Desoto Central (MS) High School head baseball coach Mark Monaghan talked about his upcoming state championship series against Oak Grove High School beginning 7 pm Wednesday night at Trustmark Park in Pearl, MIssissippi. He also talked about his three talented juniors who are committed to Mississippi State, Brant Blaylock, Keegan James and Austin Riley.
Your team is playing in the 6A state championship against Oak Grove. What is it about this team that makes it so good?
Head Coach Mark Monaghan - "Number 1, we are blessed to have the talent that we have. But what makes this team go is that we have a lot of guys who are team-first players. We decided as a team before the start of the season that this was our goal and that we were going to do everything that we could to get here. And they proved that by getting here. We started it due to a strong finish last year, losing to eventual 6A champion Southaven. We came within one game of being here last year. The guys could taste it because they were so close last year. And they wanted to to whatever they could to get here."
This year's team has seven players who are either committed or signed to play for D-I schools, three of whom are committed to playing for Mississippi State, juniors Austin Riley, Keegan James and Brant Blaylock. What makes those three so good?
"Their consistency would probably be number 1. And that's in all phases of their game. They also have a great work ethic. Two of those three committed early, Austin and Keegan. You worry that they may not have as much to play or work for due to being committed. Instead, that just fueled them, motivated them to be the type baseball players that they need to be when they get to Mississippi State."
Keegan James really seems to have come into his own this season. What has been the biggest difference in him this year compared to last season?
"Keegan is one of those guys who is his own worst critic. He is a perfectionist. Austin is his cousin and receives a lot of attention. And he's fueled by that. They work together on and off the field. Keegan is a guy who is a tireless worker. He's not only worked on his game from a pitching standpoint, and that's what Mississippi State recruited him for, but he's also wants to be the best baseball player for me, the best hitter. He's even made a position change and plays a lot second base for me, along with first base. He's a tremendous defender. He's a guy who wants to be successful and will do whatever it takes."
What kind of pitcher is Keegan? What pitches does he throw and what is his velocity?
"He's got three pitches. In game-three against Tupelo his changeup was as good as it has ever looked. When you can get that third pitch across and locate it in all counts, that can separate you. And he proved that, that Saturday with his ability to throw that pitch. His velocity is in the upper 80s. He's just a pitcher."
And the thing about Keegan is he still has a lot of room to develop, doesn't he?
"Keegan's got some room to grow (in his body frame). He's also a big kid with a loose arm action. He gets great spin on his breaking ball. He's also very, very smart in the classroom. And that translate on the mound as well. He's a guy who gets better as the game goes on. (An example of that is) we are on the road in an elimination game against Northwest Rankin. He gave up four runs in the first inning against them, then he throws 0s threw six innings. That says a lot about his ability to handle the big game."
Specifically, what do you like about Austin Riley?
"There is a lot to like about him. He obviously has the God-given body and he's strong. But it's the things that don't get noticed on the field. People don't notice how well he handles the mental aspect of the game. I've never seen a play so even-keel as he is. He has the ability to slow the game down, put it on cruise control. That's what separates him from others. Baseball is a game of failure. And a lot of times emotions can get the best of you. When you let that happen, a lot of times you don't let your natural ability come through. But Austin never lets anything affect him. And he has the ability to make the necessary adjustments."
Brant Blaylock is your third Mississippi State baseball commitment.
"Brant has tremendous baseball savvy. He is also very, very athletic. He's gotten bigger, stronger and faster. He moved to the leadoff spot for us midway through the year last year. He does everything you want from a leadoff hitter. Then, he came out this year and started in right field for us. He's got a great arm. He's had a tremendous year for us. He's one of those guys who has a tremendous upside."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.