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Magnolia State’s high school baseball has come long, long way

Game 3 of 2024 MHSAA Baseball Championship series was held on May 25, 2024 at Trustmark Park. Photo by Keith Warren
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Sumrall’s Bobcats celebrated a state championship after overcoming Ty Long and the Ripley Tigers Saturday morning at Trustmark Park. (Photo by Keith Warren)

PEARL — So much about the Mississippi sports landscape has changed in my more than half century of chronicling all things athletic in the Magnolia State. Little, if any, has changed more – or for the better – than high school baseball.

That vast improvement has been on regal display for the past five days in the MHSAA State Championships at Trustmark Park, where the baseball was crisply played and often by superbly trained athletes, many of whom you will be watching and reading about for years.

Rick Cleveland
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Rick Cleveland

There are several reasons why Mississippi’s college baseball teams are so successful year after year. Chief among them: The talent pool supplied by Mississippi high schools keeps producing top shelf talent.

Think about it: Mississippi State and Ole Miss have won national championships in the past three years. Southern Miss will play in its eighth straight NCAA Regional next week and leads the nation in both consecutive 30-win and 40-win seasons. Delta State is a perennial Division II national power. William Carey is currently playing in the NAIA World Series. Four – count them, four – Mississippi junior colleges rank in the nation’s top 20. 

Baseball talent abounds in Mississippi, where the coaching, the facilities and the community support have all improved dramatically. Gone are the days when assistant football coaches who didn’t even understand the infield fly rule were forced to coach baseball and were more than happy to play only a dozen or so games a season.

Sumrall’s 44-year-old  coach Andy Davis, whose Bobcats defeated Ripley 2-0 Saturday morning for the Bobcats seventh state championship over the past 16 years, has witnessed first-hand the sea change in Mississippi high school baseball. “It’s unreal how much better it’s gotten,” Davis said. “I’m talking about the skill level, the technology, the coaching, the support, the facilities, the emphasis on baseball.”

Davis’ baseball life has come full circle. Twenty-seven years ago, Andy Davis pitched Taylorsville to a state championship victory over Nettleton. This week, his 15-year-old, ninth grade son, Drew, helped pitch and hit Sumrall to a championship in a thoroughly entertaining and ultra competitive best-of-three series with Ripley.

Get this: Ripley’s Ty Long struck out 27 batters, allowed four hits and zero runs in 13 innings of a three-game state championship series – and he lost. Said Andy Davis, “I’ve been coaching baseball for 24 years and he’s the best pitcher any of my teams has ever faced.”

The 2024 MHSAA Baseball Championships were held on May 21, 2024 at Trustmark Park.Photo by Keith Warren
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Ripley’s amazing Ty Long struck out 27 batters in 13 innings of state tournament play. (Photo by Keith Warren)

But this state tournament has been a showcase of remarkable talent. No telling how many games and championships Drew Davis will win before his high school career ends in May of 2027. He was Sumrall’s best pitcher as an eighth-grader, which is saying something when you realize the Bobcats’ No. 2 starter Leo Odom, a junior, already has committed to play at Ole Miss. Drew Davis, 13-0 for Sumrall as an eighth-grader, played and pitched for Team USA (under-15) in international competition last season.

Sumrall’s No. 3 pitcher Landon Hawkins, a junior who is also Sumrall’s football quarterback, pitched a four-hit shutout Saturday. “Landon’s our leader and he has played everything but catcher for us,” Andy Davis said. “I’d go to battle every day with him. He was a legend out there today.”

Future college and junior college stars were all over the Trustmark Park diamond throughout the week. Brandon lefty Walker Hooks, an Ole Miss signee, helped pitch the Bulldogs to the Class 7A championship, besting Hernando, which was led by Mississippi State signee Topher Jones and another Ole Miss signee, Thomas Mitchell. Junior center fielder Jaumaurion Jones, a Southern Miss commitment, scored the only run in Brandon’s 1-0 championship victory. St. Andrews won the Class 2A title, despite expert pitching from Mississippi State commitment Landon Harmon of East Union. There were so many more stars shining brightly this week, but that gives you an idea.

None shined more brightly than Ripley’s pitcher-shortstop Long, who has signed to play his college ball at Southern Miss. Ripley coach Joel Gafford called Long “the kind of player you are lucky if you get to coach one like him once in your career.” 

Andy Davis, the Sumrall coach, embraced Long post-game and later told about their brief conversation. “I told him he’s a stud and that I can’t wait to watch him when he’s at USM. If they cloned him nine times, it’d be one heck of a baseball team because he pitches, he competes, he defends and he’s a tough out. You just have to tip your cap to that kid.”

And you can tip it to Mississippi high school baseball while you’re at it.

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