Pearl River baseball celebrates 8 next-level signees

Published 3:11 pm Sunday, November 14, 2021

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The Pearl River baseball team held a celebration at Dub Herring Park on Friday as eight current Wildcats took the next step in pursuing their dreams by signing with four-year programs.

This year’s group of next-level signees includes Tennessee signee Turner Swistak (Hattiesburg; Oak Grove), Southeastern Louisiana signee Dakota Lee (Purvis), Troy signee Matt Mercer (Petal), Nicholls State signees Ryan Burt (Columbus; New Hope) and Harper Jordan (Hattiesburg; Presbyterian Christian School), South Alabama signees John Griffin Bell (Mobile, Ala.; Faith Academy) and Leif Moore (Biloxi; St. Martin) and Louisiana-Lafayette signee Sam Hill (Soso; West Jones).

“This is another special group,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. “We are excited for them and humbled by their accomplishments. Each one of these guys came in with a goal and dream to play at the four-year level, and they each put in the time and effort to make this dream a reality. The majority of these guys had no Division I interest out of high school, and we are thankful they chose and believed in Pearl River as the best place to make this possible.

“Congratulations to each one of these young men and their families. We are very proud of them and look forward to other members of our team joining them at the four-year level.”   

Moving student athletes on to the next level is a staple in Avalon’s programs. Dating back to his tenure at Mississippi Delta, 115 of Avalon’s players have signed with four-year programs; including 61 PRCC Wildcats.

JOHN GRIFFIN BELL

Bell was a slick fielding shortstop who often made the tough plays look routine in his freshman debut a year ago. In 123 total chances last season, he made just eight errors.

At the plate, Bell hit .271 with nine doubles, six home runs and 27 RBIs. He also led the team in stolen bases with 15.

“Playing shortstop at a championship level is no easy task, and JG did that as well as anyone could ask last year — all the while he was battling injuries throughout the season,” Avalon said. “His toughness and leadership skills are the reason he was named captain, and we are glad he will be back at short this spring. 

“We know he is excited to return home and play for South Alabama next year.”

RYAN BURT

Burt had a reserved role on Pearl River’s 2021 squad, finishing the year with five innings pitched, three strikeouts and zero walks. In the batter’s box he tallied two hits, two walks and one RBI.

“Since the first day he walked on campus, Ryan has set an example of how to do things the right way,” Avalon said. “He’s a pleasure to coach and respected by all his teammates. Ryan will continue to balance the workload of a pitcher and hitter for us this Spring. We expect him to step in this year and be a force at both.

“There’s no doubt he will continue to impact our program and move on to Nicholls next year and influence their program as well.”

SAM HILL

The 6-foot-6 Hill was an intimidating presence on the mound for Pearl River in 2021. His 2.48 ERA was third on the Wildcat pitching staff. He registered 32 1/3 innings while striking out 42 batters. He allowed just 10 runs.

“Sam has always been ‘looked up to’ as a guy on the mound,” Avalon said. “Throughout his high school career and his time with us, he has continually handled the expectation. He continues to put in the work, continues to develop, and gets better and better each day.

“Big Sam will be one of our four starters this Spring, and we are excited to watch him as his career continues at University of Lafayette.”

HARPER JORDAN

Jordan didn’t log any innings for the Wildcats last season, opting to take a redshirt.

“Harper made the tough decision last year to redshirt,” Avalon said. “No question, he wanted to pitch, but ultimately considered what was best for his career. What a rewarding day for him to sign with a Division I school. He will play a big role for us this Spring on the mound, and we will follow him over the next three years as he pitches for Nicholls.” 

DAKOTA LEE

Lee was the leader of the Wildcat bullpen last season, finishing the season with 32 2/3 innings. The fireballer was virtually unhittable in those innings, holding a 1.93 ERA with 48 strikeouts, 16 walks, and seven earned runs. His 13.22 strikeouts-per-nine innings was first on the team.

“Dakota was shouldered with the tough responsibility of pitching out of the pen and also was asked to start,” Avalon said. “Throughout the year no matter what was asked of him, he got the job done. A true competitor on the mound that will do anything to help his team win.

“We look forward to handing him the baseball this Spring, and then watching him compete for former Wildcat, Matt Riser and Southeastern next year.” 

MATT MERCER

Mercer was a versatile player for Pearl River last season, seeing time behind the plate and in the outfield. In the batter’s box, Mercer registered 69 at-bats and hit .391 on the season. He hit four homers, drove in 19 runs and stole 10 bases.

“Matt faced adversity during his senior season when injuring his knee and had to have surgery,” Avalon said. “He never questioned why or felt sorry for himself, he simply went to work. Matt has been one of our hardest workers every day and was named captain this year. 

“He will be an anchor behind the plate for this year and we look forward to following him at Troy University.”

LEIF MOORE

Moore is the lone third-year player signing in the window. Moore was dominate in 2020 before the season was halted. In three starts, he claimed a 2-0 record and held a 0.67 ERA. In 13 1/3 innings, the right-hander tallied 24 strikeouts against just two walks. He was also part of a combined no-hitter against Nunez, throwing six innings while striking out 16 batters.

Moore did not pitch in 2021 due to injury.

“Leif is as competitive as a player that I have ever coached and we are excited about his return this spring,” Avalon said. “Like Matt, he never felt sorry for himself, but has trusted the plan after the injury. He is 100 percent healthy and we look forward to him returning to the top of the rotation.

“South Alabama was a school at the top of his list out of high school and we’re excited for him to stay close to home and join their program.”

TURNER SWISTAK

Swistak was heavily relied on during the Wildcats’ 36-9, 2021 campaign, finishing second on the team in innings pitched with 40. The 6-foot-2 pitcher tallied 25 strikeouts against just 11 walks and also averaged 5.63 strikeouts per nine innings.

“Turner told me right after his high school season ended that he wanted to play in the SEC, and he later told me his dream school was the University of Tennessee,” Avalon said. “After a solid freshman year where he pitched big game after big game for us, he knew he could get better and went to work this summer.

“No doubt he is gotten even better, and we look forward to his experience on our staff this Spring.”