Warren Central beats Vicksburg to clinch second straight baseball region title

Published 8:55 am Wednesday, April 17, 2024

With a hit here or a defensive play there, Warren Central could easily have a few more wins on its ledger and some more respect as one of Mississippi’s elite high school baseball teams.

It still wound up where it wanted to be at this time of year, though — hot at the right time, and steaming toward the postseason as a No. 1 seed.

Brooks Willoughby allowed one unearned run and struck out eight batters, Connor Watkins went 2-for-3 with a double and five RBIs, and Warren Central beat Vicksburg 13-1 on Tuesday to clinch the MHSAA Region 2-6A championship on Tuesday.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

“We’ve played good defense, we’ve pitched pretty good all year long. It’s always been that offensive category that’s held us back,” Warren Central coach Randy Broome said. “I think we’re starting to see some glimpses of some guys that can. When you start mixing those three together, who knows what can happen?”

The Vikings (12-10, 6-1 Region 2-6A) won their second consecutive region championship. Half of their losses have come in games decided on walk-off plays. Broome admitted the close losses have been mentally taxing, but prefers to think they’ve prepared his team for what’s ahead.

Warren Central will play Lake Cormorant in a best-of-three first-round series beginning April 26.

Warren Central and Vicksburg (7-14, 2-5) will also play Friday at VHS, but it won’t have any bearing on the Region 2-6A standings. Warren Central can win the region title outright with a win, but it has a one-game lead on second-place Neshoba Central and owns the tiebreakers.

“It was a grind, for sure, this year and every year. We’re 1-5 in one-run games, and probably four of those six are extra innings. You’re right there knocking on the door and can’t get the groundball or base hit, or the out that turns it into a one-run loss,” Broome said. “I’m proud of the kids for hanging in there, and hopefully seeing what this group can do.”

Lately, the Vikings haven’t had to worry about finding the late-inning magic needed to pull out a close win. Tuesday’s win was their fifth in a row, and they’ve scored 10 runs or more in four of them.

Cade Fairley hit an RBI ground out in the first inning, and then the Vikings erupted for 11 runs in the second to blow it open.

Watkins drove in four runs in the second inning, with a single and a double. Jack Esparza and Lester Martin also hit RBI singles.

Ryan Nelson reached base three times and scored three runs in the game, and Talan Patel walked three times and scored twice.

“We’re not going to see anything in the playoffs we hadn’t seen already. Having hit a little stride is definitely a momentum-booster and a confidence-booster for all the guys that’s in that lineup every day,” Broome said. “It’s these last couple weeks things are starting to come on.”

While the Vikings are surging, Vicksburg is trying to regroup before it plays the Region 1-6A champion — either Saltillo, Grenada or Center Hill — in its first-round series.

The Gators have been outscored 32-1 in two games this week after winning their previous four. Three pitchers walked nine batters and hit four in Tuesday’s game, and their hitters only managed three hits against the Southern Miss signee Willoughby.

Kealon Bass singled and scored a run, and Tyler Carter hit an RBI single in the fourth inning.

“You’re going to have some nights where that’s going to happen. You’ve got to play steady baseball. Give up walks, give up five hits, and you give up 13 runs, that’s not something you anticipate happening,” Vicksburg coach Kent Willis said. “If you can’t catch it and play the game the right way, those things happen. You just try to avoid it as much as possible and keep encouraging the kids to get better. After a while, you hope that kicks in.”

Willis said making the playoffs in a competitive region was still an accomplishment he hopes to use as a building block.

“You’re happy to make the playoffs and keep extending your season. That’s always a good thing,” Willis said. “Credit the kids for fighting, and you go play who you’ve got to play now. That’s the nature of the beast.”

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.

email author More by Ernest