POPLARVILLE, Miss. — When the signing period opens every November it's almost like Christmas coming a month early for Pearl River skipper Michael Avalon. Every year since accepting his first head coaching job in 2012, Avalon has had a prideful signing day celebration and this year was no different as six more Wildcats signed with four-year programs.
This year's graduating signing class is comprised of Kasey Donaldson (Gulfport; West Harrison), Reece Ewing (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy), Reid Golemon (Moselle; South Jones), Cade Hodges (Brookhaven; Loyd Star), Trace McNabb (Foxworth; West Marion) and Bryson Ware (Gluckstadt; Germantown). Each player signed with their respective four-year program during a ceremony Wednesday held in the lobby of the Marvin R. White Coliseum.
"It's an exciting day for our program to see the hard work these student athletes have put in come to fruition. Throughout the recruiting process, we talked to these young men about using Pearl River as a steppingstone to the next level and we're very appreciative that they've shared in our vision and are able to reach their goals of playing at the Division I level," Avalon said. "This is a compliment to not only these players, but to the players who came before them and set the foundation and expectation of guys moving on to the next level."
Donaldson proved to be one of the premier power bats not only in the MACJC but in the nation last season, hitting 14 homers, 27 extra-base hits and 44 RBIs with a .312 batting average and .435 on-base percentage. That power performance helped lead Donaldson to sign with Southeastern Louisiana, which is coached by PRCC Hall of Famer Matt Riser.
"It's awesome. It's a lot off my shoulders knowing that I'll be playing somewhere else after this," Donaldson said. "You don't have to press anymore or try to do too much, you can actually play ball now."
Avalon credited Donaldson's dedication and hard work to not only being able to put ink to paper Wednesday, but for the left-handed sophomore's continued success.
"After a phenomenal freshman year, his production has led to him being given this opportunity," Avalon said. "We look forward to him being one of the more respected hitters in the conference this year and I expect that to continue at the next level at Southeastern."
Ewing was the first member of the 2020 Wildcats to commit, pledging to sign with Southern Miss at the tail end of his freshman season.
"It means a lot for me. This is something I've always dreamed of doing. I've always wanted to play at Southern Miss. It was a relief when I found out I could play there, I knew that was the place where I wanted to be," Ewing said. "The atmosphere (at USM is special). I've had a lot of family go there, but the atmosphere when you go there is one of a kind."
As a freshman center fielder, Ewing hit .300 with 11 homers, 12 doubles and 49 RBIs. He also struck out 25 in 13 2/3 innings.
"Reece earned the opportunity to make an early commitment during his freshman year to Southern Miss, which was a goal he set for himself," Avalon said. "After a strong freshman campaign, we look for him to be an impact middle-of-the-order player."
Golemon proved to be a reliable reliever for the Wildcats during their run to the NJCAA Tournament last season. He finished his freshman campaign with 20 strikeouts in 23 1/3 innings and boasted a 4.63 ERA. On Wednesday, Golemon signed with Louisiana-Monroe.
"Reid stepped up for us in big situations throughout last year," Avalon said. "Because of his growth and maturity, he has solidified himself as one the better relief pitchers in our league. We look forward to his continued success at Monroe."
When ULM started recruiting Golemon, he said it was a no brainer Monroe would be a perfect fit.
"It's the program I felt at home with. I went there on a visit and I fell in love with it," he said. "We'll see (about my role) when I get there. I'll definitely have to work to earn my spot."
Hodges will be entering his first fully healthy season since injuring his arm in high school. Hodges saw a limited role as a freshman, striking out six batters in six innings, and should have a larger role in 2020 as a Louisiana Tech signee.
"Cade is a guy who incurred a tough setback due to a high school injury. After not having the freshman year we had all hoped for, it has been impressive to see his commitment and determination to get back to his potential," Avalon said. "After his exceptional fall, we're excited for his sophomore season."
As is the case for many of the Wildcats, Wednesday was a dream come true.
"I'm really excited. Last year I had kind of a down year so for me to be doing this right now is really exciting for me and my family," he said. "I think it has (sunk in) a little bit but somedays I'm just like 'Man, I'm actually doing this.' I've grown up wanting to play Division I baseball my whole life and it's finally here and it's exciting."
As a freshman, McNabb had the team's second-highest strikeout rate at 10.97 whiffs per nine innings. The Southeastern Louisiana signee finished the year with 13 strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings.
"Trace ended up with multiple offers after a strong fall showing due to his ability to command a breaking ball and showed a jump in velocity," Avalon said. "He made this day possible by being an example of a true blue collar worker."
Wednesday's ceremony was largely surreal for McNabb.
"It's unreal to think about how far I've come the past couple years but at the same time it's very exciting to think about the future and living out a dream I've had since I was in junior high," he said. "I think I'm extremely blessed that I chose Pearl River. I honestly feel that if I went to any other school in the MACJC I don't know if I would have this opportunity.
"The way I was pushed here made this possible."
Ware has arguably had one of the more meteoric rises among any junior college baseball player in the country. Before ever swinging a bat for PRCC, the skilled shortstop signed with Auburn on Wednesday.
"Bryson was one of the hidden gems, probably in the entire 2019 national signing class," Avalon said. "He has burst onto the scene and in his short time at The River has been highly recruited. We're excited that he found his home at a great program like Auburn."
The quickness with which Ware began receiving D-I interest even caught the former Germantown star by surprise.
"I didn't expect it to happen so fast. I thought I was going to be here for two years. I thought I might get a few D-1 looks after my second year but I had no clue it would happen this fast," Ware said. "I've worked very hard to get where I am but the coaching staff has done a really great job of getting me a ton of exposure not just with college teams but pro teams as well.
"They've really put my name out there."
Choosing Auburn, Ware said, was an easy choice.
"It just felt right," he said. "All SEC schools are going to be nice but with Auburn I just felt a connection with the coaching staff and the players and I felt a click there."
Including this year's early signees, Avalon has had 90 players sign at the next level since getting his first head coaching gig at Mississippi Delta in 2012. Thirty-six of the signees have been Wildcats. More PRCC standouts are expected to sign during the spring semester.
FIRST PITCH BANQUET
Pearl River baseball will host its annual first-pitch banquet at 6:30 p.m. Feb. 8 at the Olivia Bender Cafeteria on PRCC's Poplarville campus. This year's keynote speaker will be Riser.
The Picayune native has continued SLU's tradition of excellence and in six seasons leading the Lions he has amassed 227 wins.
Tickets for the banquet are $25 for adults, $12 for children 7-12 and free for anyone 6 and under.
To RSVP for the banquet, email Avalon at email@example.com.
Pearl River signing day