New faces to help lead No. 3 Pearl River on offense
Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The No. 3 Pearl River baseball team may have lost nine starters from last season's lineup but that should not effect the Wildcats, who added loads of high school talent while also bringing in several transfers.
"Anyone would assume we'd be a young team this year, but that's not true," Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. "We can start eight or nine second or third-year players on offense.
"We're starting to see the effects of the NCAA transfer portal trickle down to our level. We are thankful we added the experience that we did from transfers to go along with our freshmen."
Pearl River's offensive approach should be similar to the last couple of years, constantly pressuring opposing teams.
"We've tried to become more multidimensional on offense the last few years, and this team can do a lot of things at the plate," Avalon said. "We can hit with power, put pressure on teams on the bases and hit situationally. It will be about us as coaches putting the right pieces together."
The Wildcats will get their first crack at another team Tuesday when Coastal Alabama-South comes to Dub Herring Park for a single nine-inning game. First pitch is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sophomore Day festivities will take place before the contest, beginning at 1:15 p.m. Throwing out the ceremonial first pitch is long-time Wildcat supporter, Barry Harper.
Pearl River has a trio of players that will see time behind the dish this season. Freshman Logan Terry (Semmes, Ala.; East Central) impressed in the fall and is expected to be a regular at catcher. Terry helped lead ECHS to back-to-back 5A State Championships before joining PRCC.
"The physicality, the look, the way he carries himself — he's got what you look for at the catching position" Avalon said. "He was our leading hitter in the fall, and our pitchers have a lot of confidence in him behind the plate."
Splitting time with Terry will be third-year player Parker Ryan (Madison; Jackson Academy). The left-handed hitter started 22 games last season, hitting .240 with 13 RBIs. He allowed just 13 stolen bases and threw out six runners last season.
"Parker has consistently improved over his three years here," Avalon said. "He will play a vital role for us. At this point, game reps are what he needs."
Freshman Colby Wilson (Saucier; D'Iberville) will receive opportunities as well.
Battling at first base are Mississippi State transfer Hollis Porter (Hurley; East Central) and redshirt freshman Caston Thompson (Jayess; Brookhaven Academy). Both were big-time hitters in high school; they swing the bat from the left side.
"Whichever player defends better will play first base, and we expect the other to compete for most of the reps at designated hitter," Avalon said. "Both can be an everyday staple of the lineup."
Reed McCrillis (Madison; Madison Central) follows behind the pair at first base.
Switch-hitting Louisiana Tech transfer Jeff Ince (Brandon; Jackson Prep) is set to anchor second base. He appeared in 14 games and made seven starts for the Bulldogs last season. He collected three hits, two of which left the yard.
"Ince has big shoes to fill at second, with Blaise Breerwood winning a gold glove last year," Avalon said. "That's the level of defensive expectation for our middle infield. Ince should be very good defensively, and he can do a lot at the plate as a switch hitter."
Evan Holifield (Stringer) is expected to fall in line behind Ince to begin the year.
Ince's middle infield partner will be Southern Miss transfer Creek Robertson (Oxford; Madison Central). Robertson made 19 starts for the Golden Eagles last season, driving in nine runs. He was solid with the glove, making just two errors in 82 total chances.
"(Former Wildcat) John Griffin Bell is still the best defensive shortstop I've ever coached, but I believe Creek has a chance to be just as special ," Avalon said. "He can hit with some power, but his strength is to hit for average and run the bases. He's a smart player and can do whatever is needed."
Keegan Giger (Petal) files behind Robertson at the position and plays second base if needed.
Third base is the lone everyday player in the infield from last season in Jonah Katsaboulas (Brandon). After being thrust into the lineup due to an injury, it took Katsaboulas some time to get his feet under him. By the end of the season, he had pulled his batting average up to .292 and drove in 22 runs. In the Region 23 Tournament alone, Katsaboulas racked up seven hits.
"He spoke to our team about putting the focus on the team and not themselves," Avalon said. "He said that last year when he stopped worrying about his performance and instead focused on helping the team win games, that's when things turned around. I think that was the difference."
Brett Busbea (Bailey; West Lauderdale) will be another option at the hot corner for the Wildcats. He was a three-time All-State selection and was named Perfect Game's 29th-best prospect in Mississippi.
The only returner in the outfield this season will be Marshall Phillips (Sumrall). He played in 39 games last season, starting 24 of them. Phillips wrapped up the year with a .269 batting average and 15 RBIs.
"Marshall, along with Jonah, led a lot in the fall, and that has carried over into the spring," Avalon said. "They were sped up a bit last year and know what to expect now. We think Marshall can hit in the middle of the order this year."
Trent Wright (Birmingham, Ala.; Mountain Brook), Ashton Schepens (Long Beach) and Carter Cockrell (Magee; Simpson Academy) all could receive reps in left field as well.
Anchoring centerfield and a top-two spot in the lineup will be another transfer in former Southern Miss outfielder Bryce Fowler (Madison; Germantown). He redshirted as a freshman and tallied three at-bats last year.
"Bryce will hit at the top of our lineup and be a big influence on our team," Avalon said. "He brings a lot of energy. He hits for a little power but is more of a table-setter. That's what we hope for."
The final outfield spot is locked down by Auburn transfer Alex Wade (Decatur, Ala.; Madison Academy). He redshirted last season, but as a high school senior, he was ranked as Perfect Game's No. 1 outfielder in Alabama and was ranked No. 7 overall. He hit .511 with 18 doubles and 10 homers that year.
"We knew at winter break that we needed a right-handed presence in the middle of the order," Avalon said. "He will provide some power to this lineup, and he can really defend. Coming from the SEC, his maturity has really shown so far."
JP Robertson (Madison; Germantown) and Caleb Dyess (Carriere; Pearl River Central) are two-way players who will focus more on pitching this season, but they could see time in right field occasionally.
Designated hitter is a position that will be matchup-dependent for the Wildcats. One of Thompson or Porter will likely begin the season in the spot. Depending on the matchup, Wright or McCrillis could crack the lineup.
Tickets are on sale now at PRCCAthletics.com/Tickets. General admission tickets are $8 per game. Season passes can be purchased for $75 for softball or a softball/baseball season pass can be purchased for $100.
HOW TO WATCH / LISTEN
The Wildcats will once again livestream all games for free at PRCCMedia.com/gold. Fans who have Roku, Amazon Fire or Apple TV devices can also watch the Wildcat broadcasts by downloading the "Pearl River CC" channel from their app stores.
Games can also be heard at WRJW 1320-AM, 106.9 FM and WRJWRadio.com.