2021High School Baseball Team Of The Year: Mississippi's Madison Central High
The stakes seemed higher to Patrick Robey this season.
As the head coach at Madison Central High in Mississippi, Robey believes coaching staffs around the country will understand and agree with him. But it wasn’t the games that counted for more.
It was the time.
Before experiencing the loss of last season to the coronavirus pandemic, it had become easy to take the regular routine of spring and summer baseball for granted. Practices were a given. Motivational speeches from coaches were expected. The rollercoaster ride of a championship run was often the most significant emotional toll to be paid.
Heading into this year knowing his team would be reunited with a chance to return to some normalcy on the diamond, albeit missing several players who didn’t get the sendoff their team felt they deserved, Robey’s focus diverged from his usual preseason mindset. No longer was the game about the competition. It became about gratitude.
“I couldn’t have cared less if we won or lost a game,” Robey said. “I missed my guys. I missed the relationships, I missed the talks, I missed the bus rides, I missed my guys. That was the hardest thing for me. For the players, it was very tough. Every coach knows what I felt and what we felt.”
While that sentiment was shared by many ahead of the beginning of this season, Robey and his players earned an entirely different set of emotions by the end of the year, winning Mississippi’s highest classification (6A) championship after finishing 34-2 and being named the Baseball America High School Team of the Year.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” Robey said of the honor. “It’s hard to explain. It’s a credit to having years of success, and then to these young men who accomplished the goal this year. It’s a credit to them and their families for a lot of sacrifice and hard work.”
The state title was Robey’s second with Madison Central in his fifth season and sixth year with the school. The Jaguars went undefeated in league play, and outscored opponents 422-64. The squad was led by draft prospects Braden Montgomery and Hunter Hines, but received contributions from across the roster.
“We were very talented, and you’ve got to be to finish No. 1 and win a state championship,” Robey said. “But it goes a lot further than that. We had a group of very selfless kids who loved each other and didn’t care who got the credit. They just wanted to win. You take a talented team with a team-first attitude and families who care about the team, that culminates into a very successful year.
“Offensively, we had some guys who could hit for power, some guys who could run, a lot of senior leaders who had a lot of at-bats under their belts and were all tough outs. There were three or four juniors in that group who were very key contributors. We had a group of guys who really enjoyed playing the game, they enjoyed being around each other, they didn’t like to lose, whether it was checkers, ping pong, or baseball, so that was a pretty good combination.”
Maybe it was the missed season. It might have been the result of an abundance of time apart. Perhaps it was the same feeling of gratitude felt by their head coach. But there’s one word that primarily comes to mind for Robey when he thinks about the team he fielded this year.
“Lovable,” he said. “They love each other, they truly did. I really believe God rewards faith, sacrifice and obedience, and those guys were not afraid to sacrifice for each other. They knew their roles and they accepted their roles. They knew they couldn’t all be starting shortstop, they couldn’t all hit third. But those guys have played baseball together for a long time and whether it was ping pong or baseball, they wanted to compete hard.”
Though Robey can’t expect the same level of camaraderie, he believes the same success that led him and his squad to become Team of the Year has a chance to be repeated because of the competitive spirit he’s seen pass through his doors time and time again.
“We have a winning culture and a successful school,” he said. “They want to win in the classroom, on the athletic field, on the basketball court, so the competitive nature is in our kids. Are we going to win a state championship every single year? Absolutely not. But our kids know they have to work hard to maintain the level of success we’ve had at Madison Central. We’ve got some really talented players coming back (and) we’ll have a chance to make a good run next year too.”