ECRU • With expectations surrounding coach Chad Anthony and the North Pontotoc baseball team this season, the skipper cashed in and won the first state title in program history.
The Vikings played in the championship last season but lost in two games. The team returned six full-time starters to its lineup this season and also returned its best two pitchers.
That led to many people expecting North Pontotoc to be back in Pearl this season, but the Vikings suffered some injuries in the middle of the season that nearly put a damper on their goals.
Anthony, the Daily Journal Coach of the Year, navigated his Vikings through those injuries to a 22-8 record and a sweep of Magee in the MHSAA Class 3A state championship.
“Everyone was talking about how we had so many guys coming back and saying that we are going to win it,” Anthony said. “When you’ve never won it before and with how hard it is to get down there, it just put a lot of pressure on our guys.”
Anthony said while there were expectations, they were the kind of expectations that the program had worked towards for so many years.
“Don’t get me wrong, it was the pressure you want,” Anthony said. “You want the program to be at the place where everyone expects you to win.”
The team was rolling through the regular season, but then the injuries struck.
Ace Jake Reeder suffered an arm injury and only pitched three innings during the month of April. Around the same time, Corley Hooper, the team’s No. 2 pitcher, went down for the season with an elbow injury.
Hooper only threw 16 innings this season.
Senior Ethan Dyer then stepped in and pitched 39 innings, and junior James Clay McGregor led the team with 42 innings and a 1.82 ERA. Sophomores Ty Roberson and Bo Howell also contributed on the mound.
Following the two injuries, McGregor tossed four complete- game wins in his last six appearances, including a complete- game win that clinched the state championship.
Reeder came back in the playoffs and threw two complete games in his last two appearances.
“Jake was never totally out of the picture, so we were just trying to get to the playoffs to get him back,” Anthony said. “The good thing about it was that we were pretty deep. I think after a few guys like James Clay went out and had success, everyone got comfortable.”