2024 All-County Baseball: Warren Central’s Watkins is The Post’s Player of the Year

Published 4:00 am Saturday, June 15, 2024

When things weren’t going his way, Conner Watkins found all sorts of ways to motivate himself.

Long looks in the mirror. Meditation in the bullpen before a big game. Motivational messages on his gear. Whatever it took to shove aside any of the mental funk that might drag down his physical performance on the baseball field.

“I feel like I just went out there and competed to the best of my ability. That’s always my motto,” Watkins said. “Sometimes I write ‘compete’ on my wrist tape just to remind myself when things aren’t going my way to just keep competing. I think I competed and it separated myself a little more.”

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A little more, and enough to give the Warren Central senior the 2024 Vicksburg Post baseball Player of the Year award.

Watkins, a shortstop and pitcher, was an indispensable piece of the Vikings’ run to the MHSAA Class 6A championship series. He led the team in hitting, was their Game 1 starter in every playoff series, and a leader on a tight-knit team that had five players sign with college programs.

“It means a lot. I’m really grateful for it,” said Watkins, who signed with Copiah-Lincoln Community College. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to get out there and get selected.”

Midway through the season, Watkins and the Vikings were showing flashes of potential but mostly muddling along. They had a 5-7 record after a spring break trip to the Coast, and Watkins was batting only .216.

While baseball has always been fun for him, he said it was around that time that he pulled out one of his personal motivational tactics to dial in a bit more.

“I went home after a couple of bad games and just looked at myself in the mirror and said, ‘I’ve got to make a change. I’ve got to step up and get the job done if I’m going to get to where I’m going to get.’ That was really it,” Watkins said.

It wasn’t long before Watkins and the Vikings got on a roll. They won six games in eight days to finish the regular season and clinch the Region 2-6A championship for the second year in a row.

Watkins was the winning pitcher for two of them — he allowed a total of two runs in 10 innings — and put together a nine-game hitting streak that raised his average as high as .375.

He finished with a team-best .323 average, along with a .496 on-base percentage. He scored 21 runs, drove in 24, and walked 31 times. On the mound he was 5-6 with 73 strikeouts and a 2.53 ERA in a team-high 72 2/3 innings.

“I noticed I was doing a little bit better in the next game or two,” he said. “It didn’t really start clicking until after multiple games, and that’s when I realized I’ve got to keep doing what I’m doing. Play loose and keep having fun.”

The hot streak continued into the playoffs. Watkins threw a 75-pitch a shutout in a 1-0 win over Lake Cormorant in Game 1 of a first-round series, and also won the opener of the North State championship series vs. Center Hill.

Watkins also drove in three runs in the series sweep against Center Hill. He said he embraced the role of being the Game 1 starter who was counted on to start each series the right way.

“It was really fun. I enjoy tight, tight pressure games. I would love to go out there and win every game 8-0 or 10-0, but those 1-0, 2-0 games really do excite me. I enjoy being the guy out there to go get it done,” he said.

The semifinal sweep of Center Hill sent Warren Central to its first state championship series since 2001. Before taking the mound for Game 1 against George County, he took time to sit on a bench in the Trustmark Park bullpen and enjoy the scene.

“It was amazing. Before the game I stood out in the outfield warming up and soaked it all in,” he said. “For some people like us it’s a once in a lifetime experience. It was tremendous. A lot of people don’t get to do that. To be one of the teams and one of the guys to go out there and experience that, it was amazing.”

Unfortunately, things did not go Watkins’ or the Vikings’ way. He pitched well in Game 1 against George County — he only needed 74 pitches to get through six innings, and allowed three runs — but Warren Central lost 3-2. It dropped Game 2 by the same score and finished as the runner-up in Class 6A.

For Watkins and his teammates, it was only a small blemish on the journey they went on. Doing it with a group that enjoyed being around each other and had played together for years made it a dream finish no matter how the final chapter ended, Watkins said.

“It was an amazing year. It means so much to me to do it not only with these guys, but to do it in general,” Watkins said. “That was our main goal is to get there and win it. Unfortunately we did come up a little short, but we’ve got to look at the things we accomplished. We played for each other, we did it for each other, and it was really spectacular. I enjoyed it so much.”

Vicksburg Post baseball Players of the Year
2024 – Conner Watkins, Warren Central
2023 – Blake Channell, Warren Central
2022 – Gage Palmer, Porter’s Chapel
2021 – Wes Warnock, St. Aloysius
2020 – Kendrick Bershell, Vicksburg
2019 – Vantrel Reed, Warren Central
2018 – Vantrel Reed, Warren Central
2017 – Christian Oakes, Warren Central
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. Aloysius and Montana McDaniel, Porter’s Chapel
2008 – Stanton Price, Vicksburg
2007 – Michael Busby, Porter’s Chapel
2006 – Jordan Henry, Vicksburg
2005 – Michael Busby, Porter’s Chapel
2004 – Mark Different, Warren Central
2003 – Justin Henry, Vicksburg and Ryan Hoben, Porter’s 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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