POPLARVILLE, Miss. — Wednesday marked what feels like an annual "Christmas in November" event for the Pearl River baseball team as five Wildcats signed with four-year programs.
This year's group of next-level Wildcats include Alabama signee Graham Crawford (Hattiesburg; Sumrall), Charleston Southern signee Austen Izzio (Carriere; Pearl River Central), South Alabama signee Tate Parker (Gulfport; West Harrison), Southeastern Louisiana signee Jacob Scherer (Mandeville, La.; St. Paul's) and Louisiana Tech signee Taylor Woodcock (Pass Christian; West Harrison).
"We are excited that another signing day has arrived. As a coach at this level, this is one of the more rewarding and humbling days in my opinion," PRCC coach Michael Avalon said. "Our players choose this program with hopes and dreams of being able to play at the next level. Today all their hard work pays off and their dreams come true. I am thankful these young men and their families trusted our program and this institution."
More Wildcats are expected to sign at a later date.
"COVID-19 has put a strain on the recruiting process, but, thankfully, these young men have been given opportunities at these schools. We will have other players in our 2021 class join these young men in making their commitment in the following months.
"Our goal is to make sure that each one of our sophomores has an opportunity to continue after Pearl River. Stay tuned."
Due to NJCAA and NCAA policies that were passed as a result of COVID-19, players who were on last year's halted season not only retained that season of eligibility, but also get the 2021 season back as well.
Crawford had a strong start to his abbreviated freshman season. In nine games, Crawford hit .280 with two homers, four RBIs and a .400 on-base percentage.
This fall, Crawford hit .333 overall with four homers.
"Graham has solidified himself as one of the premier catchers in our league," Avalon said. "Defensively, he has been able to impact the game, limit what other offenses are able to do, and, most importantly, has given our pitchers confidence. Offensively, he has continued to work and developed from both sides of the plate.
"He wanted to play in the SEC and through his determination this has become a reality."
Crawford is the second Wildcat to sign with the Tide in recent memory, joining 2016 signee Zachary Clark. The former Wildcat was ultimately drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers and did not play for the Tide.
Izzio is a familiar name for Wildcat fans. The versatile PRC alum played a crucial role on the Wildcats' 2019 World Series team before signing with Southern Miss.
As a freshman two seasons ago, Izzio was second among regulars with a .332 batting average. He also hit 10 homers, 15 doubles, four triples and 46 RBIs.
In 19 at-bats at USM, Izzio hit .211 with one double and two RBIs.
"We were excited to hear that Austen was returning because we knew the type of player we were getting," Avalon said. "Most impressive has been the maturation and growth he has made as a hitter.
"Watching him work and develop himself into the player he is today has been special to watch. Charleston Southern is getting a fine young man who is super competitive and a big-time hitter."
Izzio will be reconnected with his brother, Anthony, who is a coach at Charleston Southern. He's the first Wildcat to sign with the Buccaneers.
Parker is signing with the Jaguars prior to ever having an official at-bat for PRCC.
This fall, however, the Dallas Baptist transfer turned heads when he crushed 10 homers overall, including six against other opponents. He finished the fall hitting .543.
"The impact Tate has made on our team this fall has been impressive," Avalon said. "He led every category offensively throughout the fall, but, just as impressive, he holds himself to a high standard off the field and as a leader.
"South Alabama is a getting a player who checks all the boxes. I expect him to make an impact on their program just like he has ours."
Parker continues a pipeline from Poplarville to Mobile, Ala., joining recent Jaguar signees Jerod Meggs (Kosciusko) and Miles Smith (Laurel; Northeast Jones).
Scherer led the PRCC staff as a freshman with 19 1/3 innings in four starts. The right-hander was 1-2 with a 2.33 ERA. He finished third on the staff with 20 strikeouts against 12 walks and nine hits.
"Jacob was one of the leaders of our staff last year and coupled with his performance so far this fall he has cemented himself as a mainstay in our rotation," Avalon said. "Southeastern will be impressed with his abilities to compete, work, and lead.
"He also has done a tremendous job in the classroom finishing his first 3 semesters with a 4.0. Jacob is a winner."
Scherer continues a pipeline to SLU and will join former Wildcat Matt Taylor on the Lions' roster.
Like many of his teammates, Woodcock swung a loud bat in 2020. In 14 games, the second baseman hit .262 with two home runs, four doubles, eight RBIs and a .360 OBP. He also finished second on the team with three steals.
This fall, Woodcock hit .390 overall and .381 against other schools. He also hit two homers.
"The first day Taylor walked on campus, I saddled him with the expectation of being 'the glue' — the guy who brings everything together," Avalon said. "This year, his maturity and growth as a player, and more importantly, as a leader, has been tremendous.
"He has accepted the role as captain voted on by his teammates and done a tremendous job bringing this team together."
Woodcock will join former Wildcats Cade Hodges (Brookhaven; Loyd Star) and Shemar Page (Raleigh) in Ruston, La.
NEXT LEVEL PRIORITY
Avalon has always made moving his student athletes to the next level a priority. Dating back to his debut as a head coach at Mississippi Delta in 2012, Avalon has seen 98 sign with four-year programs with a handful more walking on at the next level. Additionally, 44 Pearl River Wildcats have signed during Avalon's tenure in Poplarville.
In addition to Wednesday's schools, other destinations over the last three years include Mississippi State, Auburn, Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech, Louisiana-Monroe, Delta State, North Alabama and many more.
PRCC just wrapped up its fall ball campaign. The Wildcats won't open their 2021 season until Feb. 9, when PRCC hosts Coastal Alabama-North for a doubleheader at Dub Herring Park. The rest of PRCC's schedule will be released at a later date.