Powerful offense key for renewed Gators|Prep baseball

Published 12:00 am Thursday, February 12, 2009

Vicksburg’s historic run to the Class 4A championship series last May left reigning Coach of the Year Jamie Creel wondering how the Gators could do it again.

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Pitching looked to be a big problem as 2008 Vicksburg Post Player of the Year and Class 4A State Co-Player of the Year Stanton Price graduated, taking his 11-2 record and 88 innings pitched with him.

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“Early on, I was concerned with our pitching. I didn’t know how healthy Kurt (Cooksey) would be. Jacob Thomas, though, has really come on. He’s become our new No. 1 and we’ll go as far as he can take us,” Creel said as the Gators look to open the 2009 season on Saturday with a doubleheader at home against Columbia.

Thomas was the Gators’ No. 4 starter last season. Since the Gators played just three games a week, Thomas was left to pitch against the weaker teams from Division 3-4A. He did well in that time, going 4-1 with a 2.02 earned run average in 27.6 innings pitched. Yet it was his three-inning performance in Game 3 of the North State title series against Tishomingo County that got Creel thinking that Thomas had the makings of an ace.

“He saved us that day. He got us to the fourth inning, still in the game, and we were able to get Stanton back out there,” Creel said.

The Gators rallied from a 5-4 deficit to beat Tishomingo County 8-5 in a deciding third game in Iuka to advance to the state title series for the first time in school history. Vicksburg eventually got swept by East Central at Trustmark Park but that did little to diminish the standout season where Vicksburg reeled off 13 straight wins to take the Division 3-4A title and four playoff series. The Gators had never been out of the second round before last year. They finished with a school-best 28-10 record.

Creel knew if he could solidify his pitching, the offense could take care of itself. The Gators return three of the most productive batters in the state in seniors Trey Prentiss, Blake Hynum and Bowen Woodson.

“I’ll take my big three over anybody’s,” Creel said.

Woodson, who hit .370 with seven home runs, eight doubles and 33 RBIs, signed early with Tulane University.

Hynum batted .444 and his 47 runs scored led Warren County. He also hit seven homers and drove in 31 runs. Hynum feels the Gators’ strong postseason run will play a big part this season.

“Most definitely. I think we are going to play with a lot of confidence. I’m doing some different things at the plate and I think it’s helped me,” said Hynum, who signed early with Hinds Community College.

Then there is Prentiss, who has yet to sign, but is athletically gifted in both football and baseball. Prentiss rated in the top half at last August’s East Coast Showcase, which features the top 100 senior prep baseball players from the eastern half of the United States.

In his junior season, Prentiss hit .395 with six homers, nine doubles and drove in 40 runs. Four of his homers came in the postseason, including his clutch three-run shot that put Vicksburg in the lead in Game 3 at Tishomingo County.

Complimenting the big three are returning shortstop Ryan Ferrington (.388, 30 runs scored), pitcher and outfielder Brian Fitzgerald (27 RBIs) and Cooksey (36 hits, 26 RBIs).

Fitzgerald was the Gators’ No. 2 starter last year and should maintain that spot this season. He went 5-3 with a 2.58 ERA with 53 strikeouts in 54.3 innings pitched.

Cooksey, who battled shoulder problems suffered during the 2007 football season, appears to have recovered for his senior season.

Vicksburg will play another tough, non-division schedule. On Feb. 20, they will take on the defending Alabama Class 5A state champions, the Cullman Bearcats, in the Mid-Mississippi Classic.

On March 21, they will face the defending Louisiana Class 5A champions Barbe from Lake Charles, La., in the Monroe Tournament.


Contact Jeff Byrd at jbyrd@vicksburgpost.com.