PERKINSTON — The Mississippi Gulf Coast baseball team would be in the meat of its conference schedule had athletics not been shut down, and coach Wes Thigpen is taking what the abbreviated season gave him and his staff and running with it.
"I learned a lot, that's for sure," he said. "I think we came a long way, leading up into conference. I felt like we were just hitting our stride and coming together as a team. We were figuring out which pieces of the puzzle were going to fit together the rest of the season. Unfortunately it ended, but we learned a lot as a coaching staff. Our players are now aware of our expectations year in and year out."
The last doubleheader of 2020 was one to remember, a Game 1 win thanks to a two-out home run in the bottom on the ninth to force extra innings and a dominant pitching performance in the second game.
In fact, that Monday afternoon and evening encapsulated what the Bulldogs had learned in the first 14 games of the season: their hitting was better than expected, and the pitching was getting ready to come on strong.
Gulf Coast didn't return a single starting position player from the previous season, but it ended fifth in the country in home runs. The Bulldogs' 20 home runs were six behind NCJAA Division II leader Patrick Henry had after playing 10 more games. They were averaging 1.4 dingers per game, second in the country.
"When you're looking at numbers from the year before, you think the strong point is going to be pitching," Thigpen said. "But our offense came a long way. The coaching staff, Coach (Cody) Livingston, Coach (Chase) Scott and Coach (Jonathan) Parker, did an unbelievable job with those hitters."
Cameron Cotten (So., George County, Lucedale) led the team with five home runs, which also tied for fifth in the country. He clobbered a three-run home run to tie that game against Nunez up with two outs, before Nick Sims (So., New Hope, New Hope) took a bases-loaded hit-by-pitch in the 10th for the win.
"I didn't realize we were hitting that many home runs," Thigpen said. "I think it was just guys letting things happen. Cameron Cotten has an unbelievable amount of power, and obviously he had a big home run there at the end. I think he would have hit 15 or 20 home runs for us. It's unbelievable the amount of power he had."
Sims was batting .371, and Canaan Ray (Fr., Poplarville, Poplarville) was hitting .354.
The second game against Nunez was all Hayden Robb (Fr., Vancleave, Vancleave). He struck out 11 batters in six innings in a 6-0 win.
Thigpen thinks more of those kinds of performances were on the way for an experienced staff.
"At first, there were too many walks," he said. "The guys were trying to be perfect instead of trusting their stuff and really getting after it. For them to have the confidence to just shove it in the strike zone, I think that was coming. The walk numbers were going way down as we played more games."
Pitcher Tyler Hoffman (So., Mobile Christian, Mobile, Ala.) has signed with Tulane, and Justin Lockey (So., Long Beach, Long Beach) with McPherson College. Dawson Hall (So., East Central, Hurley) is headed to Southern Illinois, and Darby Gilbert (So., Pascagoula, Pascagoula) is expected to sign soon.
Outfielder/pitcher Ryan Jackson (So., Ridgeland, Ridgeland) has signed with Jackson State, and other sophomores are expected to be headed to the next level.
Some are considering returning for repeats of their sophomore seasons, but Thigpen will be bringing in a fresh crop of Bulldogs later this year.
"We have an exciting class coming in with 13 new guys," he said. "We're looking forward to everybody knowing our expectations as soon as they step on campus, having a relationship with these guys before they get here. I think it's going to make for an easier transition and less time feeling each other out getting to know each other. I'm so ready to hit the ground running when we get back for the fall."
For more information on MGCCC's 10 intercollegiate athletic teams, follow @MGCCCBulldogs on Twitter and MGCCCBulldogs on Facebook, and go to mgcccbulldogs.com.
Sports Information Director
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College