Warren Central advances to Class 6A baseball championship series

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 12, 2024

Twenty-three years of playoff frustration melted away in one magical night for Warren Central.

Brooks Willoughby threw a no-hitter and the Vikings continued their postseason run through another round as they beat Center Hill 5-0 on Saturday to clinch the MHSAA Class 6A North State championship.

Warren Central (19-11) advanced to the state championship series for the first time since 2001 by winning for the 12th time in 13 games. This was their first appearance in the semifinals since 2004.

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“It’s amazing. It hasn’t been done in a long time,” said Warren Central second baseman Ryan Nelson, who walked and scored a run in the second inning. “Coaches preached it throughout the whole season that we’ve got a chance and this is the team to do it. We’re doing it. But the job is not done. We’ve got to make it through state and win that game, too.”

The Vikings will have a few days to savor the victory, and a few more after that to get ready for only their second game ever at Trustmark Park. Game 1 of the Class 6A championship series against Pearl River Central or George County is not until May 22.

Game 2 is on May 24, and if Game 3 is needed it’ll be played on May 25. The first two games are both scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.

“The job’s not done,” Warren Central coach Randy Broome said. “We’re North State champs and that’s very, very special. At the end of the day it’s not over and that’s going to be the hard part. We’re going to celebrate and enjoy it, but we’ve still got one more goal to go get and that’s winning it all.”

The way the Vikings are playing — and especially pitching — they’ll be hard to beat at Trustmark Park. Willoughby threw the team’s third shutout in six playoff victories and made it a no-hitter to boot.

The Southern Miss signee walked four batters and hit one, but only one runner got to third base. He finished with eight strikeouts.

Willoughby had his junior season cut short because of an arm injury and has slowly worked his way back toward the top of the rotation. This latest step on his comeback was special, he said.

This was his first seven-inning complete game of the season, and the 94 pitches he threw were a season-high.

“It’s kind of crazy. I’m a little speechless,” he said. “I had surgery last year. It’s been a crazy comeback. But the boys have been there with me the whole time and the Lord has helped me through all this. On those hard days I struggled to get through it. But it feels awesome.”

Warren Central eased out to a 2-0 lead on an RBI double by Hayes Loper in the second inning and an RBI single by Cade Fairley in the third. It then broke the game open by scoring three runs during a pivotal sequence in the fourth.

The Vikings loaded the bases with no outs. Center Hill pitcher Houston Green struck out Nelson for the first out, and quickly got Conner Watkins in an 0-2 hole. Watkins battled back to work a walk and force in a run, then Green threw two wild pitches with Maddox Lynch at the plate to bring in two more runs.

Moments after Green had an escape route out of a tough jam, the Vikings had extended their lead to 5-0 without putting the ball in play. Center Hill’s spirit seemed to break after that.

“You could tell on his face that (Green) was frustrated. Of course I’d have taken five more. At this time of the year there’s no such thing as enough runs,” Broome said. “But that definitely put us in a position. It put Willoughby in a position to focus on the plate with no pressure.”

Which he — and the Vikings — did. A double play in the fifth inning erased a leadoff baserunner, and was the first of six consecutive batters Willoughby retired.

A leadoff walk and a hit batter were sandwiched around two strikeouts in the seventh inning, and then Willoughby got Ryan Brunetz looking at strike three to end the game and the series, but start a celebration in the infield that’s been 23 years in the making.

“It didn’t feel real. It just felt crazy,” Willoughby said. “There’s not really a whole lot of words. I’ve never experienced something like this. Never had just the feelings I’m going through right now. It’s been a grind the whole season and all of us have put hours upon hours of work in. It’s been a true blessing.”

MHSAA Class 6A championship series
Warren Central vs. Pearl River Central or George County
At Trustmark Park, Pearl
Game 1 – Wednesday, May 22, 4 p.m.
Game 2 – Friday, May 24, 4 p.m.
Game 3 – Saturday, May 25, TBA (if necessary)
• Tickets are available through GoFan.com
• For the complete MHSAA championship series schedule, click here.

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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