POPLARVILLE - Following five weeks of fall workouts, Pearl River Community College baseball coach Josh Hoffpauir feels pretty good about his 2013 Wildcat squad, which will be his third.
His first team in 2011 was 28-21 and reached the MACJC state playoffs. His second team was 24-19 but failed to make the playoffs.
“Last year was disappointing, but our sophomores this year are using it as a positive,” said Hoffpauir. “We got off to a great start and then some things happened. The guys started pressing and they put too much pressure on themselves. They are playing now with a chip on their shoulders.”
He gives his team a winning grade for their efforts this fall, which included a 3-1 record.
“We have a good group of guys,” said Hoffpauir. “In my 10 years as a coach, this is the most fun group that I have been around. They enjoy coming out every day to work.”
Successful teams sport strong pitching staffs and Hoffpauir believes he has the nucleus of a good staff. Some of the proof came during the early signing period for colleges and universities.
Three of his players signed grant-in-aid scholarships early.
Right-handed pitcher Ryan Deemes of Holy Cross High in Chalmette, La., signed with
Nicholls State (La.) University and Christian Talley of Hancock High, another righthander, signed with the University of Southern Mississippi.
Deemes was a key starter in 2012, boasting a perfect 4-0 record. He pitched 45 innings, struck out 32, and finished his freshman year with a 4.2 earned run average.
Talley finished the 2012 season with a 4-1 record in 57 innings of mound work. He struck out 39 batters and had a team-best 2.37 earned run average.
Also, center fielder Braxton Lee of Picayune signed with Ole Miss. Lee was an All-MACJC and All-Region 23 performer last season and sported a second_best .362 batting average. He played all 42 games, finished with 50 hits, a .461 on-base percentage, and 29 stolen bases - all team-high totals. His stolen base percentage was 93.5 and he drove in 20 runs.
Throw in Jacksonville, Fla., transfer Brandon Fry, a sophomore lefty, returning relief pitcher Anthony Lusco of Bay St. Louis, along with incoming freshmen Trevor Bennett of Hancock and Jake Brumfield of Natchez, and Hoffpauir believes he has the makings of a solid staff.
“We have big expectations for Ryan and Christian, and Fry has some Division I offers on the table,” Hoffpauir said. “Our top reliever is back and two good freshmen stepping in. These will be the guys we count on the most for our pitching.”
The catching chores will be handled by sophomores Krisjon Wilkerson of St. Stanislaus and Forrest Dungan of Columbia, who will split doubleheaders. “We expect both of those guys to have good years at the plate,” said Hoffpauir.
Carlos Gonzalez of Warren Central has the inside track at third base and Andrew Wilkes of Pearl at shortstop. Both are freshmen. Darien Brown of Hattiesburg and Paul Pickerrell of Elizabethtown, Ky., are battling at second and Nathan Pugh of Starkville, another freshman, is at first.
Lee has the centerfield job. Kollin Cannon of St. Stanislaus, Darius Knight of Pearl, and Pickerrell are among a group that will play in the outfield.
“Right now, we have a lot of options in the outfield,” said Hoffpauir. “We are pretty athletic, so that will help if we have to move guys around. It’s a freshman-oriented bunch but it’s also a good, strong class.”
This fall has not been without its challenges for the baseball team. The field house suffered water damage from heavy storms early in the semester. The renovation has included new lockers, offices and players’ locker room.
“We didn’t have the field house for two months this fall, but these guys never complained,” said Hoffpauir. “It’s almost finished. We are excited about it.”
The 2013 Wildcats will open the season Feb. 9 with a pair of nine-inning games against Baton Rouge, La., in Vidalia, La.
“I haven’t been this excited about a team in a long time,” said Hoffpauir. “We may not be as talented as we have been, but it is a close group. We play in a tough conference, but I am looking forward to the season.”
Assistant coaches for the Wildcats are former PRCC pitching star Kyle Lindsey and Jeff Long. The manager is Cody Ladner.