It’s all a big surprise|PCA, University Christian vie for South State title

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 4, 2009

The last time Porters Chapel and University Christian crossed paths, they were two struggling teams fighting for playoff spots. Fast forward a month or so, and they’ve emerged as two of the top teams in Mississippi.

If you go

Game 1: Tuesday, 6 p.m.

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at Porters Chapel

Game 2: Thursday, 4 p.m.

at Univ. Christian

Game 3: Friday, 6 p.m.

at Porters Chapel

(if necessary)

PCA and University Christian open the MPSA Class A South State finals on Tuesday night at Pierce Field. It’s a stunning turnaround for a couple of teams that entered the playoffs as a second-place team and a wild card, respectively, and sported a combined record of 20-16 the last time they met.

“It’s a great feeling where we are. A great feeling of accomplishment. But no one here is satisfied,” said PCA coach Randy Wright, whose team is in the Class A semifinals for the fifth time since 2001. “We’re going to try and give University Christian our best effort and see if we can bring home a championship.”

PCA (21-8) and University Christian split a doubleheader on April 2, then both went on a tear over the next month. PCA won 10 of its next 12 games, while the Flames won six of seven games in the postseason. University Christian’s run includes a wild-card tournament and two playoff series.

The key for both teams has been pitching. University Christian features a strong duo with fireballing ace Mark Kaplan and sidearming righty Caleb Kellum. Kaplan, whose fastball approaches 90 mph, is all too familiar with PCA. Despite racking up 47 strikeouts in four starts against the Eagles over the past two seasons, he’s just 1-3 against them.

Kellum had more success, throwing a five-inning shutout in a 12-0 win over PCA in April.

“They’ve got two really good, solid pitchers. A legit number one with Mark Kaplan. He’s consistently in the upper 80s. And Kellum is unique. You don’t see a lot of sidearmers,” Wright said.

PCA will counter with a guy who used to be one.

Junior Reed Gordon was a submarine pitcher last season but changed his style to an overhand delivery this year. He’s found his groove in the playoffs, allowing just two earned runs in two starts. PCA won both games, allowing it to clinch its first- and second-round series and keep ace Montana McDaniel on a regular schedule.

Gordon said a lack of work in the regular season might be helping him now. He only pitched about 12 innings in the first two months of the season, but has doubled that in the last three weeks. That’s made him almost a secret weapon that opposing coaches haven’t had a chance to scout.

“They have no idea who I am. You ask them who Reed Gordon is and they say ‘Who?’” Gordon said with a laugh.

Wright said Gordon’s success has come more from within.

“The biggest thing with Reed is he’s started throwing strikes. He’s got good stuff, it’s just whether he can find the strike zone, and he’s been able to do that lately.”

Wright added that getting another good start from Gordon in Thursday’s Game 2 will be a key to the series. McDaniel is 9-1 this season with a 1.20 ERA, along with 91 strikeouts in 60 innings. He’ll get the ball for Game 1 on Tuesday.

“We’ve been getting consistency from Montana all year, and we’ve been getting it from Reed and Matt Warren the last two weeks,” Wright said. “He’s been able to take us into the fourth and fifth innings of ballgames and that’s what we ask of him.”


Contact Ernest Bowker at