St. Al carrying torch for community

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 9, 2002

Painting the town purple Hildon Sessums, painted purple and gold, Allison Hearn, left, Leslie Dyess and other St. Aloysius fans celebrate the South State championship Monday night. About 1,500 fans many from Warren Central, Vicksburg High and Porters Chapel Academy showed up at Bazinsky Field to root on the Flashes. They begin their quest for the state championship tonight at 7 when Myrtle visits for Game 1 of the best-of-three series. (The Vicksburg Post/C. todd sherman)

[05/09/02]The last time St. Aloysius played for a state championship, bell bottoms and disco were all the rage and none of its current players were even a gleam in their parents’ eyes.

Since then, bell bottoms have come back in style and gone out again and members of the 1976 St. Al Class BB state championship team have had sons play at the school.

It’s taken that long for St. Al to get this close to a state title again, so the current crop of Flashes is determined to make the most of it.

St. Al (23-4) opens the best-of-three Class 1A state championship series tonight at 7 against Myrtle (24-8) at Bazinsky Field. Game 2 will be Saturday at 2 p.m. at Myrtle, and Game 3 will be Monday night at Bazinsky Field, if necessary.

The attention lavished on the Flashes this week has been somewhat overwhelming.

Newspapers and television crews have visited the St. Al practice field, and people all over Vicksburg are cheering the Flashes on.

With early round playoff losses by Warren Central and Porters Chapel Academy, St. Al is the lone local team left playing.

Because of that, an estimated crowd of 1,500 people turned out for the South State series-clinching win over Natchez Cathedral on Monday, and St. Al boosters were expecting a similar crowd tonight.

“We’re just trying to keep focused and get done what we want, and that’s a state championship,” St. Al left fielder Walker Hengst said. “Everybody’s really up on St. Al baseball. Everybody’s patting you on the back and wishing you good luck. It’s just a great atmosphere.”

The situation is similar in Myrtle population 358 where the Hawks reached the championship series just three years after making their first playoff appearance.

Myrtle swept Hamilton, which had won three of the last five 1A state titles, in North State.

“It’s a huge step. 1999 is the first time we made the playoffs, and to come where we’re going now is an extreme jump,” Myrtle coach Robert Gordon said. “This is basketball country up here. I guess everybody is more relaxed and ready to get it under way.”

Ah yes, the game. It almost gets lost in the buzz and euphoria of making it to the final series.

Both teams have relied on pitching to shut down foes. St. Al boasts a one-two punch with Game 1 starter Jason Brown (8-1) and hard-throwing senior Aaron George (11-1). “It feels a lot different. It’s a big game,” said Brown, who took his first loss of the season in Game 2 of the Cathedral series. “I just need to concentrate and hit my spots and not worry about the crowd.”

Myrtle counters with Game 1 starter Dustin Hill (8-3), a sophomore, and Gary Hood, who allowed only three hits in 62/3 innings in the clincher against Hamilton.

“We’ve gotten some pretty solid performances out of our starters,” Gordon said. “I don’t really consider myself as having an ace.”

Pitching, always crucial in the postseason, will also play an important role when the series shifts to Myrtle on Saturday. The Hawks’ field is a short one, meaning whichever team’s pitcher can keep the ball down will have a better chance of wrapping up the series or sending it to a Game 3.

“On that 300-foot field, if we’re hitting the baseball, there’s going to be a terrible price to pay,” said St. Al coach Joe Graves, whose team is hitting well over .300 for the season.

For tonight’s game, St. Al will have the home-field advantage that comes along with Myrtle’s four-hour bus ride. Gordon said his team would stay in Vicksburg tonight, and Graves was quick to downplay the home-field edge.

“If you start putting the emphasis on all the trips and all this other stuff, you get away from what you’re trying to do and that’s play baseball,” Graves said.