Senior leadership a key factor in Pearl River Central’s historic run

Published 7:00 am Saturday, May 27, 2017

“Be a senior” was commonly shouted from Pearl River Central’s dugout this season whenever one of three seniors, Cade Lee, Conner Holston or Hayden LeBeau, had to be a leader on the field. But for Holston, it meant something more.

“Being a senior means facing your fear, staring down the barrel of defeat and surviving. It’s going into every game knowing you are going to win, not just thinking or hoping,” he said. “That attitude is contagious with the other players.”

The 2016-17 Blue Devils was not an ordinary team, which is partially why they took home the baseball program’s first-ever MHSAA 5A State Championship, coach Neil Walther said. In fact, Lee said the team wasn’t an accumulation of teammates, but brothers.

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“We didn’t have that one player that’ll blow teams out of the water. We were all just on the same page and would do anything to get the win,” Lee said, referring to teammate Tristan Schlottmann getting hit in the face by a fastball from, Hattiesburg pitcher Joe Gray. “We’re just a bunch of country kids that are going to find a way to get the job done together.”

After losing nine seniors last year, seven of them starters, some doubted Pearl River Central would be able to get back to the South State Championship, including the team.

“We knew we would make the playoffs, but coming into my senior year, I thought we had too many holes to be able to go that deep into the playoffs again,” senior designated hitter Holston said. “But once we got to the South State Championship, there was no doubt in my mind we would take home the state trophy.”

Coming into their final year, each senior knew their job and what it was going to take to push the team to its limits, including senior pitcher LeBeau.

“Beau really stepped up in some big situations this year and has a lot of potential going forward in his career,” Holston said.

LeBeau finished his senior season leading the state champions with 85 strikeouts, one of the most in the state, Holston said. He also had a 6-4 record including a no hitter against Stone County and threw 11 strikeouts in game three against Pascagoula in the first round of the playoffs.

Leadership comes from experience and Walther said this group of seniors had the most experience, good and bad, that helped them in their run to the state championship.

In game one of the South State Championship at Hattiesburg, the Blue Devils gave up a seven-run lead in the seventh inning to lose 9-8.

However, after taking game two by the horns and beating the Tigers 12-2, Lee helmed the mound in a decisive game three against a team he held a grudge against coming into his senior season.

“They beat us last year in the South State series and so that’s what I was looking forward to the most,” Lee said. “It was do-or-die. If we lost, that was it for me; but if we won, we have a chance to make history.”

Lee threw his team to a 7-4 victory with five strikeouts, including superstar Gray, while walking two batters to send the Blue Devils to the program’s first State Championship appearance, Walther said.

“All the coaches always say that we don’t have to try and be better than the other team, we just have to be tougher,” Holston said. “We are a scrappy team that is never going to go away in any game and I bet that was intimidating to other teams.”

Lee and Holston hung their cleats next to the state championship trophy as both will head to college and focus on academics. Lee is headed to Mississippi State University to study petroleum engineering.

Holston will attend Pearl River Community College with a plan to go the University of Southern Mississippi to study business administration.

LeBeau is also headed to Pearl River Community College on a scholarship to play baseball.

Lee, Holston and LeBeau expressed their appreciation of the Blue Devils fans for supporting them since the beginning and also gave advise to the incoming senior class.

“Never quit, no matter what situation you are in; just bust your butt to get out of it and know that everything you do and how you act reflects on the rest of the team,” Lee said.

“Go into every game with the confidence of a champion. I believe this team can definitely be repeat champs next year. They got the talent at every position,” Holston said.