Vikings swinging for another title

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 17, 2002

John Morgan Mims squares up to bunt during Warren Central’s practice Wednesday. In the background is Jake Turner.(The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[01/17/02]Randy Broome put his state championship ring back in the box on Jan. 1 and he urged his returning players to do the same.

“I talked to them (Tuesday) and told them that 2001 was a great year, but this is 2002,” said Broome, who inherits the defending Class 5A champion Vikings from Sam Temple, who took the head coaching job at Clinton.

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“It’s time to shrink them heads back down and get after it.”

The Vikings, as well as Vicksburg and St. Aloysius, took the fields on Tuesday in the first day the Mississippi High School Activities Association allows after school baseball practice.

On few diamonds across the state will the expectations be any higher than Viking Field. The numbers from last season are staggering:

WC went 36-3, including eight straight through the playoffs.

A No. 4 ranking in USA Today followed and the team was the consensus No. 1 team in Mississippi after sweeping Hattiesburg in the championship series.

Still, there is room for improvement, many players say.

“We had three more things to do (last year) and that was to win those three games,” senior Jeff Mitchell said of his team’s losses in 2001. “We didn’t get to the top and we still have things to do. We finished fourth in the nation last year, so we have three more steps to climb.”

The climb will have to be done without four seniors from last year’s club, including dominating pitcher Taylor Tankersley. The Alabama freshman went 13-0 with a 0.39 ERA.

The Vikings also lost Kevin Coker to the University of Southern Mississippi, Brent Towne is at Meridian Community College and Kyle Simmons is at Hinds.

“… (W)e’re a good team, but we’ll have to win in other ways because we’re not going to blow people out,” said shortstop Joey Lieberman, who was second on the team with a .366 average and a team-leading nine home runs. “We have to play good defense because we don’t have anyone that will go out and strike out 15 in a game.”

The Vikings will ride the right arm of Carl Upton, who went 12-0 last year including 4-0 in the postseason and had a 1.02 ERA. Ole Miss signee Brian Pettway and a host of others are expected to see action on the mound. Pettway led the team in hitting as well with a .467 average and 18 doubles.

Plenty of people around the state will get a look at the Vikings. The schedule has WC at home 11 times, including two games against archrival Vicksburg, and one each against Oak Grove and Hattiesburg.

The Vikings also play four teams from Louisiana, one from Alabama and one from Tennessee. They also play Mississippi powers Madison Central and Brandon.

“To be the man, you have to beat the man and we did last year,” Broome said. ” … I think our schedule will prepare us for the postseason. We’re going to play some big dogs this year.”

The Vikings will continue practicing until their Feb. 16 opener against Brookhaven at Cleveland.

“We can’t get all caught up with rankings,” center fielder Chris Hite said. “They don’t matter until the playoffs. We want to be on top when it’s over.”