The Pearl River Community College Wildcats are making a return trip to the NJCAA World Series this weekend after their 11-2 rout of LSU-Eunice on Saturday in the Region XXIII championship game wearing their "championship gold" uniforms. The win gave the Wildcats a 40-12 record and the #1-seed in the NJCAA Division II World Series.
The last time the Wildcats advanced to the World Series was in 2002 under former head coach Jay Artigues who started the "championship gold" uniforms tradition.
The Wildcats wore the uniforms last year when they won the MACJC state championship and they made sure to pack them on the trip to Itawamba for the region tourney this past week.
To make things more interesting, former St. Stanislaus Rock-a-chaw All-State standout Magruder O'Bannon has been a key contributor to the Wildcats' success the past two seasons.
O'Bannon commented, "We could not be any happier. We are all looking forward to the trip to Enid, Oklahoma, and for the chance to represent our college and community."
The Wildcats faced tough competition last week at the Region XXIII tourney in Fulton with five of the top 10 teams in the country playing in the tournament. The then #6-Wildcats defeated #4-Jones 4-2, #9-Northwest 12-11 in 11 innings, #2-Itawamba 21-13 and #1-LSU-Eunice 11-2 to advance.
O'Bannon, who committed to Wiliam Carey University on Monday, has hit for .350 with one homerun, nine RBIs and scored 10 runs in 23 games this year.
When asked about the journey that he and the Wildcats have been on in 2019, O'Bannon stated, "We are expected to battle and compete. That goes back to the dedication of the coaching staff to get us prepared. To be one of the final 10 teams left standing is an honor itself. We have already played in an extremely tough regional tournament. Now, we just need to go and play one game at a time. That is our mindset."
PRCC head coach Michael Avalon played at Holmes Community College and played against Artigues' Wildcats in 2002. Avalon commented, "This is a goal that we set every year. However, after winning the state title last year we felt we could make the jump this year and we set our focus on it immediately. What this team has done that is most impressive to me is their ability to come together to support one another all year through the ups and downs. We have recruited the very best players from high school no matter what we had coming back. We asked them to understand that the guy next to them may be as talented as they are and to be a team first player. They have accepted that. That has been our real challenge all year since the state title. It has never been a question of how talented are we but can we put the team above all else."
Avalon talked about O'Bannon, "Magruder has become the consummate teammate. When we recruited him, we knew that he was a gifted student both in the classroom and the game. He changed his body last year at our request and became an integral player for us on our quest for the state title. He has continued that and become an inspirational teammate this year. His willingness to be that inspiration is what I am most proud of. It is that willingness to do what is asked of him that has made him able to compete. From the moment he stepped on campus, he has given exactly what we have asked from him."
Avalon recalled playing against the Artigues' teams from 2002 and how well prepared they were. He made that a goal for his squads when he began to coach to be prepared as a team for whatever may come. He witnessed that from Artigues' preparation and how his teams responded.
When Artigues was the coach at PRCC from 2002-05, he tallied a record of 168-51 and, until now, the school's only berth in the World Series. His 2004 team owns the school record for wins with 46.
Artigues, a former SSC standout, became PRCC's single season and career batting champion and later led the Wildcats to the program's first world Series berth and created championship tradition. Now, O'Bannon, a former SSC standout, has become an inspirational teammate on the top-ranked JUCO team in the country looking to etch its name in national lore.
O'Bannon ended, "This opportunity is a humbling one. We are very proud to be in a position to not only experience this but to represent our community, our state and ourselves. We very much want to make the area proud. We are focused on getting the job done and bring home the title."
The JUCO World Series runs from May 25-June 1 at David Allen Memorial Ballpark in Enid, Oklahoma.
With the overall #1-seed in the World Series, PRCC will earn a first round bye and not play until Sunday at 1p.m. against the winner of the #8-Pasco-Hernando State College (31-23) and 9-Lackawanna (32-15) game which will be played on Saturday at 10 a.m.
The area's presence will again be felt on a national stage. And, you can bet that an extra box full of "championship gold" uniforms will be with them and ready to shine on the biggest of stages.