New season begins with a new face on the bench

Published 7:00 am Saturday, March 1, 2014

CARRIERE — Opening day for prep baseball in Pearl River County saw a new face on the bench for one local squad.

Lance Hendrix has been named interim head baseball coach at Poplarville High, according to Hornets Athletics Director Jonathan Ray.

Hendrix takes over for J.J. Fortune, who was the Hornets head coach for the past five seasons. Hendrix has been an assistant under Fortune for the past five years.

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“Lance Hendrix is the interim head baseball coach due to coach J.J. Fortune being on a medical leave of absence,” Ray said Friday afternoon, before Poplarville opened the new campaign against Picayune at the Pearl River Central Sports Complex. “Coach Fortune is still employed by the Poplarville School District but has been on medical leave since Jan. 16th. At this time coach Hendrix is doing a great job leading our baseball team and we will see what happens from here on.”

Fortune guided the Hornets to the Class 4A South State playoffs the past two seasons. The move marks the first time a new head coach is on the bench for one of the three prep teams in Pearl River County in six seasons.

Hendrix taking over the helm of the Hornets isn’t the only change on the local landscape this season. Pearl River Central will be moving to region 6-5A, competing with Jackson Wingfield, Natchez and Brookhaven after many years of playing in a league with mostly coast teams.

“I don’t like it mainly because of the travel,” Blue Devils head coach Neil Walther said. “And we won’t get as many junior varsity games in district play. Plus, I just feel like there is more competition on the coast, and that makes you better prepared for playoff baseball.”

Picayune and PRC are no longer in the same loop, but the arch-rivals will face each other twice over the next 10 days.

Picayune came within one win of playing for the Class 5A state championship last season.

It’s a brand new year, we have to work even harder than we did in the past tow accomplish our goals,” veteran Picayune head coach Cayne Stockstill said. “We’ve got a lot of kids back, but our district is really strong once again. It will be very competitive.”

Stone County replaces PRC in Region 7-5A. The Tomcats fell in extra innings in game three to defending state champion Pascagoula last year in the Class 5A South State semifinals, just before the Panthers went on to knock off Picayune in three games in the South State finals.

Play began Friday night in the Pearl River County Classic, with a pair of games as Picayune faced Poplarville and Pearl River Central hosted Hancock. The event concludes today, with Picayune facing Hancock at 11 a.m., and Poplarville meeting PRC at 1 p.m.