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Pearl River Athletics 2018-19 Year in review

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.

As you dig deeper into the numbers, you’ll notice that collectively the Wildcats put together an impressive 2018-19 school year:

  • Four-year signees: 39 (with five more verbally committed)
  • All-MACJC selections: 28
  • All-Region XXIII selections: 9
  • NJCAA All-Americans: 3
  • MACJC Players of the Week: 13 athletes selected 21 times
  • NJCAA Players of the Week: 4 student athletes selected five times
  • Coaches of the Year: 2
  • Region XXIII Titles: 2
  • NJCAA Tournament berths: 2

COMPLETE STUDENT ATHLETES

Not only did the Wildcats get it done on the field and court, they also excelled in the classroom. Eighty-two student athletes landed on the President’s and Dean’s lists following the fall semester, earning at least a 3.40 GPA. Eighty-four student athletes earned their way onto the same prestigious lists following the spring semester.

FACILITY UPGRADES

Pearl River’s athletics facilities continued to see major improvements in 2018-19 as football unveiled a 32-by-18 foot video board, soccer moved into a brand new fieldhouse and baseball’s Dub Herring Park received a heavy upgrade, adding a new press box that features two suites, 200 chair-back seats and state-of-the-art turf on the infield.

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.

Legendary football coach Tim Hatten was Pearl River’s inductee into the MACJC Sports Hall of Fame in the Spring.

NEW PROGRAMS

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.

In addition to announcing the volleyball team, Pearl River’s women’s cross-country team made its first foray into competition with a probationary season under head coach David Johnson. During the year, the Wildcats trained extensively on campus.

Below is a recap of how each Pearl River team fared in 2018-19:

WOMEN’S SOCCER

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.

Stunning striker Rena Gordon (Clarendon, Jamaica) was among the nation’s leading goal scorers with 17 to earn two MACJC Player of the Week honors as well as land on the All-Region XXIII Team. Candyce Martin (Gautier) was among PRCC’s other award winners, earning the MACJC Goalkeeper of the Week once. Grace Sanders (Oak Grove) and Sashine Smith (Kingston, Jamaica) were named to the All-MACJC Team and the MACJC All-Star squad. Sarah Havens (Hurley; East Central), who later signed with Mississippi University for Women, also earned a spot in the league’s All-Star Game.

Following the season, Byrd resigned from his post after 10 years as head coach to accept the head coaching position at The W. Byrd left PRCC with a 158-34-9 overall record and four MACJC titles to his credit as the women’s coach. He was also 10-7 in one season as the men’s head coach. Just under a month later, Pearl River announced the hire of Henrik Madsen as the next Wildcat head coach. Madsen joined PRCC after a successful run as Gulfport High’s head boy’s soccer coach. Prior to his hire, Madsen had won two consecutive MHSAA State Titles.

MEN’S SOCCER

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.

The Wildcats were led by some of the nation’s elite performers. Goalkeeper Kobe Lie (Hattiesburg; North Forrest) was named the MACJC Goalkeeper of the Week three times and landed the national honor twice.

The sophomore finished the season among the nation's leaders in multiple categories, including wins (11; 11th), shutouts (6; 10th), goals against average (1.14; 48th), save percentage (.857; 14th), saves (102; 18th) and minutes played (1,337:26; 23rd).

Jevaun Ennis (Maypen, Jamaica) was one of the more feared strikers in the league, finishing with 12 goals, good enough for 48th nationally.

Following the strong season, which saw PRCC’s men eclipse double-digit wins for the second straight year, the Wildcats were popular among awards panels.

Bo Bowman (Bay St. Louis), Ennis, Lie and Andrew Elkins (Bay St. Louis; St. Stanislaus) all earned MACJC All-Star status, with Joe Elliott (Leicester), Bowman, Cooper Grafe (Kiln; Hancock) and Kealan Baggett (Ocean Springs) earning spots on the All-MACJC team. Both Lie and Ennis were also named to the All-Region XXIII squad. Three Wildcats picked up national honors as Ennis was named to the USC All-South Region First Team, with Elkins and Bowman landing on the USC Scholar Athlete All-America first and second teams, respectively.

Two Wildcats signed with four-year schools. Elkins inked with Auburn-Montgomery while Elliott signed with Delta State. Ennis is also headed to the next level after committing to Cincinnati.

FOOTBALL

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 season highlighted one of the most productive running backs to ever suit up for the Wildcats in Ron Thompson (Bassfield). The 5-foot-8 back’s 913 yards that season and 1,396 career total both rank sixth in PRCC’s record books.

Following the season, Ivory Scott (Kenner, La.; Bonnabel) and Kyron Norwood (Hattiesburg; Forrest County AHS) landed on the MACJC’s First Team, with Lang, Tyler Polk (St. Martin) and Gi’Narious Johnson (Gulfport) earning Second Team selections.

