Diamond ’Stangs carrying torch for other squads, community
Nobody knows what it feels like to win a state championship in one of the three major team sports while wearing a West Jones uniform. Plenty know what it’s like to get close and not win, though. So that’s the motivation the baseball team will use in its title quest. Their goal is to avoid that all-too-familiar feeling of being handed the trophy no one wants — for state runnerup.
“After coming so close, the kids left Smokie Harrington Park last year … and they didn’t want that feeling again,” WJ baseball coach Trey Sutton said of his team’s heartbreaking loss at Hattiesburg in Game 3 of the South State championship series last year. “This group has done a good job of just working and having that goal in mind and not having that feeling again.”
This school year, the West Jones football team made it to the state championship game for the first time in program history, but they fell short at Hattiesburg’s M.M. Roberts Stadium. In March, West Jones girls’ basketball team played for the state championship and, for the second straight year, came up short.
Walker Thompson was a key member of the football team and is the leadoff man and centerfielder for the baseball team. Thompson, who is part of a core group of seven senior starters, has been on a mission to exorcise those gridiron demons on the diamond. He reached base in four of his five plate appearances in the clincher at Pearl River Central on Friday and he ripped a two-run homer in the opener.
“Ever since December, when we lost in football, I knew we had a shot (in baseball) this year,” he said. “I knew we had talent, pitching and hitting, like no one else in 5A. I just stayed on the guys and let them know the sucky feeling we felt when we lost and let them know, if we get there, we can do this and do something this school has never done.”
As of Monday, it wasn’t known who West Jones will be playing in the state championship series. Rain wreaked havoc on South/North State series across the state. Lafayette County had a 1-0 series lead going into Saltillo for Game 2, which was scheduled for Monday night. The Mississippi High School Activities Association was set to announce the championship schedule this morning (Tuesday). (Visit the Leader-Call Facebook page to find out the championship schedules)
No matter who they play, the Mustangs will be ready because they have been preparing for this since the offseason, Sutton said.
“We scheduled up this year,” he said. “We played a lot of good 6A teams — Madison Central, Petal, Brandon. That was to prepare for this, and I guess it worked.”
West Jones beat all three of those 6A squads this season, splitting with Brandon, which won the second matchup of the season. The Mustangs are undefeated in the playoffs and they have dominated in their last two playoff series, batting .438 as a team and averaging 10.25 runs per game while their pitchers have allowed an average of only 1.75.
“We’re swinging the bat well right now and (starting pitchers Dustin Dickerson and Kris Riley) have done a great job for us all year,” Sutton said. “We just have to keep up the intensity.”
Sutton doesn’t mind the pressure of his team carrying the torch for the other teams that fell short this season — and all of the years before. He was a member of one of those WJ teams that lost in South State himself.
“This is more than just about this team,” Sutton said. “We want to bring home a championship for every West Jones baseball team that’s ever come up short, every football team, every basketball team … Getting a state championship is for the community. This community deserves a state championship, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”