PEARL, MS (WDAM) - Dexter Jordan and Hattiesburg High School did not much care for the outcome in 2016 when the Tigers ventured to Trustmark Park in search of Class 5A baseball championship.
"I told coach, looking back, we were young," Jordan said of the disappointment of losing the title quest in short order to Oxford High School two years ago. "We didn't know what to do. But we've been growing, playing a lot of baseball over the summers, getting to know the game more.
"And, as you can see, it paid off."
The Tigers (26-10) turned the lessons of the past into triumph Thursday afternoon, defeating Lewisburg High School 11-1 in five innings to win a Class 5A state baseball championship for the first time since 2006.
Jordan (7-3) allowed one run on four hits over five innings and drove in three runs as HHS swept the best-of-three series from the Patriots (26-9).
It marked the sixth state baseball title for the Hattiesburg program and the first under Coach Joe Hartfield.
"It's completely overwhelming," Hartfield said while clasping the title trophy to his chest. "I don't even know what to think right now. I don't know whether to smile or cry.
"It's like an out-of-body experience, to be honest with you. I've chased it for so long personally, more than 20 years, but it's not about me. It's about these players, who got me here and got everybody else here."
The baseball crown capped a stellar year for Hattiesburg High athletics. Baseball, girls' basketball and boys' track each won Class 5A state championships, while girls' track and football finished runner-up.
"It's amazing," HHS right-fielder Kameron Wells said while wearing a huge smile. "It's a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, man. I can't describe it. I'm at a loss for words."
Lewisburg, the North State champion, saw Hattiesburg jump out to quick and commanding lead for a second consecutive game.
Tuesday night in their 9-5 victory, the Tigers led 5-0 after two innings and 7-0 after 3 ½ innings. Thursday, the Tigers led 3-0 after the first inning and 7-0 after two innings.
"The first thing we thought about was getting on them early," Wells said. "If we could get out on them early, they would see that we were really focused and that we really wanted it."
Joe Gray, who had five hits and scored six runs in the championship series, doubled to drive in Jay Reedy with the game's first run, then made it 2-0 on Jordan's single.
After Hattiesburg loaded the bases with a pair of walks off Lewisburg starting pitcher Cooper Dowell (5-2), Caleb Tart's infield single made the score 3-0.
The Patriots pulled within 3-1 in the second inning on Dylan Bond's RBI-double, but the Tigers answered with four runs in the bottom of the frame.
Gray had a run-scoring single and Jordan and Letrelle Johnson hit RBI doubles. Wells knocked in the inning's other run with a groundball.
The rally finished Dowell's day after he allowed seven runs on six hits and four walks over two innings.
Gray slid across home plate on Jerry Burkett's grounder to the right side for the Tigers' third run in the bottom of the fifth inning to end the game on the 10-run rule.
After scoring, Gray sprinted down the first-base line to bearhug Burkett. A few heartbeats later, a purple-and-yellow dogpile of jubilation grew out of the infield just past first base.
"The goal was to get a state championship before I left Hattiesburg," Gray said, "so I'm elated, man. I'm happy.
"We always had the thought that we could do this, but at the end of the day, even with talent, you have to execute, so I'm glad that we were able to come together and gel as a team this year and come win the 5A state championship in Pearl."
Gray and Jordan each had three of Hattiesburg's 10 hits, while A.J. Stinson had two more. Gray and leadoff man Jay Reedy each scored three runs, while Jaden Richardson scored twice.
Jordan, who struck out two and walked one, was pitching with a sore arm, leaving him more dependent on his changeup and breaking pitches rather than his fastball.
"I had to pitch backwards from the usual, but it felt good," Jordan said.
The Tigers have had a busy week
After celebrating along the third base line with the trophy, its golden mitt gleaming in Thursday's afternoon sun, the Tigers joined family, friends and fans in the concourse of Trustmark Park.
Friday, Jordan and six fellow seniors will walk across the graduation stage.
But even as they venture into the future, Jordan said each of them will carry a fond memory of the past.
"It's my senior year, and to be honest, I don't know if I'm going to end up in the minor leagues or college ball next year," Jordan said. "But, no matter what, I've got something to look back on when I get there."