POPLARVILLE – Pearl River Community College baseball coach Josh Hoffpauir admits that matching last year’s 41-14 record, including a South Division championship, this coming spring might seem impossible.
-Eleven sophomores off last year’s team are gone, including one first-team All American in Krisjon Wilkerson, three Division I-caliber pitching arms and a team batting average of .324, which ranked among the top 10 junior colleges in the country.
-Twenty-five players on PRCC’s 2014 roster, in Hoffpauir’s words, “have never played a college game before.”
“We are replacing all those guys with some very good athletes, but they are all inexperienced,” said Hoffpauir. “We may get bit early in the season with freshman mistakes, but by the middle to late in the year, I expect us to improve. It’s a good group of talent.”
Hoffpauir and his staff spent the five weeks of fall workouts teaching his youthful team the college game.
“I can’t say much bad about last year’s team. They were a special group,” said Hoffpauir. “That team had good leadership and they were very self-motivated.
“But on paper, we will have a better team this year than last year as far as the talent goes. The question is when you have this many young guys, how they will jell together and be able to grasp the team concept. If they do that, then we have a chance to be a good group.”
Gone are names like pitchers Christian Tally (USM signee, drafted by Tampa Bay), Brandon Fry (USM signee, signed by San Diego), and Ryan Deemes (Nicholls State signee), Braxton Lee (Ole Miss signee), Wilkerson (Arkansas signee), Paul Pickerrell, Forrest Dungan and others.
Coming back are pitchers Jake Brumfield of Natchez, who was 9-0 with a 2.80 earned-run average, outfielder Nathan Pugh of Starkville, who came on the second half of the season and hit .311 with four homers, and Philip Chandler of Stone County, who pitched some last season.
Besides Brumfield, leaders of the pitching corps include sophomore Brandon Pennington of Sumrall, who is coming off Tommy John surgery, sophomore transfer Luke McGee of Wooster, Ohio, and freshmen Trevor Bennett of Hancock and Jacob Taylor of Picayune.
Look for freshmen Galen Doucet of Gulfport and Houston Davenport of Birmingham, Ala., to handle most of the catching.
Pugh and Denzel Johnson of Jackson are working at first base. Hoffpauir says the middle infield spots at second and shortstop are still up for grabs with as many as five playing vying for those positions. Taylor is the leading candidate at third base.
Hoffpauir says all outfield positions are up for grabs but he did name Darien Brown of Hattiesburg, Justin Demary of Iowa, La., and Lamar Anthony of Vicksburg as guys who will see a good bit of playing time.
The Wildcats played four exhibition games during fall workouts, winning three.
Said Hoffpauir, “We haven’t won a real game as yet, but we have some talent on this team. Plus, we already have a good early, commitment class, so we are really excited about the future of the program.”
The MACJC South Division will be strong as usual, according to Hoffpauir, with Jones and Gulf Cost returning older teams. Hinds will also be competitive.
The 2014 Wildcats will open the season Feb. 6 with a doubleheader at home against Marion (Ala.) Military Community College.
Assistant coaches for the Wildcats are former PRCC pitching star Kyle Lindsey, Jeff Long and Glennie Thompson. The manager is Keith Stanley.
-Hoffpauir is beginning his fourth season at PRCC. His overall record: 93-54.
-The 2014 state tournament will be played at the home of the North Division champion.