ENID, Oklahoma — The top-seeded Pearl River Wildcats battled with Pasco-Hernando to the final out in Tuesday’s elimination game at David Allen Ballpark. Despite holding a lead for much of the contest, the Wildcats ultimately fell 13-12.
The loss eliminated PRCC (41-14 overall) from its first World Series berth since 2002.
“They raised the bar this year. That’s something that’s going to help us in the future. When you break the glass ceiling, you know you can do it,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. “We’ve broken it again and gotten back. The next step has to be get back here, do better and find a way to win this thing.
“It’s a tough tournament. There’s not an easy out in this thing, which you saw today.”
The Wildcats’ 41-win season is tied for the program’s best finish since the 2013 squad and five wins shy of Jay Artigues’ 46-win campaign in 2005.
“This is just a disappointing finish but an unbelievable year,” Avalon said. “To go this far says a lot about who they are and who we are. We’ll be back and learn from this. We’ll make sure this drives us.”
The Wildcats chased Pasco-Hernando’s starter in the second inning after Luke Harper (Meridian; Northeast Lauderdale) worked a bases-loaded walk and Matt Taylor (Raleigh) was plunked for the second time in two innings to plate a second run.
Noah Barron (Hoover, Ala.) and Taylor teamed up to extend PRCC’s lead to 3-0 in the fourth after Barron led off the frame with a single through the left side and later scored from second on a Taylor single to right-center.
PHSC drew even at 3-3 in the fourth, capitalizing on several Pearl River miscues in the field. Starter Reid Reynolds (Heidelberg; Northeast Jones) limited the damage, stranding two Bobcats (34-24) with a big inning-ending strikeout.
The deadlock did not last long as Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River) ambushed the first pitch he saw from the Bobcats’ left-handed reliever and sent it over the 363-foot sign in left field for a 4-3 lead.
The first two Bobcats reached to open the bottom of the fourth but after advancing into scoring position reliever Reid Golemon (Moselle; South Jones) slammed the door on PHSC — including a huge strikeout to end the inning.
Pearl River broke the game open in the sixth, plating eight runs and forcing PHSC to use four pitchers in the frame in the process.
Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) scored the inning’s first run on a dropped third strike. Harper and Izzio then scored on bases-loaded walks. Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) punctuated the big inning with an opposite field grand slam. A Taylor single through the left side scored Barron to plate the inning’s eighth run.
The Bobcats scored 10 runs over the final three innings, including five in the ninth to end the game on a two-run walk-off single.
“I’m going to miss these guys. We’ve had a lot of good players who gave us a lot of effort and believe in our program,” Avalon said. “This definitely was not the way you want things to end. I could have done a better job today. I’m real disappointed that I let these guys down. This is something that will make me better and push me. I’ll learn from it and we’ll move on.
“We had a better team than this and that falls on my shoulders.”
Every Wildcat reached base at least once in the contest. Taylor led the Wildcats’ offensive outburst, going 3-for-3 at the plate with three RBIs. He was also hit twice. Donaldson was the only other Wildcat with multiple hits — two — to go along with four RBIs and two runs scored. Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg) was 0-for-2 but scored twice and walked three times. Shemar Page (Raleigh) also walked three times. Wiley Cleland (Columbia; Columbia Academy) and Ewing both walked twice.
Reynolds struck out two in four innings for PRCC on the mound before turning the game over to Golemon, who pitched two scoreless frames, allowing just one hit. Wes Starr (Auburn, Ala.), Deyton Lingle (Lake), Trenton Lee (Picayune) and Evan Bynum (Soso; West Jones) all pitched as well.
“I’m real proud of this group,” Avalon said. “I’m not going to let the last day define who they are.
“They’re winners, they’re champions and I’m just real glad I got the opportunity to coach them.”
The Wildcats’ 2020 roster will look quite a bit different. Avalon’s sophomores had a busy early signing period celebration: Jerod Meggs (Kosiusko) and Miles Smith (Laurel; Northeast Jones) signed with South Alabama; Taylor signed with Southeastern Louisiana; Reis Trager (Hurley; East Central) and Lingle signed with Spring Hill College; Page signed with Louisiana Tech; Barron signed with New Orleans; Cleland signed with Louisiana-Monroe; Harper signed with North Alabama and Lee signed with West Alabama. Over the last month, Colin Danley (Lucedale; East Central) announced his plans to play at South Alabama with Meggs and Smith. Magruder O’Bannon (Gulfport; St. Stanislaus) also recently announced his commitment to William Carey.
“We have a lot of good players we’re going to miss,” Avalon said, listing his sophomore class. “I could go on and on and on with all of our sophomores. They’re special players.”
In addition to the departing sophomores, several freshmen have received substantial interest from four-year programs and will have decisions to make.
Expectations will remain high as the Wildcats transition into offseason mode before turning their attention to fall ball. The class pitching coach and recruiting coordinator Anthony Izzio spearheaded is ranked eighth nationally according to Perfect Game.