COLUMBUS, MS - There's no doubt it took a full team effort for Columbia Academy (24-8) to capture its first district title since 1996. Nonetheless, two particular seniors have led the Cougars all season long: Wiley Cleland and Luke McKenzie.
"A lot of guys have athleticism, a lot of guys have character," said third-year Columbia Academy head coach Heath Smith. "To have both is really special and to have two guys like that on the same team is a dangerous weapon."
PRCC commit Cleland and JCJC commit McKenzie have accounted for 21 of the Cougars' 38 home runs this season. McKenzie currently owns the home run crown, hitting his school-record 12th homer in Columbia Academy's district-clinching win over Adams County Christian on Tuesday.
"I didn't even know there was a record," McKenzie said. "I didn't know there was a record to beat. I was rounding third and I heard it over the press box. It feels good. I know my little cousin will probably beat it before he graduates for sure."
McKenzie's "little" cousin, freshman Slade Wilks, has hit nine home runs.
As a team, Columbia Academy is batting .299 with seven different Cougars recording at least one homer.
"Yeah, it's kind of a competition," said Cleland, who leads the team with 41 runs-batted-in. "Everybody pretty much hits [a home run] some time or another. I think one through nine, anyone on the team can hit one over the fence."
Certainly, Columbia Academy's 24-8 record is a credit to more than just two players. But coach Smith said it's seniors like Cleland and McKenzie that the Cougars will rely on come playoff time.
"They're there to hold each other accountable, hold the younger guys accountable and, from time to time, some of the more mature seniors hold me accountable," Smith said. "They really took the leadership in the offseason and earned the right to come out here and this be called their team."
Columbia Academy visits Manchester Academy in the opening round of the MAIS playoffs on Tuesday night.