POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Pearl River’s 2018-19 school year is assuredly going to go into the annals as one of the more memorable in the school’s history. The Wildcats saw success across the board in its nine programs and announced a 10th sport is headed to campus, starting in 2019-20. The Wildcats built a 131-68-1 overall record across the Athletics Department, beating MACJC foes to the tune of a 67-39-1 record.
Additionally, Wildcat programs were 65-27-1 at their friendly confines in Poplarville. The men’s basketball and baseball programs also stood out among their MACJC peers, claiming Region XXIII Championships and in doing so stamping their respective tickets to the NJCAA Tournament.
HALL OF FAMERS
Pearl River's history was celebrated in full during the 2018-19 school year. The Wildcats honored four former standouts in Ashley Graeter (baseball), Lyndsey Lee (women’s soccer), Ed Porter (football) and James Singleton (men’s basketball) during Homecoming festivities as they were inducted into the PRCC Sports Hall of Fame.
During the fall, Pearl River made Mississippi JUCO history as President Dr. Adam Breerwood and Athletics Director Jeff Long announced the Wildcats were adding volleyball for the 2019-20 school year. PRCC immediately began planning for the impending season, announcing former Vancleave High coach and two-time MHSAA State Champion Haley Chatham as the program’s first coach. The Wildcats will call Shivers Gymnasium home. The gym, which previously housed PRCC’s basketball programs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, is being upgraded so it can provide one of the more unique volleyball viewing experiences in all of Mississippi.
Chatham finalized her team’s 2019-20 schedule during the spring semester. The 27-date slate will feature matches in Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Tennessee as the Wildcats compete as an independent program until more MACJC members add the sport.
Under the guidance of long-time head coach Jack Byrd the Wildcats got off to an inconsistent start to the 2018 season as they searched for their true identity on the pitch. Midway through the year things began to click for the Wildcats, who won five of their final eight MACJC matches — including a 0-0 draw against rival Gulf Coast — to clinch a playoff berth.
Pearl River fell behind Itawamba early in the first-round matchup before ultimately rallying for a thrilling 2-1 victory. Although PRCC exited in the semifinals, the Wildcats finished the season with an 8-8-1 overall record and 4-3-1 conference mark.
Fresh off of the team’s 2017 MACJC Championship, coach Drew Gallant’s Wildcats rolled into the 2018 season by winning their first seven matches. The Wildcats continued their dominance through the regular season, earning a first-round bye in the MACJC playoffs. Although PRCC was eliminated in overtime, the Wildcats still finished the year with an 11-4 overall record and 6-2 mark in the league.
Throughout the season, Pearl River demanded the attention from national voters; the Wildcats received votes in the NJCAA national ranking for four weeks and were either ranked or received votes for all but two weeks in the United Soccer Coaches poll, climbing as high as No. 16.
Head coach Ted Egger led the Wildcats on the gridiron for his second season in 2018. The Wildcats featured a new look, unveiling a new all-black uniform to complement their established maroon and white uniforms. Although Pearl River finished with a 2-7 overall record (and 2-5 against the South Division), the Wildcats were competitive in nearly all of their games.
The defense’s shining moment came at Southwest, when the Wildcats annihilated the Bears 37-9. In that game, PRCC did not allow SMCC to pick up a single first down, scored on a Josh Smith (New Orleans; Landry Walker) 22-yard fumble return and Eli Stringfellow (Meridian) blocked a PAT.
The Wildcats saved their best performance for the season finale, up-ending Mississippi Delta 24-21 in overtime in Moorhead thanks to a 29-yard kick from local product Will Lang (Inverness; Indianola Academy). Cooper Callis (Jackson, Mo.) had a career day for the Wildcats, connecting with eight different receivers for 342 yards and two scores.
For his efforts, Lang was named the MACJC Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time in three games.
The 2018-19 Pearl River rodeo team entered its third season with a slow start due to injuries to key riders.
Coach Robby Shaw’s team started the season by hosting the Ozark rodeo event in Hattiesburg which featured over 250 contestants. One rider who stood out in the event and throughout the fall season was sophomore Carli Hodges (Summerdale; Ala.). Hodges made it all the way to the championship round in barrel racing.
She continued to impress in the Missouri Valley College rodeo event, placing second in barrel racing.
Head coach Scotty Fletcher and his Wildcats believe they’re continuing to make big-time progress and the 2018-19 season is a big reason why. Despite a very young squad that only featured two upperclassmen, the year was filled with a number of “first time in a long time” moments.
The Wildcats won their first four games of the year and then, after a defeat at Coastal Alabama-North, toppled previously unbeaten Copiah-Lincoln in their MACJC opener for a big shot in the arm. The rest of the season saw the Wildcats learn a lot about themselves as it maneuvered through the always treacherous MACJC. Fletcher ultimately called all the right shots as the team’s 61-50 victory over Meridian in the season finale, securing a tie for second in the rugged MACJC South and clinching the program’s first MACJC Tournament appearance since the 2013-14 season.
