December 16, 2018
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A GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY NOTED, PLUS LOCAL GUY MAKES GOOD IN THE NBA

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Two points of interest in this week’s column—one a look back, and one a look forward:

  • Much was made last year of the fiftieth anniversary of Pascagoula High School’s first ever state baseball championship in 1967, and rightfully so. At that time, Pascagoula was already known as a “baseball town”, but that group of Panthers took that appellation to the next level and set the standard for a program that has now won five (and counting) state championships.

What some may not remember and many may not know is that the 1968 PHS baseball team also won the state title, giving ‘Goula a rare back-to-back champion honor. So this year, 2018, we should celebrate that Panther squad’s 50th anniversary in its own right.

“I surely can’t say that I expected us to repeat,” said Doug Horn, coach of both the 1967 and 1968 champs. “We had a good nucleus coming back, but we had lost a lot of talent. The ’68 bunch started out slow, but once we got going we pretty much rolled straight on through.”

The 1968 Panthers were a talented, interesting group. The infield was particularly strong: second baseman Jimmy Haygood went on to star at MGCCC; shortstop Rodney Siedell was the third baseman for the 1972 Ole Miss College World Series team; and third baseman Walter Hallberg was drafted by the Cleveland Indians out of high school.

As he had in ’67, Earl Gilbert was the overpowering pitcher who set the tone from the mound. Gilbert was a high draft choice by Seattle when he finished PHS. Lefty Paul Mizell stepped into a starting role in ’68, giving the Panthers an exceptional one-two pitching punch.

Catcher Wayne Graham was stout defensively and a strong hitter as well. Colorfully named Jose’ Mosquito roamed far and wide in centerfield. Current Federal Court Judge Louis Guirola was a solid reserve pitcher.

“That team was really close,” said Horn. “When we were playing at Fulton in the playoffs, the players went to a pool hall in Columbus the night before. The manager came over and said Jose’ would have to leave because he was black. The whole team just turned and walked out the door together. You remember things like that.”

After the aforementioned slow start, the Panthers got on a roll, finishing 20-3. They ran through McComb, Jackson Wingfield, and Fulton in the playoffs undefeated to take home the state championship.

Doug Horn retired from coaching after that 1968 trophy, going into the family seafood business. He had a stellar three-year record of 48-10, with the two state championships.

“It was all about the kids,” said Horn. “I just loved working with the players and watching them develop.”

The kids obviously liked working with Coach Horn as well. Today, we can all look back on the 1968 State Champion Pascagoula High baseball team with great pride.

  • Recently, there was a big announcement that Moss Point’s own Devin Booker had signed a five-year/ $158 million contract with the NBA’s Phoenix Suns. I bring this up not to point out the financial piece (that is a nice payday), but to celebrate what a great basketball career this local young man is forging.

Booker starred for Moss Point High from 2011-2014. He captured every honor imaginable, including participating in the prestigious McDonald’s All-Star game . When you watched Devin play in local gyms, you could just tell he had “it”. His shot was beautiful, and his entire game showed a marked fluidity.

Young Mr. Booker went on to play one year with the Kentucky Wildcats—not a lot of kids from the Coast sign with Kentucky—then became the thirteenth player overall selected in the 2015 draft by Phoenix.

Each year with the Suns, Devin continues to impress. He became the youngest player in NBA history to score 60 points in a game (he actually had 70 that night), and this past year he won the famous Three Point Contest at the NBA All-Star game. Also this past season, he averaged a scorching 24.9 points per game. All pretty heady stuff for a kid we were watching just a few years ago running up and down the floor at Arthur Haynes Gym.

It should be noted here that Devin got his talent honest. His father Melvin was a star at MPHS from 1987-1990, then went on to be conference player of the year at Missouri and play for three NBA teams. We have a pretty good bloodline going here.

When Devin was at Moss Point High, I had the occasion to meet him at a local United Way event, as he was a youth volunteer. I found him to be courteous, engaging, just a good young man. These traits, I believe, are even more important than his immense basketball skills, and when you combine the two subsets, it’s pretty cool to be able to say that Devin Booker is “Moss Point’s own”.

–So, there you have it: a story from back in the day, and one from the present. Just goes to show you that Jackson County always has had and always will have a legacy of producing outstanding athletes and outstanding teams.

(You may contact Richard Lucas at [email protected].)

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