St. Al’s state title run has feeling of a last dance

Published 12:11 pm Thursday, May 20, 2010

When the Chicago Bulls won their final NBA championship in 1998, then-coach Phil Jackson labeled it “The Last Dance.”

Michael Jordan retired for the second time. Dennis Rodman, Phil Jackson and much of the team’s championship winning core left the building. And the Bulls haven’t won a title since.

The feeling is the same for St. Al’s group of eight seniors as they hit the diamond starting Tuesday in Trustmark Park in the Class 1A state championship series against Myrtle. Luke Burnett, Brendan Beesley, Stephen Evans, Blake Haygood, Ryno Martin-Nez, Regan Nosser, Justin Rushing and Pierson Waring will wrap up their careers as the winningest senior class in school history, even if they don’t finish with another title. If they win another state title, they will be the first class to accomplish that feat.

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When considering the adversity they have weathered, this last dance might be the best yet.

When the medals were handed out at Trustmark Park last year, two of last year’s key contributors, first baseman Joseph Brown and catcher Sean Weaver, were headed out the door.

The Flashes filled in those gaps as best they could, with a platoon taking over first and Beesley making a seemless transition in the summer from the outfield to catcher.

But the biggest adversity was yet to come. Martin-Nez, who was the team’s top power threat and top pitcher, tore two ligaments in his right knee in football. He spent most of the season watching as he rehabbed it.

Then, with the season barely a few weeks old, Justin Rushing broke his ankle. His ability to play every infield position and clutch bat were sorely missed. St. Al coach Clint Wilkerson was forced to put some youngsters into the lineup and he played mix-and-match with the team’s lineup in his best coaching job so far.

After an 11-0 start that made St. Al fans dream easily of another trip to Trustmark, the Flashes were swept by Cathedral in the regular season. Those two losses precipitated a 3-6 slump that cast a pall over the season going into the playoffs.

But the Flashes turned things around, punctuated by a close loss to nationally ranked Sumrall, and the pieces have dropped into place at the right time. Martin-Nez came back and pitched two of the best games of his career without a single appearance on the mound this season.

After being shelled in a 7-3 loss to Edinburg, Evans has pitched like an ace again. The big bats in the lineup, buoyed by the contributions of Reed Evans, supplied the timely hits like last season.

The Flashes, after losing that first-round game, have given up eight runs total in six straight playoff wins.

That’s dominant stuff, but the end is nigh.

Wilkerson, whose ultimate aim is a college job, is going to be the hottest baseball coaching commodity in the state. His flirtation last summer with New Hope was proof that he is a wanted man and a job at a larger school would be a logical stepping stone to a college position. Also, next year’s roster will be long on youth and thin on experience with eight seniors departing

But if this is the last dance, a repeat state title performance would be a great curtain call for this stellar group.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor, reach him at or at 601-636-4545, ext. 142.