DeSoto Central baseball

DeSoto Central baseball players celebrate at the conclusion of the Jaguars' 2-1 victory over Northwest Rankin Monday night, a win that returned DeSoto Central back to the MHSAA 6A state final series.  

The DeSoto Central baseball Jaguars will return to Trustmark Park to defend its MHSAA 6A state championship, after Dylan James’ walkoff single with the bases loaded in the seventh inning clinched a 2-1 victory over Northwest Rankin Monday night in Southaven.

It will be the second straight state finals trip for DeSoto Central, which also won a state title in 2015.

“I’m just so happy for the players and for my assistant coaches,” said Jaguars’ coach Mark Monaghan afterward. “They poured their heart and soul into this thing and into this program. It’s nothing we can control but we put the work in from August until now, hoping we can put ourselves into this position.”

Hale’s base hit off Cougar reliever Cooper Gadman scored Blaze Jordan from third to end a tense contest that had a playoff atmosphere from the start.

A scoreless game quickly became a 1-0 Northwest Rankin lead with one swing from Reid Trimble for a home run to right center field off pitcher Kamren James.

Monaghan said the homer didn’t inject any negative thoughts to his team, however.

“Kamren was phenomenal and he established himself in those first few innings but the solo home run really didn’t do anything for our morale,” Monaghan said. “We knew we just needed to grind out some AB’s (at bats), get some runners on and piece it together.”

DeSoto Central answered in the bottom half of the inning, with James eventually scoring on an error by the Cougars’ third baseman. The Jaguars had chances to score in the fifth and sixth innings, but Northwest Rankin squelched anything until the seventh inning.

“We talk about responding to everything, the good and the bad and they’ve really latched on to that,” Monaghan said. “We were just trying to respond to everything that happened in the game. It was just an unbelievable team effort tonight, just like we’ve had all year.”

The Jaguars’ seventh-inning heroics were also aided by an error leading up to Hale’s final at bat that sent DeSoto Central back to the state championship series, where they will play St. Martin, the South State winner in the state finals for the first time.

“I know that if they are in the position they are, playing for a 6A state championship, they can play,” Monaghan said about his upcoming opponent. “It’s going to be a great team, a very well-coached team. They are a team that’s a little more rested up than we are, but we know we’re going to see the best St. Martin team that there is.”

Hale led the Jaguars’ offense with two hits, including the game winning RBI single in the seventh. McRae Houston’s two hits led Northwest Rankin, which could muster only three safeties against winning pitcher James, who struck out 10 Cougars to post the pitching victory.

Losing pitcher Dalton Rodgers fanned eight Jaguars, but he had to be replaced by reliever Gadman with two out in the seventh when Rodgers reached a limit of 120 pitches.

With the weekend’s rainouts forcing games to be played on Monday, such as the DeSoto Central contest with Northwest Rankin, the MHSAA was going to wait until Tuesday morning at the latest to announce a revised schedule for this week’s state championship series at Trustmark Park in Pearl. As many as four games a day may be scheduled to make up for what was to be a Tuesday start for the state championships.

LADY JAGS FORCE GAME THREE: Facing elimination in their attempt at successfully defending last year’s MHSAA 6A state fastpitch softball championship, DeSoto Central claimed a 4-3 victory over Brandon Monday at Mississippi State University. The win tied the best-of-three series for the title at 1-1 and followed Thursday night’s 7-3 Brandon victory to open the series.

Callie Newman led the DeSoto Central offense with three hits, while Raegan Stafford and Danielle Joyner added two hits each as part of a 12-hit attack. Newman doubled and Kaitlyn Bednarek tripled for DeSoto Central. Pitcher Megan Vinson threw four innings, struck out four but gave up three earned runs in the contest. Sterling James came into the contest in relief, pitched three innings and fanned two.

The deciding game three for the state championship at Mississippi State will begin 30 minutes after the conclusion of the Class 2A title game between Philadelphia and Enterprise, set to start at 12 noon.

Bob Bakken is Sports Editor for the DeSoto Times-Tribune.

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