Jake Smith was heart and soul of Pearl River’s 2002 World Series team
By Patrick Ochs
POPLARVILLE, Miss. — One of the more iconic images from Pearl River’s last 20 years on the playing field came courtesy of Jake Smith.
The Picayune native played a crucial role in Pearl River reaching its first World Series in 2002 and following the Region 23 Championship, Smith’s jubilation was captured while hoisting the plaque with his jersey slung around his torso due to an IV that was wrapped around his arm.
A heart-and-soul type of player, Smith will be recognized July 30 as part of the Pearl River Community College Athletics Hall of Fame presented by Keith’s Superstores celebration. Joining Smith in the Class of 2021 are football’s Randy Boyette, women’s soccer’s Hannah McCarty and men’s basketball’s Darral Willis Jr.
Tickets for the banquet and golf teams can still be secured by visiting PRCCAthletics.com/HOF or by calling Traci Spence at (601) 403-1193.
Smith found out about his induction in a unique way as PRCC President Dr. Adam Breerwood and Pearl River Vice President of the Poplarville Campus and Student Services Jeff Long both were on the call when he was given the good news. Breerwood was an assistant under Jim Nightengale when PRCC recruited Smith, and Long was the second baseman’s teammate at William Carey.
“I’ve always respected Coach Breerwood, so for him to call and tell me — and also Jeff Long, who I played with at William Carey, me and him were a lot alike on the baseball field — that was special. I broke into tears,” Smith said. “Once they said that I could barely talk. I just kept thinking about daddy. I was hoping this day would come.
“I was hoping I did enough to be put in the history of Pearl River Community College with all the greats like Breerwood, Coach Jay Artigues, Matt Riser, Rhyne Hughes, Ashley Graeter. It was a good feeling.”
For Smith, who graduated from PRCC in 2002, the call felt like it was a long time coming.
“To me, (being inducted) means what you did was acknowledged. Probably two or three years after I played I looked it up. I saw a lot of guys I played with and I wanted to be in with them,” he said. “To me, if Pearl River was a four-year school I never would have gone anywhere else. I would have loved to go to Pearl River four years — maybe five; I would have asked for a redshirt to stay there longer. I definitely wanted to be in (the Hall) with Pearl River’s elite.”
HOW IT STARTED
Interestingly enough, Smith started his collegiate career elsewhere. Although he grew up in Picayune and rooted for the Wildcats, an assistant coach with the Maroon Tide convinced him to go to a JUCO in Alabama. Almost immediately, Smith said, he realized his mistake.
“They wanted to redshirt me and I didn’t want to be in Bay Minette for three years so I ended up coming back after Christmas,” he said. “Pearl River meant a lot to me. It’s right by my hometown, my family was able to come watch me and I knew a lot of the guys on the team.
“When I went to Alabama it just didn’t seem right. I kept thinking about, basically, playing at Pearl River with people I know and helping my hometown team win.”
Smith transferred home during the midterm but joined a team with an unblemished fall record. At the time, Nightengale was the head coach with Breerwood as his assistant. They let Smith know he’d have to earn his way onto the field.
“They said I wasn’t just going to get a spot, I was going to have to earn it,” he recalled. “Eventually, maybe 10-12 games in, I got the starting spot at second and stayed there until the end.”
The Wildcats were a near-.500 team in 2001 and with the 21-24 record came a change. Artigues was hired and almost immediately, Smith said he knew 2002 would be different — although almost no one could have predicted the type of immediate success that awaited the Wildcats.
“I knew we were going to have a good year, but not to that extent. The year before we were only 21-24. We were under .500. We had a good team but for some reason we just didn’t get it done. And then Artigues came,” Smith said. “I told him this the other day on the phone — our first group meeting he began speaking and you could just tell he was something special. He put confidence in everybody. He said you have everything here to win and be a champion, there’s no reason we can’t get it done. After that, we took off running and believed we were the best every time we stepped on the field.”
The Wildcats embodied that earlier message and only got stronger as the season progressed.
“That was just a perfect year my sophomore year. We had a great team. I really believe you could have taken the team that played in the World Series, dropped us off in Omaha and we could have competed,” he said. “We had about five arms who threw in the 90s, we could hit, we could play defense, we were fast. We had everything you need.
“And, of course, we were greatly coached. I believe Coach Artigues was the best baseball mind in the South. I really do believe that.”
Back at that point, you had to win both a Regional and Super Regional before qualifying for the World Series. Luckily for PRCC, they had earned the right to host the Regional. Although they lost early on, they managed to come through the loser’s bracket to face Hinds in two must-win games. After picking up the Game 1 win, the Wildcats still had work to do. Around the sixth or seventh inning of Game 2, Smith recalls not feeling well. Although he got on base and ultimately stole second, he became ill and had to be removed from the game. Jared and Justin Harris’ father owned a veterinarian clinic in town.
