‘Luxury’ of a deep roster is both blessing and curse for No. 8 Pearl River
(NOTE: This is the second article in a three-part series previewing the Wildcats' 2019 season.)
POPLARVILLE, Miss. – Heading into Sunday’s season opener against Jefferson College there may be some sleepless nights for Coach Michael Avalon — but in a good way, if that makes sense.
As No. 8 Pearl River looks to repeat as MACJC State Champs, they’ll need to plug several rather large holes in the order — including one by feared slugger and Los Angeles Dodgers prospect Simon “Meaux” Landry.
It’s never a good thing when you have to replace an All-American who hit 19 homers, but Avalon feels he still has the pieces to contend again in 2019. It would be understandable if Avalon was fretting over not having enough difference makers. He believes the exact opposite is true, however.
“One of the toughest things for us this year is actually going to be setting a lineup. We feel like we have a lot of pieces we can plug in,” he said. “Our lineup may change every game. That’s a credit to the players and the competition we’ve had so far in the fall and spring.
“We feel like we have some definite depth there.”
Setting the table will be returning starter Matt Taylor (Raleigh). The left fielder hit a robust .372 as a freshman with a .454 on-base percentage and .476 slugging percentage. Needless to say, Avalon is excited to see what Taylor can do as an encore.
“We’re glad to have him back,” Avalon said. “He’s just a hitter. That’s what he’s there to do.”
Next to Taylor in the outfield will likely be Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy). The freshman may also hit atop the order with Taylor.
“Reece won a state championship last year and has already played at a high level,” Avalon said, adding Ewing’s left-handed bat would fit well in the second spot in the lineup.
After that, things could be fluid in the lineup with a number of players deserving to hit in the middle of the order.
Left fielder Matt Taylor will be expected to set the tone for No. 8 Pearl River this year as the Wildcats set out to defend their MACJC State Championship. (PRCC Athletics)
MIDDLE OF THE ORDER
Noah Barron (Hoover, Ala.; Hoover) is a frontrunner for the third spot. The right-fielder led PRCC with 17 doubles last year while hitting .325 with a .515 slugging and .373 OBP.
“He brings experience in that position and has developed a little more plate discipline,” Avalon said.
Wiley Cleland (Columbia; Columbia Aca.) hit 13 extra-base hits with 32 RBIs and a .255 average as a freshman. The infielder, who will likely see the bulk of his playing time at shortstop and first base, has continued to develop this school year.
“Wiley’s is a winner,” Avalon said. “He has really matured. He physically gets the interest of scouts because he’s 6-3, 205 pounds and can run well. He also had a tremendous fall for us, so we expect him to hit 3-5 and be a force in the middle of our lineup.”
Like Ewing, Shemar Page (Raleigh) will play a big role as a starting pitcher in addition to playing first base or being the designated hitter. As a freshman, Page hit .307 with nine extra-base hits and a .480 slugging percentage.
“He’s very disciplined at the plate and has really swung the bat well early this spring,” Avalon said. “He has tremendous upside there.”
Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) will likely rotate with Page at first base and DH.
“Donaldson came in hurt coming off surgery, but he’s just a hitter,” Avalon said. “He’s going to hit. He’ll get ample opportunities.”
Hometown product Kyle Tynes (Poplarville) is another player who should rotate through with left-handers Donaldson and Page at DH.
“Kyle Tynes is someone you should see off the bench late in a pinch hitting role,” Avalon said, adding he may also earn some DH opportunities.
MORE IMPACT FRESHMEN
Two more bats who will slot into the lineup somewhere near the top are Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central) and Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg). The two are frontrunners to start at third base and second base, respectively.
“We have high expectations for Dexter and Austen,” Avalon said. “Ability-wise, both have a chance to play at a high level. They should be in the middle of our lineup and be dynamic for us.
“They’re smart hitters who have played a lot of baseball at a high level.”
One of the more difficult areas to name a starter will be at catcher, where Avalon feels he has three good options in sophomores Luke Harper (Meridian; Northeast Lauderdale) and Magruder O’Bannon (Gulfport; St. Stanislaus), and freshman Britt McKay (Wiggins; Ocean Springs).
Harper is the best defender of the three and also the most versatile as he can play nearly anywhere on the diamond. Regardless of who starts, Avalon loves his options behind the plate.
“Magruder is just a smart catcher. He’s a baseball guy, was valedictorian of his class and knows the game. He’s also a switch hitter so he gives you some matchup opportunities,” Avalon said. "Britt is a very good athlete behind the plate, which is plus for us. He has done a good job of swinging the bat so far this preseason.”
Avalon had hoped freshman Dalton Cummins (Seminary) could compete be the team’s starter at shortstop after a great fall, but due to an injury his status is up in the air. The injury has opened the door for sophomore Reis Trager (Hurley; East Central) to play more up the middle.
“Defense is his best attribute,” Avalon said. “He’s a real ball player.”
Expect to see plenty of Trenton Lee (Picayune), whether it’s on the mound or in the outfield.
“Trenton Lee is our best defender in the outfield who will get opportunities to win a job and also DH. He’s just a max effort, blue collar, go-get-em guy,” Avalon said. “He’s a difference maker defensively for us. All that kind of runs in the Lee family. The kid is a winner.”
Deyton Lingle (Lake) will provide valuable experience in the outfield and can play all three spots. Freshman Garrett Robbins (Sumrall) will provide depth in the outfield.
Pearl River opens the season Sunday against Jefferson College. The doubleheader at Dub Herring Park will begin at noon. Both games can be heard on WRJW app (Sports Audio option)with Carey Meitzler calling the action.
The games will also be streamed at PRCCAthletics.com. Anyone with a Roku device can also watch the games by downloading the “Pearl River CC” channel in the app store.