a 7-9 conference record. The Wolfpack played a solid non-conference schedule to prepare for one of the most competitive conferences in baseball.

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It would mean a great deal to either program to secure a series win. Southwest took the first game of the series earlier in the season with a 8-4 win. 

Co-Lin Head Coach Adam Chamblee said his team is currently in 8th place with more baseball left to play. He said they are trying to make a playoff push and he knows Southwest is in the same boat. 

“We are both battling like a rivalry. Like Mississippi State and Ole Miss. Our games will mean so much more for the playoffs too,” Chamblee said. “We had a tough opening weekend of the season down at Pensacola. We have had a tough schedule and beat some really good teams. We have the ups and downs of baseball season. It has been the goal for us since we got here to make the playoffs. We want to play in May.” 

Southwest head coach Jack Edmonson billed the contest as the “Egg Bowl of our league.”As both programs sit in similar spots, he said it is really neat to have the Coca-Cola Classic return. He is excited about both programs playing against each other. 

One of his pitchers was in attendance at the Coca-Cola Classic Press Conference. Trace Dearman of Clinton is a sophomore pitcher who just recently got back to playing following an injury. Sophomore Sam Crowe is an infielder from Tylertown who played at Parklane Academy and was at the conference as well. Edmonson pointed out Tyler Ott of Summit, a sophomore from Parklane Academy, as his team captain. 

Playoff implications

Both coaches spoke to the importance of the playoff picture. Co-Lin is staying focused on the task at hand with two games against Holmes County Community College this Saturday before playing the Coca-Cola Classic. Southwest is in a good position, Edmonson said. 

“Our program has been growing and we are in a situation where we could make a run for the playoffs. We are currently one game out and two games out of sixth place,” he said. “Our league is so competitive. It will be tough on the last day. I’m excited that this year we will have quality programs playing each other and what will be on the line. Playoffs will be on the line.” 

He added how the teams do that day puts one in a better position for the playoffs than the other. Southwest looks forward to competing with Co-Lin on the baseball diamond while sharing a mutual respect for eachother. 

Chamblee said he recognizes the players on both teams likely played together or against each other from high school and travel ball. The familiarity makes the rivalry matchup interesting. 

“It is a situation where you don’t want to lose to the guys you know,” Chamblee said. “If you are from here you have heard about the rivalry and the Classic. Some of my guy’s their dad’s played at Co-Lin. They grew up hearing “Don’t lose to Southwest. They will compete their tails off. Afterwards, they will be talking and hanging out. They are ultra competitive.” 

Co-Lin sophomore Jayden Duncan actually played at Southwest Mississippi Community College before transferring. He said the rivalry is big between the two schools and he knows the coaches at both programs. 

“In a sense it is weird but it is just baseball. We just have to go out there and play,” Duncan said. “We are getting hot at the right time.” 

Duncan plans to study athletic training and become an athletic trainer after college. He said he has always wanted to be involved in sports since he was born. 

New to the classic

Chamblee said he didn’t know the classic was a thing until he got down to Co-Lin two years ago. He added the media attention and excitement generated by the event was pretty “awesome.” 

The coach is a native of Winona and is in his second year with Co-Lin. He said one thing he has learned about Co-Lin and the rivalry with Southwest is how much the communities and people care. 

“Alumni still live around Co-Lin in Brookhaven and Wesson. I met so many people who played there. Keith Case is a name that pops up often,” Chamblee said. “It means something to those alumni. You want to create that in a program, to have the alumni and people who care behind it. These teams respect each other so much. We work hard. It will be competitive when we get out there. It is an awesome thing.” 

Edmonson has seen both sides of the classic as he previously coached at Co-Lin. He told his team it is not fun when Co-Lin beats them and it is a rivalry they push. He described the competition as special. 

Edmonson may not be new to the classic but he was once a newcomer to the area. A native of Nanih Waiya, he joked he didn’t know anything was south of Jackson until he moved to Southwest Mississippi. 

“It is a special place. Community is important and they love their schools down here,” Edmonson said. “I’ve been a part of this rivalry for a little longer. It is very competitive. It is a special event for all involved. It is important to the players and it will become more important down the road, the memories they have from it.” 

He pointed to Southwest Athletic Department Assistant Michael Gunnell and told everyone in the room to ask him about what the rivalry means. 

“He won’t talk to anyone for a couple of days if we don’t win,” Edmonson said. “These guys will always be a part of this program. We try to push the importance of the rivalry and it is important to the community.”

Pleasant surprises

Co-Lin sophomore pitcher Coby Gollott, of Ocean Springs, has grown into a strong arm this season. Chamblee said the right handed pitcher was a pleasant surprise for the coaching staff as he grew from the bullpen to a starting spot. 

Gollott has thrown 63.2 innings this season with 75 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.39 in 2024. As a reliever in 2023, he threw 41 innings with 42 strikeouts. 

“He was a guy we used a ton last year out of the bullpen,” Chamblee said. “As the season goes, you start to figure out how the bullpen is going to work. We figured he would be a good starting pitcher and he has made it pay off for us. He has been really good and had an awesome year.”

Southwest has managed to bounce back from a not so pleasant surprise. The loss of six arms at the start of the year brought out the best in the team. Adversity forged stronger men. 

“It gave us a chance to show how tough we are. How tough our team is and how they are willing to show up to work,”  Edmonson said. “Their willingness to compete and push our team has been something that is a pleasant surprise.”