Warren Central finding success against difficult schedule

Published 9:00 am Monday, March 7, 2016

When he put the 2016 schedule together, Warren Central baseball coach Conner Douglas knew a few things.

First, his team was bringing back a lot of talent after reaching the Class 6A quarterfinals last season. It had the potential to get there again.

Second, it needed to be tested to reach that potential.

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With the second thought in mind, Douglas crafted a gauntlet that would challenge any team. In the first two weeks of the season, Warren Central has already played — and beaten — Class 6A powers Northwest Rankin and Brandon and taken the top-ranked team in the country, Oxford, to the limit.

It’s been a difficult road, and one the Vikings have navigated successfully so far. They’re 5-2 heading into another difficult week that includes games against Oak Grove and Jackson Academy in the Adidas/Rex Sports Deep South Tournament at Sumrall High School.

WC will play Oak Grove on Tuesday at 6 p.m., and Jackson Academy Friday at 4:30.

“It gets you ready for what you’re going to see in the playoffs,” Douglas said. “As you saw last year, the arms we saw are the kinds of arms you’ll see in this gauntlet we’re running. We scheduled these kinds of opponents so we’re battle tested when it matters. If you’re 28-0 and haven’t faced a good arm, it don’t matter when playoff time comes and you start bowing up.”

Only two of the teams Warren Central will play in its first nine games have losing records this season. They also have plenty of pedigree.

Oak Grove won the Class 6A championship in 2014 and reached the state finals last season. Northwest Rankin advanced to the 6A semifinals last year and Germantown to the 5A quarterfinals.

Oxford won the Class 5A championship in 2015 and was ranked No. 1 in the country by Maxpreps.com when the teams played last week.

Going in, the Vikings knew it was going to be a difficult three-week stretch before the Division 4-6A opener against Murrah on March 15.

“We know this is the kind of people we’re going to play in the playoffs. We have to be able to beat these guys to be able to do what we want to do. That’s our big goal, and that’s to be in the big house and win a state championship. We have to beat people like that to get there,” senior shortstop and pitcher Brooks Boolos said. “We’re going to find out how good we are, quickly. Even if we get our butt kicked we’re going to know what we have to do to get there.”

Strangely, the highlight of the season so far might not have been a win but rather one of the Vikings’ two losses. They fell 3-2 to Oxford in the Mid-Mississippi Classic on Friday, in a game that went down to the final out.

Warren Central missed several chances to score runs, and had a chance to tie it in the seventh inning. With a runner on third, Boolos hit a line drive to the gap in right center field that Oxford’s Houston Roth snagged with a diving catch for the final out. Roth, an Ole Miss signee who throws in the low 90 mph range, also pitched six innings.

Even though they lost, going toe to toe with the best Mississippi has to offer gave WC a shot of confidence.

“We’re toe to toe with them. The writing is on the wall for how good a club we can be. We make the plays and we’re right there with them,” Douglas said. “We’re ahead of where we want to be this time of year, and we’re just going to keep getting better.”

Besides getting them ready, running this early-season gauntlet is getting the Vikings noticed. Oxford coach Chris Baughman mentioned them as one of the teams he wanted to face to test his own squad, and Douglas noted that the Vikings have seen mostly ace pitchers this season — a sign of respect from opponents.

Beating them only gains more respect.

“You can catch attention by that if you beat all of those teams. People start noticing, and then you’ll be one of those people they’ll worry about,” Warren Central center fielder Conner Wilkinson said.

The schedule will actually get easier for Warren Central after this week. They have six division games against perennial also-rans Murrah and Greenville in the final month of the season, as well as non-division games against struggling teams like Pearl (2-3) and Vicksburg (1-5).

There are still a few difficult opponents left, however. The Vikings will play Brandon and Northwest Rankin again, as well as Madison Central (4-2). The foundation they’ve set so far should serve them well for both the easy and difficult challenges ahead.

“We’re not scared of any of these teams, and we know we can play with any of these teams,” Boolos said. “We don’t have as many big name guys and all that stuff, but we’re scrappy and we know we can beat all these teams. We just keep playing solid baseball, and we will beat all of these teams.”

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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