BY GENE PHELPS
TUPELO – Kirk Presley was well on his way to becoming a Northeast Mississippi sports icon the last time Tupelo High School's baseball program generated this much interest.
The Golden Wave, 19-0 record, heads into today's game against rival Starkville ranked No. 2 in the nation by Baseball America, behind American Heritage of Plantation, Fla.
Tupelo's also ranked No. 1 in Northeast Mississippi, No. 1 in the state, and No. 12 nationally by Collegiate Baseball.
Presley, a first-round draft choice of the New York Mets as a pitcher in 1993, said the Golden Wave's national recognition is well-deserved.
“They've got tons of talent, more talent than I've ever seen on a high school team,” said Presley, who lives in Tupelo. “They're big, strong, athletic É one through nine.”
Six of the team's starters have signed college scholarships to play baseball: Pitcher/first baseman Kyle Thornton (Ole Miss), outfielder Gardner Richey (Samford), catcher Evan Weibel (Meridian Community College), pitcher/infielder Joseph Koon (ICC), pitcher/outfielder Nathan Flanagan (ICC) and outfielder Channing Walker (ICC).
Presley, who pitched Tupelo to state championships in 1992 and '93, said he's even more impressed with the Golden Wave's pitching staff. Chris Stratton, a junior with a 6-0 and a 2.28 ERA, is the lead region starter.
“I've never seen a staff that deep,” he said. “We're talking about four or five guys who can throw and know how to pitch. They could even mix in three or four more.”
At the plate, the team is batting .383 and has beaten nine opponents by 10 or more runs.
“We're trying to make it fun,” Flanagan said during Thursday's practice. “We don't think about the rankings and stuff when we're playing.”
While the players are enjoying the national notoriety, they remain focused on their goals.
“It's an honor being ranked that high, but you put it in the back of your mind,” Weibel said. “All that really matters is the end of the season.
“We want to win state and go undefeated. That's what we're shooting for.”
Coach Gary Enis, who caught for the Wave from 1988 to 1991, credits his team's success to the players.
“They find ways to win games,” he said, referring to three come-from-behind wins this spring.
Like his players, Enis wants the state title – last year, Tupelo lost to Madison Central in the North Mississippi series.
He also wouldn't mind an unbeaten season.
“It will be fun to see if we can do it, but our main goal is to get past where we ended last year, the North half,” he said. “We want to get by North half and play for the state championship.”