Vikings, Gators play Monday in only meeting this season

Published 9:00 am Monday, March 21, 2016

Vicksburg High baseball coach Derrick DeWald joked that he was incorporating some visual aids into his team’s preparation for Monday’s game against Warren Central.

“I might show them some inspirational movies. Something to get them fired up,” DeWald said with a chuckle.

The Gators probably don’t need a lot of motivation to beat their crosstown rival. What they might need, however, is their best game of the season.

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Vicksburg (1-10) is slumping badly heading into Monday’s matchup at 7 p.m. at Viking Field. It has only scored 20 runs total in 11 games, and 12 during its current seven-game winning streak. Top pitcher Chandler Luke is out for the season with a broken hand, and the rest of the staff has a 9.55 ERA.

Now they’ll face a Warren Central (7-3) team that is not only emerging as a darkhorse contender for the Class 6A championship, but which has beaten Vicksburg seven consecutive times since 2013.

“I told them all the pressure is on them. We have no pressure. There’s no reason to put pressure on ourselves,” DeWald said. “We just have to play a good game and not beat ourselves.”

That’s something the Gators have struggled with. In several losses it’s been one bad inning that opened the floodgates and turned a relatively close game into a blowout. They’ve scored first or been tied in the third inning of five of their 10 losses, and trailed 2-0 at that point of another. None of those games wound up being decided by less than four runs.

“Our biggest thing is being consistent. We’ve shown we can be a good team, but we’ve yet to play for 21 outs. If we can be in the game after the sixth inning, that’s going to be huge for us. We have to be consistent and make routine plays,” DeWald said. “If you’re going to give a good team more than three outs an inning, that’s what hurts you, and that’s what we’ve done all year.”

Warren Central, by contrast, has done very well for itself. Its three losses have come against state powers Germantown, Oxford and Oak Grove — three teams that are a combined 26-5 this season — and been by a total of four runs.

The Vikings are coming off an 8-2 win over Pearl on Saturday and are scoring an average of seven runs per game.

“I love this group and where we are, especially with Mother Nature keeping us off the field,” said Warren Central coach Conner Douglas, whose team has had four games rained out in the last two weeks. “We are right there at the brink of being a great team. We want to continue to get better, and I think the guys have done that. They’re a very unselfish team, and that’s the type of team that wins championships.”

A concern for both teams on Monday night will be balancing the desire to win a rivalry game with the need to win division games later in the week.

Vicksburg has two with Ridgeland on Tuesday and Thursday, while Warren Central plays Greenville twice plus a non-division game at Brandon on Friday afternoon.

It’s a busy week that would tax any pitching staff, let alone one as thin as Vicksburg’s. DeWald said he planned to let some junior varsity pitchers get some work to save his top two of Gage Ederington and Latonio Brown for the more important division games.

“We’ll throw some guys that haven’t thrown a whole lot. That’s the way it is,” DeWald said. “District is more important, of course, but I also know how important it is to beat your crosstown rival.”

Douglas, too, planned to pull from deep in the rotation to get through the week. He said he’ll save ace Taft Nesmith, No. 2 Booth Buys and top reliever Brooks Boolos for later in the week. The third starter, sophomore, Aaron Greene, pitched five innings against Pearl on Saturday and will be unavailable.

Freshman Farmer Abendroth or sophomore Logan Stewart will get the start. Warren Central has used eight pitchers this season, so Douglas wasn’t too concerned about having enough arms to make it through the week.

In his only start this season, Abendroth allowed three runs on one hit in 3 1/3 innings against Oak Grove, which reached the Class 6A finals in 2014 and 2015.

“We have the deepest staff we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ll hand the ball to the next guy up and we feel confident he will give us a chance to win,” said Douglas, who is in his sixth season as WC’s head coach. “We have our division starter and reliever that won’t pitch, but other than that we are playing to win a game. If a starter is rolling it’s tough to cut the cord unless he’s just getting some work in.”

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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