HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - With eleven state baseball titles, playoff success is the norm for Oak Grove. As the Warriors embark on what they hope is yet another deep postseason run. The themes of motivation and fresh faces stepping up are intertwined.
Oak Grove is looking to bounce back from getting bounced out of the playoffs a year ago. The squad has also had to deal with injuries to top pitchers Drew Boyd and Kris Smith.
Warriors head coach Chris McCardle is looking for a few good arms to step up.
"Yeah we got some guys that can do it," McCardle said. "Payton Harris and Conner Ingram and Jordan Coursey. Those three guys, we'll rely on heavily. They're seniors. They know what's expected and know how to get the job done. We've got a couple other seniors, Mack Pickering and (Rhett) Blackburn. Both those guys will do a good job for us."
Harris, a senior, suddenly finds himself in the spotlight.
"I'm kind of used to it because he (McCardle) always be throwing me into these tough situations since my sophomore year," Harris said. "So it's not really the first time I've been thrown into a situation like this. And we've got a good defense so I'm not really worried about anything when I'm on the mound."
Sophomore John Rhys Plumlee expresses extreme confidence in the pitching staff.
"Peyton Harris is a great athlete so is Conner Ingram stepping up making some key pitches for us, no doubt," Plumlee said.
While the Warriors look to shore up their pitching staff during their opening round bye, they take refuge in a lineup that doesn't have trouble putting runs on the board.
"We've got one of the best lineups in the state I think," Harris said. "One through nine hitters. I've pitched against them plenty of times. I don't know how teams are able to keep them from scoring. I've been roughened up. Pitching against them made me a lot better as a pitcher."
When looking at his team in all three phases, McCardle likes the space his squad is in.
"We're swinging the bats good," McCardle said. "We've swung the bats good all year. We play really good defense and our lineup is set pretty much. We've got some guys we rotate in and out depending on other team's pitching staffs. We've got everybody's role set. We've just got to get our pitching staff straight."
The Warriors are set to begin postseason play at home next Friday. They'll face the winner of George County and Harrison Central. It's been two years since the program's last championship.
While most programs would want this problem, that's a near drought for Oak Grove.
"Most definitely coming off a year like last year," Harris said. "We got beat in the second round. It was devastating. We didn't want that to happen this year so before the season even started we talked about how we gotta do what we gotta do to get back to the state championship."
McCardle isn't showing away from the expectations based off past success.
"And we talk about it a good bit," he said. "Our community expects us to be good. Our community makes us. We play for those people in our community. We play for our school and our students and all our faculty. Our administration is great, superintendent down. We're excited to get on the field and be able to keep the momentum that coach (Harry) Breland built. And I've think we've done a good job with that. We've just got to keep moving on."