St. Al sends two to all-star game at Trustmark Park

Published 10:34 am Friday, June 5, 2015

St. Aloysius baseball players Connor Smith, left, and Will Pierce, right, will play in the Crossroads Diamond Club All-Star Game June 6 at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

St. Aloysius baseball players Connor Smith, left, and Will Pierce, right, will play in the Crossroads Diamond Club All-Star Game June 6 at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

Two years ago, Connor Smith not only wasn’t on the radar as one of the best baseball players in Mississippi, he wasn’t even on St. Aloysius’ roster.

He took a couple of years off to recharge his batteries. He played for the school’s state champion golf team and returned to baseball as a junior. He’s been making his mark on the diamond ever since.

Smith, along with teammate Will Pierce, was selected to play in the Crossroads Diamond Club’s Mississippi All-Star Game June 6 at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Smith will play in the Class 1A-2A-3A game, while Pierce will play in a newly-established game for juniors.

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Warren Central pitcher Taft Nesmith will also play in the juniors game, and center fielder Marcus Ragan will play in the Class 5A-6A all-star game.

It’s been a meteoric rise for Smith, who hit .325 in the two seasons after returning from his sabbatical. He also played quarterback during football season, when St. Al reached the Class 1A championship game, and was a standout on the basketball team.

Going out as a baseball all-star was just another cherry on top of the sundae his senior sports year has become.

“It’s really the only way to do it. It’s been fun winning. I’ve been there a couple of years where it wasn’t fun. It’s great to go out the right way,” Smith said. “I’ve never played in an all-star game, and to be selected to something that’s the best in the state is flattering. It makes you feel like all the hard work has paid off.”

Smith played baseball in his eighth-grade season, then took two years off. He returned last season, moved from the infield to the outfield, and emerged as one of the team’s best players.

Smith hit .321 with six doubles, 15 RBIs and 15 runs scored in 2014. He bumped his average up to .329 this season, stole 18 bases and scored 28 runs, and also became an effective arm in the Flashes’ pitching rotation.

“I was trying to get a break from baseball, and last year was a fresh start. It felt like it all came together,” Smith said. “I played baseball all my life, so it wasn’t hard to come back. I think I was surprised hitting-wise. I got moved to the outfield, too, and that helped me defensively. It came to me, really.”

While Smith took a voluntary break from baseball, Pierce twice had breaks thrust upon him by unfortunate circumstances.

He was hitting .369 as a freshman in 2013 when a ruptured appendix ended his season the week before the playoffs began. The following year, he stepped awkwardly on first base during a game in March and tore a knee ligament.

“It sucks not being able to play, but stuff happens,” Pierce said. “I was lucky to have it happen at a young age, where it didn’t ruin my senior year or anything.”

All that was ruined this year were the egos of whatever pitcher Pierce happened to be facing. He hit .407 and had a five-game stretch in early April where he went 11-for-22. He, too, emerged as a standout pitcher, anchoring the Flashes’ starting rotation as they advanced to the second round of the Class 1A playoffs.

Like his teammate, Pierce was happy and proud to be picked as an all-star. The first-ever juniors game will feature players from all six MHSAA classifications, and he said being selected as the best of the best from every level was a big honor.

“For it to be the first time, being the guy from 1A, I’m proud to be able to do that,” Pierce said. “They look at the big dogs from 6A, and I’m proud to be from 1A and be one of those guys.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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