Vikings’ Wilkinson did it all, wins Player of Year

Published 2:50 pm Sunday, June 5, 2016

When he showed up at the ballpark, one of the first questions Conner Wilkinson had for his coaches was about where he’d be playing that night. It was a practical question, not a demanding one.

“Every game, he’d ask me what glove do I need tonight?” Warren Central coach Conner Douglas said.

Wilkinson usually played either second base or center field, but wherever Warren Central needed him, he was there. The senior played all nine positions at some point in his high school career and excelled no matter where he wound up on the field. It was something he took pride in, and a trait that led him to become the 2016 Vicksburg Post Baseball Player of the Year.

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“I like to be used, so I adapt to what needs to be done. I try to help us win. I don’t like to lose,” Wilkinson said. “I like to show people I’m as good as a starter, even when I don’t play that position.”

Wilkinson did just that in one of the biggest moments of the season. With the Vikings facing elimination in Game 2 of their playoff series with Northwest Rankin, he was moved to shortstop with no outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh inning. He hadn’t played the position this season, but cleanly fielded a sharp ground ball behind second base and started a double play that helped get them out of the jam and keep the season alive.

Wilkinson’s versatility and can-do attitude were assets the Vikings came to rely on, Douglas said.

“As much as we shuffled the lineup, if we switched somebody we’d say, ‘Conner, you’ve got to go play this position,’ and then it was, ‘OK. I’ve got it,’” Douglas said. “No excuses. It’s huge to have that guy on your team. We’re going to miss it.”

Wilkinson’s versatility extended to his hitting. He was capable of producing from anywhere in the lineup. If the Vikings needed someone to get on base at the top of the order or to start a rally, Wilkinson was able and willing to bunt for a base hit. If they needed a big hit to bring in a run, he could do that too.

Wilkinson hit .352 this season and had a rare 20-20-20 season — 22 RBIs, 22 runs scored, and 20 stolen bases.

“You take what you can get when it comes time to hit,” Wilkinson said. “If somebody is on third, they’re playing deep and expecting the four-hole to have some power. I only have a little bit of that. If he’s playing deep, I’ll bunt and know I’m fast enough to beat it.”

Wilkinson had a 10-game hitting streak in the middle of the season that briefly raised his average above .400 — he had multiple hits in five games of the streak — but he slumped late and settled at .352. It was still 54 points higher than his junior season, and his balanced stat line left him happy with a great year.

“It’s awesome. You’re driving in runs and the people behind you are producing if you’re scoring 20. I give credit to (Tyler) Vroman for having my back all year. He had a great year, too,” Wilkinson said of the fifth batter in WC’s order, who hit .406 with 22 RBIs.

Wilkinson’s selection as Player of the Year marks the sixth consecutive season in which a Warren Central player has won the award. All of his predecessors have gone on to play college baseball, and Wilkinson will also continue that tradition. He’s signed with Copiah-Lincoln Community College.

Always the selfless player, Wilkinson said he felt several of his teammates could have been Player of the Year.

The Vikings went 21-8 and won their second consecutive Division 4-6A championship with a balanced lineup that included two .400 hitters and two MHSAA all-stars.

“We’ve had many people in our class that could have been considered for this award,” Wilkinson said. “Our class was good.”

No one else, however, summed up what the Vikings were all about as a team the way Wilkinson did.

“He just took care of business,” Douglas said. “He went about the game the right way. Whatever it took, he did it.”

Vicksburg Post Players of the Year

2016 – Conner Wilkinson, Warren Central

2015 – Marcus Ragan, Warren Central

2014 – Carlisle Koestler, Warren Central

2013 – Hunter Austin, Warren Central

2012 – Cody Waddell, Warren Central

2011 – Beau Wallace, Warren Central

2010 – Stephen Evans, St. Aloysius

2009 – Stephen Evans, St. Al and Montana McDaniel, Porters Chapel

2008 – Stanton Price, Vicksburg

2007 – Michael Busby, Porters Chapel

2006 – Jordan Henry, Vicksburg

2005 – Michael Busby, Porters Chapel

2004 – Mark Different, Warren Central

2003 – Justin Henry, Vicksburg and Ryan Hoben, Porters Chapel

2002 – Brian Pettway, Warren Central

2001 – Taylor Tankersley, Warren Central

2000 – Robby Goodson, Vicksburg

1999 – Shea Douglas, Warren Central

1998 – Shea Douglas, Warren Central

1997 – Cody McCain, St. Aloysius

1996 – Stacy Williams, St. Aloysius

1995 – Stacy Williams, St. Aloysius

1994 – Jason Wilbanks, St. Aloysius

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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