Despite loss, Gators look to next year|[05/18/08]

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 18, 2008

PEARL — The green-and-white-clad Vicksburg High baseball fans at Trustmark Park cheered and raised a ruckus throughout Saturday’s Class 4A state championship series game.

They had been following the Gators from the beginning of the year, when the team was sitting at 5-5. They were there when the team reeled off 15 straight wins to enter the playoffs — as hot as any team in the state.

They were there through four gut-wrenching playoff series that resulted in the ultimate trip — to the state championship.

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They all wanted a glimpse of a history-making event, something Vicksburg High had never done — play for baseball’s top prize in Mississippi.

Even as the East Central Hornets celebrated on the pitcher’s mound after a 16-6 victory and the Gators met for one last time as a team in the outfield, the throng of onlookers continued to stand and cheer.

“It’s a pretty good taste, but we’re leaving the ballpark hungry,” Vicksburg junior Trey Prentiss said. “But we’ll be ready to come back in February and do it again. We will be ready for it.”

Vicksburg lost its bid for a Class 4A championship Saturday, but with only three seniors graduating and a wealth of talent in the younger age groups, many around the Vicksburg dugout said it won’t be the last time the team will play with a championship on the line.

“Just work hard and keep doing what we’re doing. God blessed us this year. Hopefully, He’ll do it again,” said VHS’ Kurt Cooksey. “I hope (February) comes fast. I’m looking forward to it.”

Before this season, Vicksburg had only advanced past the second round of the playoffs once and it wasn’t until 2003 that the team won its first playoff series. Since then, the Gators have been consistent winners in Class 5A before dropping to Class 4A this season.

Now the work begins for a return to Trustmark Park. Most of the team will play summer ball in preparation for next season. Losing three key players — Andrew Brown, Stanton Price and Delmon Robinson — will not be easy, but VHS Coach Jamie Creel has built his program to survive graduations with young talent and good feeder programs. It’s what he has been after since he took over the program in 2000.

After watching his team fall to the Hornets, he saw something that need improving.

“We know what it takes to win a championship,” Creel said. “We’ve got to (bow) up and develop that killer instinct. We didn’t have that these last two games.”