POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The reigning Region XXIII Champion Pearl River baseball team welcomed nine new Wildcats on Friday.
Pearl River's Class of 2020 includes Heritage Academy midfielder Banks Hyde, St. Stanislaus left-handed pitcher/outfielder Dawson Strong, New Hope left-handed pitcher/outfielder Ryan Burt, Brookhaven left-handed pitcher/outfielder Byrion Robinson, West Jones right-handed pitcher Sam Hill, Petal catcher Matt Mercer, West Harrison first baseman D.K. Donaldson, Seminary right-handed pitcher T.J. Ryals and Northeast Jones right-handed pitcher/outfielder Mason Smith.
"I think it's a very balanced recruiting class. We'll be losing several key players from this year's roster and we're excited about these guys stepping in and filling the void," Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. "One thing you notice in our group is multiple dual-position guys. That's an area where we have success over the last couple of years and we look to continue that with these guys.
"Due to their talents and the tremendous high school programs they attend, these players were highly recruited. We are thankful these young men and their families chose Pearl River."
The Wildcats plan to continue to add to their 2020 class.
Burt is a 6-foot-1, 195-pound impact player for the New Hope Trojans. As a junior, Burt hit .323 with five homers, 12 extra-base hits and 23 RBIs. He boasted a .532 on-base percentage and .709 slugging percentage as well. On the mound, Burt was 8-1 with a 4.03 ERA, striking out 57 against 24 walks in 48 2/3 innings.
"Ryan is a tough, hard-nosed athlete who also plays quarterback on his high school football team and helped lead the Trojan baseball team to a title this season," Avalon said. "We're excited to coach him knowing he comes from a tradition rich program where the expectation is winning.
"He should step in and be a leader for us on the field and off."
The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Donaldson is one of two new Wildcats who will follow in their brother's footsteps.
Donaldson wielded a lively bat for WHHS as a junior, hitting .413 with seven homers, 12 doubles and 33 RBIs. He also compiled a .530 OBP and .769 slugging percentage.
"It's always good to welcome a sibling of one of our players. Like with Kasey, we expect D.K. to hit early in his college career and be a fixture in the middle of our lineup," Avalon said. "D.K.'s primary position will be first base but he has the athleticism to also help in the corner outfield positions.
"He should be a high average, gap-to-gap hitter with a chance to develop plus power."
Like several teammates, Hill is fresh off of leading his team to a state championship. Hill was 4-1 on the mound in eight appearances for West Jones with a 1.78 ERA. He also struck out 44 against 20 walks in 35 1/3 innings.
"Sam is another quality athlete from a tradition program," Avalon said. "At 6-foot-6, he should be a towering presence on the mound who we expect to come in and be a huge addition to our pitching staff."
The 6-foot-1 Hyde was a major contributor for Heritage Academy during its MAIS title run in 2019. As a junior, Hyde hit .342 with 16 extra-base hits, 15 RBIs, 36 runs scored and 25 stolen bases. He was also 4-3 on the mound with 51 strikeouts and a 3.73 ERA in 39 1/3 innings.
"Banks is a natural leader who comes from a good program in Heritage. He's a quarterback on their football team and plays shortstop and second base for his team," Avalon said. "He's a very skilled and athletic middle infielder who we expect to contribute right away."
Mercer is a talented all-around baseball player whose defense is his calling card. As a junior at Petal, Mercer hit .274 with two extra-base hits, 12 RBIs, and a .489 OBP.
"Matt is a physical presence behind the plate with a lot of upside," Avalon said of the 6-foot-3, 200-pound catcher. "He's a plus defender who can really throw and catch. He also has a chance to hit for power."
Robinson hit .254 as a junior for Brookhaven with three doubles, two triples, 13 RBIs and 19 runs scored. He walked 10 times compared to nine strikeouts and compiled a .412 OBP. Robinson also led BHS with 14 stolen bases.
On the mound, Robinson was 3-2 with a 4.97 ERA and a no-hitter on his resume. In 31 innings, the 5-foot-10, 170-pound Robinson struck out 50.
"Byrion is an electric player who has a tremendous chance to impact the game as a pitcher and outfielder," Avalon said. "His stuff on the mound is as good as you will find in the state."
Ryals made nine appearances on the mound for Seminary as a junior.
"T.J. is a guy who has really come on in the last couple of months. We have seen a major jump in velocity recently," Avalon said of the 6-foot-1, 180-pound pitcher. "T.J. will be the ace of their staff and hope to help Seminary make another run. He was highly recruited in the state and we're thankful to continue our strong connection with a program like Seminary.
Like Donaldson, Smith will keep a family tradition alive by signing with PRCC. Smith is the younger brother of recent South Alabama signee and former Pearl River ace Miles Smith.
As a junior at Northeast Jones, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Smith did a little of everything. He hit .351 with three extra-base hits, 17 RBIs and 39 runs scored. Smith proved to be an on-base machine, walking 23 times and was hit 16 times — both team-highs — as he led Northeast Jones with a .575 OBP. He also swiped a team-best 26 bases. On the mound, Smith struck out 22 in 14 2/3 innings.
"Mason is another sibling we're excited to welcome to the Wildcat family," Avalon said. "He has a lot of tools to work with, both as an outfielder and as a pitcher. He's Tough, hard-nosed, athletic and ultra competitive like his brother."
Like many of his fellow Pearl River signees, Strong is another versatile addition for Avalon's crew. As a junior, Strong hit .325 with 26 RBIs, 13 doubles and one home run. He was also 6-3 on the mound.
"Dawson is a talented left-handed pitcher who has helped lead St. Stanislaus' staff for a couple of years," Avalon said of the 6-foot-3, 180-pound Strong. "He's a guy who has tremendous upside on the mound with strong pitchability. He has been their go-to guy on the mound and we look forward to him stepping in and competing for us.
"Dawson is a good athlete with a chance to compete in our outfield."
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