By Laurence Hilliard

Kemper County Messenger

PEARL – Nanih Waiya began its quest for a state baseball championship at 1 p.m. Tuesday against Smithville in the MHSAA 1A title series at Trustmark Park, home of the Southern League Mississippi Braves. Game 2 in the best-of-three series is scheduled for 4 p.m. Friday. If a third game is necessary, it will be Saturday.

“We have a real special group,” Nanih Waiya head coach Tyler Rogers said of his team at a press conference Monday. “They do what we ask them to do.”

Nanih Waiya won the South State championship with three straight series sweeps, including Resurrection 6-3 and 6-5 in the South State final. Smithville needed three games against Tupelo Christian in the North State final.

Senior Brady Jones, with an 8-0 record and a 2.33 ERA, will start Game 1 for Nanih Waiya against senior Chris Lockhart, who is 5-0 with a miniscule 0.57 ERA.

It should be a very even matchup according to MaxPreps. The website covering high school sports ranks Smithville 37th in Mississippi and Nanih Waiya 38th. Nanih Waiya is 26-2 and Smithville is 25-4-1, including a win against 3A North State champion Mooreville.

“We put the ball in play and throw strikes,” Rogers said of his team. Concerning Smithville, he said.”They have a real good record and beat a lot of real good teams this year.”

Smithville coach Jamie Russell said pitching and defense are the strengths of his team. He doesn't know much about Nanih Waiya, but said,“I know they are scrappy, will put the ball in play and come after you.”

Both teams have impressive stats. Nanih Waiya has a team batting average of .374 and a team ERA of 2.16. For Smithville, the numbers are .361 and 1.60.

Offensively, Nanih Waiya is led by senior Ben Cumberland, with a .460 average, four homers and 28 RBIs, and sophomore Coley Taylor with a .488 average, two homers and 21 runs batted in. Cumberland, with a 5-0 record and a 1.63 ERA, will start Game 2. Rogers isn't sure who will be on the mound if a third game is needed.

The offensive leaders for Smithville are seniors Stuart Coggins with a .412 average, seven homers and 57 RBIs and Heath Noe with a .488 average. The Seminoles have three pitchers with strong credentials, Lockhart, junior Blayde Scott (5-1 and 1.30) and senior Grant Johnson (5-1, 1.71), who blanked Tupelo Christian 3-0 in the decisive game. Russell is not sure who will go in the second game.

Smithville will be home team Tuesday and Nanih Waiya will be home Friday. There will be a coin flip if a third game is necessary.