Trustmark a jewel for playoffs|[05/15/08]

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 15, 2008

In college baseball, the word “Omaha” is synonymous with championships. In Mississippi, “Trustmark” is quickly achieving the same status.

For the second straight season, the state high school championship series will be contested at Pearl’s Trustmark Park, home of the Double-A Mississippi Braves. The 4-year-old, 7,200-seat ballpark is on a year-to-year contract to serve as the host for the state finals, but as the popularity of a trip to Pearl grows with each year, it’s more and more likely to be a permanent arrangement.

This year’s weeklong run starts today at 4 p.m., when Tupelo and Ocean Springs meet in Game 1 of the Class 5A finals. Vicksburg and East Central will play Game 1 of the Class 4A finals at 7 p.m. The MHSAA decided to play the games despite wet weather in Central Mississippi.

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Before Trustmark opened in 2005, all championship series were played at school sites. Occasionally, like when Moss Point faced Southaven for the 2000 Class 5A championship, teams would play a third game at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium to reduce travel. The championship series was moved to Trustmark in 2005 after the MHSAA’s baseball committee voted to move it to a central location. It’s the same thinking that will lead to a centralized location for the state fast-pitch softball championships beginning in 2009, Eiland said.

Vicksburg center fielder Delmon Robinson said “Trustmark” has been a constant mantra for the Gators during their run to the finals.

“Since the beginning of the year, our whole goal was to play at Trustmark Park,” Robinson said. “When I came down from basketball, everybody was talking about it, and I was like, ‘They let you play there?'”

While getting there was tough enough, playing in Trustmark poses its own challenges. The dimensions – 330 feet down the lines and 402 to center – are larger than all but a few high school fields. Vicksburg’s Bazinsky Field, for example, is considered a large park at 315 feet down the lines and 375 to center.

The cavernous ballpark will take an emphasis off the power hitting game, and place it more on speed and defense.

“From a defensive point of view, there’s a lot more ground to cover. I’m going to have to get good reads, good jumps, and hit the cutoff man,” Robinson said.

Other things, like better lighting, should help hitters, Vicksburg coach Jamie Creel said. A larger crowd, different backdrop and big-game atmosphere will also be something both teams will need to adjust to.

“I’ll probably be nervous at first, but at game time it’ll be just another game,” Vicksburg shortstop Ryan Ferrington said. “It’ll be like playing at Smith-Wills.”