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Veteran arms should lead No. 1 Pearl River

Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director


POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The Pearl River baseball team's pitching staff might have lost four starters after its 2022 National Championship season, but the Wildcats are in a great position heading into Saturday's season opener against Wharton County with several veteran arms to lead the way on the mound.

"I'm not going to say this is our deepest team on the mound, but it's comparable to any pitching staff we have had here," Pearl River skipper Michael Avalon said. "One of the reasons we had such a special year last year was that we had four sophomore starters on the mound. We are again in a position to look to four older guys to carry the load. We also have a chance to be successful because of our depth in the bullpen."


IN THE ROTATION

The Wildcats will head into the 2023 campaign with four players locked in as starting pitchers. Leading the way will be Mississippi State signee Will Passeau (Mobile, Ala.; St. Paul's). The 6-foot-3 right-handed pitcher made 11 appearances for the 2022 squad, pitching to a 4-0 record and one save in 27 2/3 innings. He also struck out 33 batters.

"Will probably has as good of a breaking ball as we have seen here. It's really a plus pitch," Avalon said. "He has a chance to strike out a lot of guys. We need him to continue to improve on his consistency and making sure his pitches are in the zone."

Although he didn't throw an inning for the Wildcats last season, Cooper Cooksey (Waveland; Bay) will be an impact arm in the rotation. A right-handed pitcher, Cooksey signed with South Alabama in the fall.

"Cooper Cooksey is a guy we are extremely excited about," Avalon said. "He redshirted last year due to injury. We expect him to start and log a lot of innings for us. He's a strike thrower and can get a lot of outs. It's going to be great to see him out there."

Electric left-handed pitcher and Louisiana-Lafayette signee Byrion Robinson (Brookhaven) transitioned back to a starting pitcher role after featuring as a reliever over the last two seasons. In 2022, Robinson pitched 13 innings and struck out 18 batters. The third-year sophomore was incredible for PRCC in the World Series against Madison. He tossed three innings, striking out four and allowing no runs.

"I think the innings that he logged in Enid were huge. To go out on the biggest stage and have success when you didn't have the year that you wanted can be really beneficial," Avalon said. "I think that could catapult him to a big year. With him getting a chance to start, he's going to become more comfortable and log more innings. That'll help him develop. There aren't many arms that are as electric as his."

Transferring in from Snead State to join the Wildcat rotation is Luke Lyon (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove). Lyon was a huge part of SSCC's run to the NJCAA Division I World Series last year, throwing 60 1/3 innings with 55 strikeouts against 22 walks.

"Luke Lyon is going to be a really good arm for us," Meeks said. "He was second in innings last year for Snead State and led them to a World Series. He's going to receive several starts for us. We're excited to have him join our staff."


COMING OUT OF THE PEN

Much like last year, Pearl River will have an incredibly deep bullpen to rely upon during the season. The Wildcats will be led by a trio of returners in Louisiana Tech signee Blake Hooks (Petal), New Orleans signee Bobby Magee (Petal) and Southern Miss signee Landen Payne (Ocean Springs; St. Martin).

Hooks was a massive arm for the Wildcats down the stretch last season. The sidewinder made 16 appearances and tallied 17 2/3 innings pitched, 17 strikeouts and a 3.57 ERA.

"Blake gives batters a different look," Avalon said. "He is always going to be extremely tough on right-handed hitters with his arm slot."

Payne was one of the top Wildcat bullpen options before suffering a season-ending injury during the Region 23 Tournament. He made 15 appearances and threw 25 innings. He struck out 37 batters and held a 2.88 ERA.

"He's an extremely hard worker. He deserves the success that he's going to have," Avalon said. "Throughout the injury, he's been a team-first guy. He even pushed off his surgery to make sure he was there with us at the World Series. Payne can make a couple of starts this season if we need him to but will start the season as our closer."

Magee really came on strong for the Wildcats at the end of last season. On the year, he held a 6.05 ERA with 30 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings.

"Bobby Magee will more than likely serve as a second closer for us this year," Avalon said. "He's an electric right-handed arm and we're excited to see him handle that role."

Also featuring in the pen will be Jordan Belsome (Poplarville) who has dropped down to a lower arm slot and will be a short reliever.

"We had a need for sidearm pitchers and Belsome did it some in high school, so he was comfortable making the change," Avalon said. "He's going to give a different look to hitters. We think he will come in and get a lot of ground balls."


IN THE MIX

Meridian transfer Cortez Dennis (Wiggins; Stone) will begin the year as a reliever, but Avalon says that the 6-foot-6 right-hander could make starts if needed. At MCC in 2022, Dennis struck out 42 batters in 35 1/3 innings.

"Cortez has been impressive so far," Avalon said. "He will be a long reliever, but should also get several starts during the year"

Freshman JT Schnoor (Pascagoula; Resurrection) will slide into the role that Passeau had last year, making spot starts and relieving.

"JT has tremendous upside," Avalon said. "He's going to be a starter in the future, and he may get some starts this year. We want to get him as many innings as we can."

The Wildcats also feature several other arms that could see game action, including returners Brennan Jones (Gulfport; West Harrison) and J.P. Lyon (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove); plus newcomers Andrew Knight (Hattiesburg; Sumrall), Maney Miller (Brookhaven), Cameron Fennell (Long Beach), Blake Gollott (Saucier; D'Iberville), Conner Ware (Madison; Germantown), Riley Passman (Poplarville) and Blaine Knight (Kiln; Hancock).


NEXT UP

Pearl River gets its season started Saturday when it plays a double-header against Wharton County. The games will be held at Alumni Field on the campus of Southeastern Louisiana. First pitch is set for 3 p.m.

PRCC plays its first game at Dub Herring Park on Feb. 14 against Coastal Alabama - South.


TICKETING

Season and single-game tickets for Pearl River baseball are available now and can be purchased at PRCCAthletics.com/Tickets.


CASHLESS BOX OFFICE

To help improve traffic flow and fan experience, PRCC athletics box offices are cashless in 2022-23. Only credit and debit cards will be accepted at the box office. Fans are encouraged to beat the lines and purchase their tickets in advance.


TUNE IN

Pearl River livestreams all home 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 on WRJW 1320-AM, 106.9 FM and WRJWRadio.com.


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

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