PRC Baseball has a Good Recipe
The Pearl River Central Blue Devils baseball team has become the writer of history over the past few days and tonight they will write another paragraph as they play Game 1 of the State Championship series against defending state champion Oxford. The game will be played in Pearl at the Mississippi Braves’ minor league park with a scheduled first pitch for 7:00 p.m.
The Blue Devils did the unthinkable to many by coming back from a heartbreaking, gut-wrenching loss on Thursday night against Hattiesburg that could have done in most teams. However the Devils stormed back to win 12-2 on Friday and 7-4 on Saturday.
Next up, it’s the team that everyone expected to be in the finals (Oxford) against the team that doesn’t pay much attention to anything but what’s in front of them, one pitch at a time. I’ve had the pleasure to watch this team from a view that not many get to experience. Here’s what sticks in my mind with this team:
Coaching - Neil Walther has always been my kind of guy. Ten years ago when I met this Yankee, he seemed to be a little different than most. I thought to myself “Did he put the wrong address in his GPS and end up down south?”
Neil and I have a very good relationship because he’s not afraid to tell you what he thinks, nor am I. He’s pretty dang smart on matchups and tendencies as well. He has shown he is an intelligent head coach because he went out and got guys on his staff that, number one, can coach, and number two, bring something unique to the table versus a bunch of ducks who just follow the leader and quack.
Neil has a sense of humor that I always look forward to on game day. He can be so serious giving you an analysis of something he learned about his opponent or a situation he is looking for and then BOOM he lays the word of the day on you (a requirement made by his staff).
Pregame interviews and chats are priceless with this Yankee (sorry 10 years does not change that). One more thing on Walthers. He doesn’t play daddy or mommy ball, leave your badge at the gate. He plays to win with the best he can put on the field no matter who it is. Some folks say that he does it every day. And win or lose, you will not show your butt playing under him. Perfect example of this is how this team handled themselves after last Friday's circumstances losing Game 1.
Cayne Stockstill, who is one of Neil’s closest friends, joined the staff after trying to beat his best friend as a head coach year after year. Cayne is having a blast working with his best friend and coaching, which is what he likes to do. Neil is beaming about that hire every day.
Colby Hawthorne is a Blue Devil product and in my opinion of the best to ever play at Pearl River Central. He was gritty as a player and he brings that “all that’s important is the next pitch, the next at-bat, the next extra base” mentality every day to work. He’s a baseball guy who loves his school and the young men he is influencing. If you haven’t seen his interview on after Game 3, it’s a must. Watch here.
Bob Dunhurst is the most unassuming guy of the bunch. Smart, steady, and a great mind in calling pitches. He’s also an outstanding gentleman who I have come to respect more and more each day.
All of these guys mesh well together, and have clearly had a remarkable impact on the young men they are coaching.
Players: These guys are really special for a couple of reasons. From personally knowing a lot of their parents I know why they are good players because they were raised (reared for those who critique every word) right first and foremost. There are guys who you can’t help to admire for how they have handled adversity, tough days, injuries, and the like but just keep on grinding. If you have watched them play at least once during this playoff run, you understand and know what I'm talking about. They don’t panic. Yes, they are human and make mistakes. Yes, there is some exceptional talent, but overall, these guys win because of their trust and love for each other.
I was taught by some really good coaches in high school and college baseball that “you have to be committed to your teammates before you can be committed to yourself.” What this means is you see the bigger picture and the power within the group as a whole versus the individual. Perfect example of that was the confidence this team showed after Thursday night’s loss. Walther told me on Friday afternoon that the team knows and has said that ”if they win tonight (Game 2), they’ll win Game 3 because Cade Lee would be on the mound and that’s who they want to get the ball in Game 3.” My thought on this is that as a team, they still had complete confidence in Cade and wanted him to have that feeling of redemption.
Fans: My goodness. If you didn’t already know about this one - then where have you been? For years, the PRC fan base has been the most loyal and always turn out in numbers. This past weekend they outnumbered Hattiesburg in their own stadium.
They were loud too! Near the end of Game 3, I got sentimental every time they chanted “Who are we? P-R-C !”. I couldn’t help but think of my good friend Matt Kubicki. On the way home, I thought about Matt even more. He would have been there dressed up with his horns on his forehead leading the cheers. But in his absence, the Blue Devil faithful made him proud.
Even with all the hype and history no doubt today will be just another game for this bunch of players. Big stage, little stage, I don’t think it matters to them. These guys haven't flinched yet and I don’t expect them to in Pearl either. I like their chances a lot because of their coaches, because of them, and because of their fans who will be everywhere in Trustmark Park.
I’m looking forward to trying to describe it all to our listeners and having the opportunity to take in this historic moment for a few more days. Tune in tonight at 6:45 for our pregame show to 1320AM as always, or right here at WRJW.com from your computer, or by downloading our app here.