National Champion Pearl River sends 8 to the next level
Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The Pearl River baseball factory continues to produce. On Wednesday, the Wildcats held its annual signing day celebration at Dub Herring Park with eight Wildcat sophomores signing on the dotted line to continue their baseball careers at the four-year level. All eight signees were members of the 2022 National Championship squad.
This year's group of next-level signees includes Southern Miss signee Gabe Broadus (Wilmer, Ala.; Faith Academy), South Alabama signee Cooper Cooksey (Waveland; Bay), Delta State signee Triston Hickman, Louisiana Tech signee Blake Hooks (Petal), Mississippi State signee Will Passeau (Mobile, Ala.; St. Paul's), Southern Miss signee Landen Payne (Ocean Springs; St. Martin), Tennessee signee Alex Perry (McComb; North Pike) and Louisiana-Lafayette signee Byrion Robinson (Brookhaven).
"As coaches, this is one of the big reasons why we do what we do," Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. "Signing day is always a special and humbling time. During the recruiting process with these guys, they told us their dreams and aspirations to play at the four-year level. They also had the dream and goal of helping Pearl River win its first National Championship. Today is for them, their families, and their teammates to celebrate their accomplishments.
"We are thankful they chose Pearl River and trusted this program to help them along their way. This is an incredibly talented group and we expect to have more guys join them with their decision to continue their careers at the next level." Dating back to his time at the helm of Mississippi Delta's program, 120 of Avalon's players have signed with four-year programs. Of those 120, 67 of them have been Wildcats.
Broadus was a versatile option for Pearl River last season, seeing action in left field, at shortstop, and second base.
He set the tone at the top of the Pearl River lineup all season long, finishing with a .382 batting average and .467 on-base percentage. Collectively, Broadus had 84 hits, 66 runs, 44 RBIs, 33 walks, 11 doubles, three homers and one triple.
He also had an incredible year on the basepaths, stealing 39 bases by the end of the year.
"Gabe is a player that you absolutely enjoy watching play the game," Avalon said. "Since his first day on campus, he has been a guy that if he goes, we go. During last year's run to the National Championship, Gabe was asked to play the outfield and infield.
"His versatility is what excites us and will be on display this year and next year at the University of Southern Mississippi for Coach Scott Berry."
Cooksey didn't log any innings for the Wildcats last season while recovering from an injury. The right-handed pitcher looks to be a major part of the PRCC pitching staff in 2023.
"The last couple of years for Coop would have been tough for any athlete," Avalon said. "He has dealt with multiple injuries, and, most impressive, he trusted the process and never doubted himself. His patience and work ethic have been special to witness.
"We expect Coop to be one of our starters this year and expect him to battle to do the same for Coach Mark Calvi and the University of South Alabama."
Hickman featured in 17 games last season for Pearl River. The catcher hit .211 with two RBIs and five runs in his limited action.
"Hick has made an impact on this team and program since day one," Avalon said. "A guy that you can always look to for doing things exactly the way they are supposed to be done. Last year, he helped Matt Mercer behind the plate, and we look forward to him taking the next step and being a force in our lineup this year.
"We are excited to see him continue his career at Delta State for Coach Rodney Batts."
Hooks was an ace reliever for the Wildcats last season. In 17 2/3 innings pitched; Hooks allowed just seven earned runs. He struck out 17 batters and walked only six. The right-hander had a 3.57 ERA on the year.
"Blake was a mainstay in the backend of the bullpen for us last year and we expect the same this year," Avalon said. "We trust him in big situations and with the game on the line. He has gained that trust from his coaches and teammates through his daily approach to everything that he does.
"We look forward to following him at Louisiana Tech for Coach Lane Burroughs."
Down the stretch of last season, Passeau became a vital part of the Pearl River pitching staff. The freshman finished with a 4-0 record, and one save while pitching 27 2/3 innings. He finished with an outstanding 10.73 strikeouts per nine innings.
"Will turned down several opportunities out of high school to play at the four-year level because his dream was to play in the SEC," Avalon said. "Last year, he threw several big innings for us and this year we expect him to take over as our ace.
"His stuff is electric, and we anticipate him making an impact for Mississippi State and Coach Chris Lemonis next year."
Prior to suffering a season-ending injury, Payne was PRCC's most relied-on reliever. As a freshman, Payne pitched 25 innings, struck out 37 batters and held a 2.88 ERA. He walked just nine batters on the season.
"Every team needs a guy that you want the ball in his hands with the game on the line and Payne is that guy for us," Avalon said. "As a captain for our team, he sets the example day in and day out of what we expect from each of our guys.
"The University of Southern Mississippi and Coach Berry are getting a leader and heck of a pitcher."
Perry was a remarkable middle-of-the-order bat for Pearl River last season, earning NJCAA Third Team All-American status. The third baseman finished the year with an outstanding .385 batting average, .506 on-base percentage and a .701 slugging percentage.
He tallied 72 hits, 69 runs, 62 RBIs, 35 walks, 17 homers, six doubles and one triple.
Perry truly did it all for the Wildcats as he had a .912 fielding percentage at the hot corner and stole 22 bags.
"Perry's story is unique. Opening day last year, he was not in our starting lineup," Avalon said. "He continued to work and progress which eventually led to him helping us win a National Championship as he was named an All-American.
"After considering several offers from SEC schools, he decided on Tennessee, and we look forward to watching him there under Coach Tony Vitello."
After recovering from a season-ending injury all of the 2021 season, Robinson made 14 appearances for the '22 squad. The sophomore left-handed pitcher finished with a 4.85 ERA through 13 innings pitched.
Robinson's best two outings of the year came when Pearl River needed it most. Appearing in each of PRCC's first two World Series games against Madison, Robin son threw three innings, gave up just three hits and struck out four batters.
"There are guys that you coach that no matter the situation put a smile on your face," Avalon said. "B is one of those guys. An electric personality and arm to match. He has continued to grow, mature and develop.
"There is still room to grow and no doubt he will continue to improve at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette for Coach Matt Deggs."
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