A week later the Wildcats made their first Region XXIII Tournament appearance since the same season, falling in the first round to finish the year with a 16-9 overall record.
Following the season, sophomores Gabby Brown (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; Choctaw) and Elexis Peyton (Jackson; Provine) were named to the MACJC All-Star Game. Freshman Mychala “Pooh” Linzy was a breakout star for the Wildcats, landing on the All-MACJC Team as well as the All-Region XXIII Tournament team. Brown and Peyton later locked in their spots at the next level; with the former signing at East Tennessee State and the latter committing to Jackson State.
As the reigning MACJC Champs, Chris Oney’s men’s basketball program entered 2018-19 with a target on its back. Undeterred by the constant spotlight, Oney deployed a “Why not us?” mentality that the Wildcats embodied all the way to the program’s first Region XXIII Championship and subsequent NJCAA Tournament berth. The Championship and Tournament appearance were 95 years in the making, considering PRCC added the sport in 1924.
Pearl River won its first 19 games of the season, checking in as the last undefeated team in the country, and didn’t cool from there. PRCC claimed a share of the MACJC South Division Title with a 12-2 overall record. Despite falling in the MACJC Tournament, Pearl River worked hard to earn the three necessary wins to claim the Region XXIII title and the program’s first appearance in the NJCAA Tournament.
The Wildcats won their opener in the NJCAA Tournament before falling in the Sweet 16 to finish the year with a 26-4 record.
During their memorable run, the Wildcats picked up a number of awards. Brandon Rachal (Natchitoches, La.; Natchitoches Central), Cedric Brim Jr. (Tupelo; Shannon) earned places on the All-MACJC First Team, with Eric Thornton Jr. (Canton; Murrah) landing on the Second Team. Both Rachal and Brim also were named to the All-Region XXIII Team as well as the All-Region XXIII Tournament Team. Additionally, Rachal, who was a three-time MACJC Player of the Week and won the NJCAA award once, was named to the NJCAA All-America Second Team and was selected to play in the NJCAA All-Star Game. Brim and Jonas James III (Jackson; Murrah) were picked for the MACJC All-Star Game.
Oney was also named the MACJC and Region XXIII Coach of the Year. Eight Wildcats from the history-making squad signed with four-year programs: Monroe, Louisiana native Langston Powell (Louisiana-Monroe), Vicksburg native Kirk Parker (Southern), Brim (North Alabama), Rachal (Tulsa), Jos, Nigeria native Chris Agbo (Indiana State), James (Jackson State), Thornton Jr. (Jackson State) and Jackson native J’Vari Thigpen (William Carey).
Under the leadership of long-time head coach Leigh White the Wildcats compiled a 27-22 overall record with a 15-13 mark in the conference. The Wildcats fell behind in the league standings early in the season but thanks to a late-season surge, Pearl River clinched the eighth spot in the MACJC Playoffs. The Wildcats were the talk of the tournament, knocking off host and reigning MACJC Champion Jones College en route to a runner-up finish. Thanks to their deep run in the playoffs, Pearl River secured the right to host the program’s first Region XXIII Tournament, which LSU-Eunice ultimately won.
All season, PRCC ensured Wildcat Stadium was a major homefield advantage, finishing with an 18-4 mark in Poplarville.
Twelve sophomores signed to play at the next level: Barron (William Carey), Picayune native Trenton Lee (West Alabama), Cleland (Louisiana-Monroe), Page (Louisiana Tech), Smith (South Alabama), Meggs (South Alabama), Taylor (Southeastern Louisiana), Lucedale native Colin Danley (South Alabama), Lake native Deyton Lingle (Spring Hill), Hurley native Reis Trager (Spring Hill), Meridian native Luke Harper (North Alabama) and Gulfport native Magruder O’Bannon (William Carey). Ewing verbally committed to Southern Miss at the conclusion of the season and plans to sign with the Golden Eagles after his sophomore season.
Following a standout year at the plate where his 18 home runs were one shy of tying Simon “Meaux” Landry for the program’s single-season record, Jordan was selected in the 16th round of the MLB Draft by the Houston Astros. He was the second Wildcat to be selected in the ’19 draft, joining former Wildcat Colby White, who was drafted in the sixth round out of Mississippi State by the Tampa Bay Rays.
Among other notable highlights from the 2019 season, Avalon earned his 100th win as PRCC’s coach and the program dedicated the clubhouse, naming it the Artigues Family Clubhouse after former coach Jay Artigues.
Photos: Pearl River Athletics