Vikings hope runner-up finish leads to plenty of future success

Published 3:52 pm Tuesday, May 28, 2024

For two decades, Warren Central was a very good baseball program that struggled to break through to greatness. It made the playoffs with regularity — 15 years in a row — before getting taken out by the state’s heavyweights.

That changed this season with the Vikings’ run to the MHSAA Class 6A championship series, and coach Randy Broome hopes there’s a new normal on Highway 27.

“I’m proud as I can be. It’s a stepping stone for things to come. Any time your younger players can be involved in something like this, now when we talk about state championships that’s not fantasy talk. That’s not folklore. That’s something they’ve seen before,” Broome said. “It’s going to benefit so much when we bring them back for our offseason work. These are attainable goals and this is A, B and C of what it’s going to take to get there.”

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

Warren Central (19-13) was swept by George County in two close games in the state finals last week. George County scored the winning run in its final at-bat in both games and won them by identical 3-2 scores.

A big part of what it took the Vikings to get there was a total team effort. Pitchers Conner Watkins, Brooks Willoughby and Maddox Lynch each threw a shutout in the playoffs. Five players each scored at least 19 runs and drove in 19, and nearly everyone in the lineup had a postseason moment or two.

Designated hitter Cole Autrey homered for the only run in a 1-0 victory over Saltillo in Game 3 in the second round. Outfielder Hayes Loper drove in two of the team’s four runs in the championship series, while first baseman Lester Martin went 3-for-5 in the two games.

“I feel like we gave it all we had. We emptied the gas tank both of these games. I’ve never seen us play so hard and with such an intense focus until this series right here,” second baseman Ryan Nelson said. “It’s sad we went out, but at least we went out like this.”

Through it all, the Vikings also played with an admitted chip on their shoulder. Despite holding their own against a difficult schedule ­— eight of their 13 losses were by one run — and reaching the state finals, they struggled to gain statewide respect.

The last MaxPreps poll of the season has them ranked No. 34 in Mississippi. put them at No. 19. The website’s computer rankings had them at No. 9 in Class 6A entering the postseason.

George County finished ranked No. 6 by MaxPreps and No. 4 by

Nelson and other players said they wore the underdog badge with pride.

“I’m real proud, because going into the playoffs we weren’t even ranked in the top 10,” Nelson said. “To be not ranked and come all the way here and get to play the No. 2 team in the state in 6A, that’s a blessing. That’s all I can say.”

The Vikings will soon get back to work on the all-important next step to any successful season — doing it again.
Nine seniors are graduating, including seven starters. Five seniors — Nelson, Autrey, Watkins, Willoughby and Cade Fairley — have signed to play college baseball.

There will be some rebuilding, but there are also plenty of pieces returning in 2025. Lynch, Loper and Martin all have one more year. Catcher Trace Hood and pitchers Ryan Steed and Nathaniel Moore will be juniors.

Moore and Steed both saw time on the mound during the playoffs.

Although the 2024 season ended with a runner-up finish rather than a state championship, Broome believes the experience will help ensure it’s not another 20 years before Warren Central gets another crack at it.

“I think they’ve seen now what that ingredient may look like of showing up, holding yourself accountable, holding each other accountable and getting one percent better each day,” Broome said. “The stuff we preach and teach, now they see if we do those things — and we’ve done those things — now the next step is winning a state championship. We got here by doing that. Now we’ve got to stay together.”

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