“He told my daddy they could take me up the road and put an IV in me. I was just bad dehydrated. So they took me to the vet, put the IV in me and then I watched the last two innings of the regional championship from the bench. Those were the only two innings I missed the entire year,” Smith said, in the buildup to the now iconic photo. “After the game I went out there with the IV in my arm, they handed me the trophy and I just lifted it up with the entire team screaming. Coach Artigues sent it to me the other day. He told me he keeps that picture on his desk. That was the first time I’ve seen it in a long time.”
PRCC went on to win the Central District Super Regional title in Kentucky and qualify for the World Series in Millington, Tenn. While boarding the bus, Smith recalls Artigues calling him up to the front for good news — he had been named an All-American.
“It was special. I never would have thought that I would get that honor. I remember being at the Super Regional in Kentucky and walking onto the bus. Artigues was sitting there. He said ‘Hey, Jake, come here. Congratulations, you were named All-American.’ I was kind of shocked. I was pumped,” he said. “The biggest thing was I remember when we got back, my daddy met me in front of Huff Hall. I handed him that certificate and just to see his face and how proud he was of me. I’ll never forget that day.”
When Forrest died a little over a year ago, he was buried with Jake’s All-American certificate.
Recalling the sequence of events that led to his All-American news, Smith flashed back to growing up in Picayune, with his father, Forrest Smith, as his biggest supporter.
“He worked offshore and was pretty much seven-on and seven-off his whole life,” Smith said. “Every day he was home ever since I was 4 or 5, he would take me in the back yard and roll ground ball after ground ball after ground ball. That’s all we did. He was great.”
Smith wasn’t one to fill up a baseball card — although he was first on the team in runs scored (44) and walks (17), second in hits (63) and stolen bases (nine), and third in batting average (.337). But where he perhaps lacked for power and grace, he made up in grit and tenaciousness that the Wildcats needed.
“It was just a good fit. I was the type of ballplayer who played with my heart,” Smith said. “I wasn’t going to hit balls out of the ballpark or field every ball smoothly, but I was going to take it off the chest, knock it down and get the out. It might not be the prettiest thing you ever seen but I’d make it happen. I was a good teammate and rooted for them.”
Artigues echoed that assessment.
“Jake Smith epitomizes what a Pearl River Wildcat is all about — tough, selfless and extremely loyal,” said Artigues, who went on to coach at Southeastern Louisiana and is now the SLU athletics director. “Jake is the toughest player I’ve ever coached and it was an honor to have had the opportunity to be his head coach.”
Following his time at Pearl River, Smith made a new home up the road at William Carey.
After redshirting, he hit .274 as a junior in 2004 with 52 hits, 11 extra-base hits, 32 RBIs and seven stolen bases. His senior year, Smith hit .318 with 56 hits, nine extra-base hits, 15 RBIs and eight stolen bases.
“Jake was a hard-nosed player who always played the game the right way,” said legendary William Carey coach Bobby Halford. “I wish they were all like him — a winner.”
Smith currently works offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. He is married to Kelli Smith and has four children, Tenleigh, Reagan, Easton and Chance.
The golf tournament is a four-person scramble format and will be at 10 a.m. July 30. Each team is $600. The fee includes green fees, golf cart rental, food, beverages and a gift bag courtesy of BankPlus.
Anyone who wishes to participate is encouraged to register quickly as the number of teams is limited at The Bridges. To register to play, or to become a sponsor, visit PRCCAthletics.com/HOF.
The banquet will include a Hall of Fame social hour from 5-6 p.m., followed by a general admission social hour from 6-7 p.m. The ceremony will start at 7 p.m.
Families can purchase individual dinner tickets for only $100. Sponsorship packages are also available for the banquet, beginning at $2,500. More information on sponsorship opportunities is available at PRCCAthletics.com/HOF.
ABOUT THE HALL OF FAME
The Pearl River Athletics Hall of Fame currently houses 134 of the greatest student athletes and coaches to represent The River. The Hall of Fame was established in 1988 with an eight-person class and has been an annual staple at PRCC with the exception of 2020; the ceremony was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
HOW TO NOMINATE. For a full list of PRCC Hall of Famers, visit PRCCAthletics.com/HOF/roster.
Know someone who’s deserving of being enshrined? You can visit PRCCAthletics.com/HOF/Hall_of_Fame_nomination_form to fill out the nomination form.