Vikings, Tigers bring big-game experience to series

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 10, 2001

[05/10/01] Hattiesburg High is as common a sight in the latter rounds of the Class 5A state playoffs as the Yankees in the World Series.

The Tigers (30-7) have won four state championships (1980, 94, 97 and 98) and are loaded with Division I talent every year.

Warren Central has never played for a high school championship, but don’t for a second think the Vikings are void in experience.

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Five juniors and a sophomore played for national championships while in youth leagues. In 1997, two Vicksburg-area teams played for the Babe Ruth World Series.

Jeff Mitchell, Carl Upton, John Morgan Mims, Joey Lieberman and Tyler DeRossette all played for the Vicksburg Mudcats, a team that won the Southwest Regional before falling in the World Series in Clifton Park, N.Y.

Steven McDevitt played on the Vipers, a 12-year-olds’ tournament team that played for the World Series title in Florida.

“It takes a lot of pressure off us because we’ve been in it two years before,” said Mitchell of his team’s state and national playing experience. “We know what to look for and know there’s going to be a lot of people out here.”

The Vikings also have a summer state championship and a trip to the American Legion World Series in Kansas two years ago. All the starters on this year’s team were a part of that group.

“It won’t be any easier, but we’ve played in big games before,” second baseman Kyle Simmons said. “But this is the biggest.”

Hattiesburg High coach Larry Knight, who has led the Tigers to the school’s last three state championships, says state championship experience should not have much of an impact.

“We have a few guys coaching that have been here, but the players play the game,” Knight said. “It comes down to making plays. I think in some ways it’s helpful to have been here, but it’s not too much of a factor.”

HHS stadium steeped in history

Smokey Harrington Park, home of Hattiesburg High, was once used to film a baseball movie.

“Don’t Look Back,” a film starring Louis Gossett Jr. as the great Negro League pitcher Satchel Paige, was filmed at the turn-of-the-century ballpark.

In addition, the New York Yankees and slugger Babe Ruth once played during spring training at Smokey Harrington Park.

In the fashion of older ballparks, Smokey Harrington has an overhang that covers the entire grandstand. A 10-foot high stone wall fence makes the boundaries for the field.

Those boundaries are the farthest WC will see this season. The field is 340 feet down the lines and 440 to center field.

Roads taken to the title game

Warren Central enters the best-of-three series riding a six-game winning streak, all in the playoffs.

The Vikings, after dropping their final two games of the regular season, swept Starkville, Madison Central and Tupelo.

Hattiesburg lost one game in the playoffs to Northwest Rankin before sweeping Pascagoula and Meridian.

“We feel like we’ve come the hard route,” WC coach Sam Temple said. “I don’t think anyone in the state would have wanted to jump on (our) schedule. That’s what we had to play to get here.

“We feel like getting here was surely a lot of the accomplishment. Our goal is not only to play in this championship round, but to win it.”