POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Baseball season doesn't officially begin for five months, but the Pearl River baseball team is already hard at work in preparation of its Region XXIII title defense.
The Wildcats opened fall ball practice last Monday and have a rigorous month of practice and games planned. With 18 new players, Pearl River coach Michael Avalon believes the fall has a heightened importance.
"I think we've had a good first week. It's exciting to be back on the field and see the pieces together finally. We have a really good group," he said. "When you have a lot of new guys, you want to make sure there's a solid understanding of the foundation of your program. That's from the simple things like defenses to the weight room and the classroom."
Sophomore Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison) experienced a similar fall a year ago as the Wildcats were coming off of a MACJC title. Donaldson went on to hit .312 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs. Donaldson understands he'll be looked to this season to help set the tone and lead the underclassmen.
"To be on top you have to stay on top," Donaldson said. "We have a bunch of new guys coming in, so we have to push them in the weight room and out here and hold them to the high standard that we're used to."
As one of the highly-touted freshman joining the squad this year, Bryson Ware (Gluckstadt; Germantown) already has an understanding of what's expected.
"It was awesome watching them succeed (last season). It's definitely exciting to join such a successful team. There's a high expectation to make it back so coach is on us every day in the weight room and on the field," he said. "The main priority is to prepare us for the spring so we can have a good record and make it back to Enid."
PRCC announced the majority of its signing class last November, but Avalon's staff has added several players between last fall and the start of the 2019-20 school year.
New additions include infielder Michael Wein (Alpharetta, Ga.; Kings Ridge Christian), right-handed pitchers Jacob Sherer (Mandeville, La.; St. Paul), Austin Dean (Carriere; Pearl River Central) and Chance Goley (Ocean Springs), left-handed pitcher Chance Shepherd (Lucedale; George County) and infielder Landon Harper (Lauderdale; Northeast Lauderdale).
Scherer is a former LSU commit who was ranked as the No. 16 prospect in Louisiana by Perfect Game.
"We're excited about him. He's a big, strong pitcher who has a chance to be in our weekend rotation," Avalon said.
Dean didn't travel too far from home to suit up in maroon and gold.
"He had a big career at Pearl River Central, which is one of our great local programs," Avalon said. "He threw a lot of innings for his high school and should battle for time on the mound."
Goley should provide innings out of the pen in 2020.
"We're looking at dropping him to submarine so he'll give us a different look and provide some diversity," Avalon said.
Shepherd prepped at George County before signing with East Central. As a freshman, Shepherd struck out 13 in 12 2/3 innings.
"He'll most likely come out of the pen for us from the left side and provide depth that we lacked last year," Avalon said.
Like his older brother, Luke, Landon Harper is expected to play a number of positions for the Wildcats.
"We're excited to welcome another Harper to our family," Avalon said. "He should have a good feel for our program and we look forward to him competing for a spot on the infield. He should be able to help us at all positions on the infield."
In addition to a new roster, Avalon also has a new assistant staff after former PRCC coaches Drew LaBounty and Anthony Izzio accepted positions at Arkansas State and Tulane respectively.
Working in the dugout this year alongside Avalon will be Slater Lott, Brandon Pennington and Max Bartlett. Avalon has also added former Wildcat first baseman Kyle Tynes as a student coach.
"I have really enjoyed the new guys' eagerness to work. They're very excited about being at Pearl River," Avalon said. "Slater and Pennington have done a tremendous job for us. They took a hands-on approach to the hitters and pitchers and Coach Bartlett has done a great job in the weight room for us. Coach Tynes has got to experience both sides of it now. He has jumped right in like I figured he would. I'm thankful to have him."
Pearl River has a busy fall ball season. In addition to four game dates against other programs, the fall will culminate with the annual Maroon and Gold World Series on Oct. 20-25.
PRCC hosts East Central at noon and Jones College at 6 p.m. on Friday; ECCC and JC play at 3 p.m.
The Wildcats then visit Smith Wills Stadium in Jackson on Oct. 2 to play Northeast at 10 a.m. and Delgado at 4 p.m.
PRCC plays at South Alabama on Oct. 13 against Dothan and Hinds; times have not been announced. Avalon's squad visits Nicholls State on Oct. 17 to play Coastal Alabama and Bossier Parish; those times also have not been released.
Fall Ball 2019