Egger and his staff excelled at getting athletes signed with four-year programs as the following 12 players signed at the next level: Union native Donovan Hickman (Louisiana-Monroe), Jackson native Cory Jackson (Old Dominion), Johnson (South Alabama), Oak Grove native Donald Kinchen (Mississippi College), New Orleans native Josh Smith (Southeastern Louisiana), Pascagoula native Jaeden Ridgeway (Southeastern Louisiana), Scott (Arkansas State), Thompson (North Alabama), Polk (Davenport), Forrest County AHS product K.J. Breland (Delta State), Norwood (Lamar) and Callis (Southern Illinois). Houston, Texas native Josh Booker-Brown committed to Boise State following the season.

Additionally, Markevion Quinn (Ruleville), who was a catalyst for the 2017 team’s 5-4 record, was expected to quarterback the Wildcats before being injured during the spring. The elusive quarterback opted to transfer to Memphis prior to preseason and after rehabbing in 2018, Quinn is set to compete for the Tigers’ starting job in 2019.

RODEO

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.

The third event of the year at West Alabama saw some other Pearl River riders get in on the action. Tyler Stewart (Brandon) placed sixth in bareback horse riding while Tyler Holder (Lucedale; George County) placed fourth in saddle bronc riding in addition to Hodges placing first in barrel racing. Hodges once again placed first in barrel racing in the Southern Arkansas rodeo event.

The rodeo team started off the spring season heading to Meridian to compete in the East Mississippi rodeo event. Stewart placed fourth in the first round for bareback horse riding. The next stop for the team was the Arkansas-Monticello where they saw Zeak Shorter (Florence) post an impressive eight-second time in the first round team tie roping.

Rodeo concluded its spring season competing in the Northwest rodeo event in Senatobia, where Caly Hayworth (Ponder; Texas) and Kaleigh Graham (Petal) placed impressive barrel times of 14.6 and 14.8 seconds respectively.

WOMEN'S BASKETBALL

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.

MEN'S BASKETBALL

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).

SOFTBALL

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.

During the season, Grace Stringer (Moselle; South Jones) and Elizabeth Taggard (Picayune) each earned MACJC weekly honors twice, with Mary Grace Turner (Leakesville; Greene County) also landing the honor once. Taggard also earned the NJCAA Player of the Week award once.

Following the season, Brooke Fagan (Kiln) and Turner were named to the All-MACJC First Team, with Taggard, Breanna Corkern (Watson, La.; Live Oak) and Stringer landing on the Second Team. Turner and Fagan were also named to the All-Region XXIII Team, with Turner earning a spot on the NJCAA All-America Third Team after she set the program record for home runs with 18. Both Turner and Taggard were also Fastpitch News All-America Honorable Mentions. In addition to excelling on the diamond, sophomore pitcher Rylee Swilley was named PRCC’s Female Scholar Athlete of the school year after earning a 3.9 GPA in business administration.

Additionally, four sophomores from the 2019 squad are headed to four-year programs Bay St. Louis native Dallas Blaker (Belhaven) and Turner (William Carey), both signed during the season, while Taggard (Belhaven) signed in early mid-June. Destrehan, La. Native Krista Robles committed to Georgia Gwinnett during the Region XXIII Tournament. Among other highlights from the season, Gracie Barnett (Vancleave) and Stringer combined to throw a no-hitter in a 9-1 six-inning victory over Coahoma.

Following the season, White resigned from her post to pursue other opportunities. In 16 seasons as the head coach, White compiled a 386-322 overall record and won the 2010 MACJC Championship. Pearl River announced in June the hire of Christie Meeks, who spent the previous five seasons as an assistant coach at Mississppi Gulf Coast.

BASEBALL

The Diamond Wildcats had a remarkable 2019 season, compiling a 41-14 overall record and 19-9 MACJC record. The Michael Avalon-led Wildcats opened the year ranked No. 8 in the NJCAA preseason poll and remained ranked all season, climbing as high as No. 4. The reigning MACJC Champs utilized a lineup that combined for 90 home runs — ranking second among D-II programs — and a pitching staff that put together a paltry 3.82 ERA to form one of the more feared teams in the region. During the course of the season, Shemar Page (Raleigh), Miles Smith (Laurel; Northeast Jones), Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy), Wiley Cleland (Columbia; Columbia Academy) and Dexter Jordan (Hattiesburg) all earned MACJC weekly honors, with Page landing the NJCAA equivalent early in the season.

Pearl River defeated East Central in a best-of-three series at Dub Herring Park before advancing to claim the program’s first Region XXIII Championship since 2002. With the title, the Wildcats qualified for the NJCAA World Series in Enid, Oklahoma, where they won their opening game as the No. 1 seed and finished with a 1-2 record.

Noah Barron (Hoover, Ala.), Cleland, Jordan, Page, Smith, Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central), Jerod Meggs (Kosciusko) and Matt Taylor (Raleigh) all earned spots on the All-MACJC teams, with the later three landing on the Second Team. Cleland and Jordan were both named to the All-Region XXIII Team, with Cleland earning the eighth NJCAA All-America nod in program history.

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.

Credits:

Photos: Pearl River Athletics

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