Experienced arms will lead No. 8 Pearl River staff

(NOTE: This is the first article in a three-part series previewing the Wildcats' 2019 season.)

POPLARVILLE, Miss. – No. 8 Pearl River enters the 2019 season in an enviable situation.

Yes, the reigning MACJC State Champs had three of its star pitchers in Colby White, Drake Nightengale and Camden Dusang sign with Mississippi State, South Alabama and William Carey. And yes, Coach Michael Avalon would love to have those workhorses back as the Wildcats embark on a their title defense. But the coach believes PRCC returns the perfect amount of experience to blend with a stellar crop of newcomers to form a more than formidable pitching staff.

“I think we’re very comparable to last year’s staff,” he said. “We had several key pieces who moved on — major contributors — but I feel like we have addressed that. We have some really good arms we’re counting on.”

LOCKED IN

The Wildcats entered preseason camp with four spots locked up. Several more roles have been solidified as we near Sunday’s season opener. Leading the way will be a one-two punch of sophomores Shemar Page (Raleigh) and Miles Smith (Laurel; Northeast Jones). An All-Region performer as a freshman, Page will once again be deployed as a dual-threat for Avalon. On the mound, Page won 10 games and boasted a 2.73 ERA, striking out a team-high 77 in 59 1/3 innings. Smith wasn’t far behind with six wins, 3.23 ERA and 50 strikeouts in 44 2/3 innings.

Avalon views the duo as two staff aces.

“Certain days it could go either way,” Avalon said. “The cool thing is to see Shemar and Miles compete against each other in a good way. They push each other daily. That’s something that drives them.

“There’s no doubt with those two guys I feel like we can say we have a 1A and a 1B as far as two starters in this league.”

Sophomore Miles Smith will be asked to help lead an experienced pitching staff in 2019 as Pearl River looks to repeat as MACJC State Champions. (PRCC ATHLETICS).

IN THE MIX

Since arriving on campus, Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) has solidified himself as not only a two-way player but the Wildcats’ likely third starter.

“Reece Ewing is a guy who’s very talented,” Avalon said of the 6-foot southpaw. “Stuff-wise, you’re left-handed with a mid-to-upper 80s fastball. I’m excited to see him compete as we face outside competition.”

The fourth and final starter spot remains up for grabs, although Avalon has narrowed the field.

Had he not been injured in high school, Cade Hodges (Brookhaven; Loyd Star) likely would have solidified a starter’s spot. But the 6-foot-4 right-hander is just coming back from Tommy John surgery and will likely be eased into a role.

“He’s a starting pitcher at the college level and that’s where we need to get him back to,” Avalon said.

One freshman who has forced his way into consideration is Evan Bynum (Soso; West Jones). The 5-foot-11 right-hander has been one of the pleasant surprised of the preseason.

“We added him very late in the summer. He has without a doubt been one of our more consistent pitchers,” Avalon said. “His stuff has been a surprise. We’re very excited about him. One thing he does well is command the zone.”

Freshmen Wes Starr (Auburn, Ala.), Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) will also contend for a role in the staff; whether it’s in the rotation or bullpen is to be determined.

Avalon described the 6-foot-3 Starr as a strike thrower who fills up the zone. Like Hodges, Donaldson is working his way back from Tommy John surgery.

“Kasey Donaldson will most likely be a reliever this year and has a chance to work some as a starter toward the end of the season,” Avalon said. “It’s always nice to have a lefty coming out of the pen and he would be our only one with Reece starting.”

LATE IN GAMES

Another swing possibility is sophomore Colin Danley (Lucedale; East Central). The 6-foot-2 right-hander earned three wins a year ago, but if things work out according to plan, Danley will combine with Jerod Meggs (Kosciusko) at the back of the bullpen.

“It’s not very often that you have two potential plus stuff closers at the junior college level,” Avalon said. “Both those guys have that stuff. The big thing with them is to make sure they’re more consistent and mature on the mound.”

The two will complement one another, Avalon said, and could either setup or close depending on their recent work load. Freshman Reid Golemon (Moselle; South Jones) should also factor into the late innings.

“They’re all closer types,” Avalon said. “That gives us a really good luxury we’re not always afforded.”

Trenton Lee (Picayune), Trace McNabb (Foxworth; West Marion), Reid Reynolds (Heidelberg; Northeast Jones) along with Deyton Lingle (Lake) will fill out the rotation.

For many of the younger arms, maturity will be key.

“I think the biggest adjustment some of these freshmen have to make is in high school there’s 1-4 hitters who are tough,” Avalon said. “At our level, when you’re facing Jefferson College or LSU-Eunice, you don’t have many holes in the lineup; 1-9 are all tough outs. The mental part of that, just competing and getting after it for nine batters versus just the top four and letting your stuff take over, that’s where the maturity has to come in.”

NEXT UP

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 1320 AM 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.

FIRST-PITCH DINNER

PRCC will officially kick off the season Sunday, but the Wildcats will get a jump start on their Opening Day celebration Saturday with the 3rd Annual First-Pitch Dinner. PRCC alumnus and motivational speaker Kendale Lumpkins is the guest speaker. The event is open to the public. Tickets are $30 for adults and $15 for children.

For the latest on Pearl River Community College athletics, follow us on Twitter (@PRCCAthletics) and Facebook (PRCCAthletics).

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