Baseball king for a year in Warren County

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 4, 2002

[12/30/01]Football still dominates the conversations of local sports fans, but for one year at least, baseball was king.

Baseball was the talk of the town in the spring of 2001 as three of Warren County’s four teams finished among the top four in the state in their respective classifications.

Vicksburg High and Warren Central finished strong in football.

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The Gators, under first-year head coach Alonzo Stevens, advanced to the North State championship game for the first time in 10 years by beating Madison Central, then fell to eventual champion Starkville, 38-31. Stevens took over the program when James Knox retired after 31 years at VHS, 12 as head coach.

WC, riddled by injuries all year, rebounded from a 3-4 start to make the playoffs for the 17th straight year. Mississippi State-bound Brett Morgan threw a 31-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left to knock off Tupelo and give WC its first playoff win since 1995.

All four local high schools had at least one state champion in 2001.

But no team caused more of a stir than Warren Central’s baseball team. The Vikings barreled through the playoffs undefeated and finished 36-3 before winning the first baseball title in school history.

Porters Chapel also made a little history, coming within one win of an Academy-A state title before dropping a doubleheader at Heidelberg.

St. Aloysius, playing without coach Joe Graves who was out of town after his mother passed away made a run in the South State series, but fell to eventual state champion Lake.

Even the baseball team that didn’t make it to the semifinals, Vicksburg High, made it to the playoffs and finished a respectable 23-8.

WC pitcher Taylor Tankersley was the state’s player of the year after going 13-0 with an 0.44 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 95 innings. He pitched eight straight shutouts, most over ranked teams, and was drafted by Kansas City in the 38th round. But he turned down the $140,000 signing bonus on June 5 and opted to go to the University of Alabama.

Five days later, after the Vikings finished fourth in the USA Today’s final poll, coach Sam Temple stunned his players by resigning and becoming head coach at Clinton.

St. Al came up short in baseball, but got a team state title in cross country as well as individual titles by runner Mack Henry and swimmer Will Tomlinson.

E.J. Willis became the all-time leading scorer in Warren County basketball history. She didn’t lead Porters Chapel Academy to a state championship on the court, but she did on the track. The Lady Eagles won the Academy-A title in the 1,600-meter relay.

Winning a state championship was nothing new to the Missy Gators. They won their fourth soccer title in six years, 3-1, over Meridian on Feb. 10. Courtney Chapman helped lead the postseason run just days after her mother lost her battle with cancer. Known as “Mrs. Donna,” she had been a fixture on the local soccer scene for years.

Former Ole Miss gridiron great Crawford Mims also died after a lengthy illness on April 21.

Alcorn State linebacker JeKelcey Johnson, who starred at Port Gibson, was shot to death defending a friend on campus Oct. 8.