Warren Central ready to begin Class 6A championship series vs. George County

Published 6:00 pm Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Like every other high school baseball team in Mississippi, the Warren Central Vikings spent time last offseason talking about playing for a state championship at Trustmark Park.

For most of those teams, it ended up being idle chatter. For others it was a realistic dream that wasn’t fulfilled. For the Vikings, it’s become a reality.

Warren Central (19-11) will face George County (29-4) in Game 1 of the MHSAA Class 6A championship series Wednesday at 4 p.m. at Trustmark. Game 2 is Friday at 4 p.m. The Vikings are seeking their first state title since 2001, several years before any of their current players were even born.

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“I definitely think it’s a little unreal,” WC pitcher Brooks Willoughby said. “As a kid, and even as a player, you look at the state championship as something that’s almost like a fairy tale because I’ve never been in it. I’ve never even been close to it. It’s just really crazy, but I’m really pumped up about it right now.”

The championship match-up is one of teams who have enjoyed breakthrough postseasons after years of frustration.

George County went to the state championship series three times in four years from 2015-18, but has not been back since and won its only state championship way back in 1997.

Warren Central has reached the playoffs 15 years in a row, but made its first semifinal appearance since 2004 and is in the championship series for the first time since 2001.

“Knowing we’ve had some good squads over the years and just could not get over that second round, finally getting to do it now with a team that’s not like ‘01, that part of it is what’s most satisfying for me is getting over the second round of the playoffs and getting to play for North State,” Warren Central coach Randy Broome said. “That’s something that’s been a grind for we as a coaching staff. We felt like we’ve had the teams to do it and haven’t been able to get past that one round.”

Unlike the 2001 team that was loaded with several future college and pro players, was ranked No. 3 in the country, and simply overpowered opponents, this Warren Central roster has found success with a scrappier approach. Five players have signed to play college baseball, but Willoughby — who has signed with Southern Miss — is the only one headed to a Division I school.

The Vikings have gotten contributions from all over the roster, however, which helped them go 6-1 in the postseason and win 12 of their last 13 games. Five of their 11 losses this season were by one run.

“We’ve been picking our teammates up. If somebody is not having a good game, somebody will pick up the slack,” said second baseman Ryan Nelson, who has reached base in every game this season and scored a team-high 39 runs. “That’s what’s good about this team. Somebody’s not doing good, somebody’s going to pick them up. No question about that.”

Broome said a difficult schedule was designed to make the Vikings battle-tested as well. They’ve faced three of the other 13 teams playing for state championships this week, and George County will be the fourth. They also played MAIS Class 6A champion Jackson Prep and 14 of their 30 games were against teams that won at least one playoff series.

“Our schedule this year has helped us get where we’re at right now, because we’ve played a lot of good competition. That’s going to be a part of the talk. It already has been,” Broome said. “Yes, it is the bigger stage. Yes, it is the final weekend. But at the end of the day it’s still a baseball game. You’re going to see good arms and good hitters. Well, you’ve seen good arms and good hitters since Feb. 10.”

These Vikings also, admittedly, are playing with a chip on their shoulder. Despite their success, which included a second straight Region 2-6A title, they’ve only recently started to pop up on some lists of the top 10 teams in Mississippi.

Broome has not been shy about playing up the underdog and disrespect angles. He includes the latest rankings in his daily practice plan given to his players.

“We use it in our favor. I think they’ve responded to that,” he said.

His players said they certainly have.

“We’ve heard some things. We keep receipts,” senior pitcher and shortstop Conner Watkins said with a chuckle. “Me personally, I love being an underdog. It fires me up and gives me fuel. I think it’s something that gives us that extra step.”

One more extra step, and the Vikings will be in the history books as state champions. Watkins, whose father was a teacher and coach at Warren Central, grew up hearing stories of the legendary 2001 team that won it all. Now he’s relishing the opportunity to be mentioned in the same breath as them.

“It’s definitely going to be a great experience and a great series,” Watkins said. “I’ve been watching Warren Central baseball since I was a kid. Now to go out there and make memories and do it myself, it’s surreal and it’s going to be fun.”

MHSAA 6A championship
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 $15 and are available through GoFan.co

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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