Meridian Star

July 24, 2013

Mississippi RBI program wins SW Regional

Tony Tsoukalas
The Meridian Star

—     Former Meridian High School standout Kendrick Walk could see the butterflies building up in his teammates' chest as the Mississippi RBI program prepared for its Southwest Regional Championship game against Arlington Sunday morning at Ranger's Ball Park In Arlington. The veteran had been down this path before, as Mississippi came one game shy of the elusive Southwest Regional title each of the last three years –– something had to be done.

    “I just told the guys before the game that this is everything that we have been practicing for,” Walk said. “I said we can't freeze up now, this is one of the most important games we will play in our lives. I just told them if they didn't do anything else that day, find a place in your heart to win this game.”

    Refocused and determined to bring the first RBI Regional championship to Mississippi, the team rallied behind Walk's words, grinding out a 2-1 victory over Arlington to take home the title and advance to the RBI World Series on Aug. 3-9 in Minnesota.

    “It's really exciting.” said Jared Scott, who plays for both Meridian High School and Mississippi RBI. “Hopefully we get a chance to win the national championship and bring it back to Mississippi. That would be pretty big –– we'd shock the nation.”

    Walk did more than just talk a big game, the future Jackson State Tiger also delivered a double and scored the deciding run in the championship game.

    With Mississippi up 1-0 and Walk on third base, the Meridian shortstop was determined to produce a run anyway he could. Noticing Arlington's pitcher was working out of the windup, Walk decided to take the matter of doubling his team's lead into his own hands.

    As the opposing pitcher began to get ready, Walk increased his lead more and more until finally breaking for home. Walk's dash towards the plate caused enough of a distraction to spur a wild pitch, allowing him to easily scamper home for the game's deciding run.

    “When I started running home, he looked at me and threw the ball away,” Walk said. “It was kind of a nerve-racking play, but at that time of the game, we just really needed a run to have a little insurance.”

    The RBI program, which stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities, is a program designed to encourage both academic and athletic success among inner-city youth. Recently, walk was one of 12 players in the nation selected to earn the RBI for RBI Scholarship. Walk will put the scholarship towards JSU in the fall and will play for the defending SWAC champion Tigers in the spring.

    “The league has really brought back baseball in our city,” Walk said. “The way things are now, baseball just isn't as important as it used to be. It definitely opened up an opportunity for me because it helped me get recognized by a lot of college and Major League scouts. I was first recognized by [JSU head baseball coach, Omar Johnson] while playing in RBI baseball. He contacted me after an RBI tournament and offered me a scholarship.

    “I'm very excited to play for the defending SWAC champions, it just shows how hard they work over there. It takes a lot to win a SWAC championship, and I'm excited about it.”

    Mississippi RBI coach Brian Emory helped raised over 4,000 dollars to allow the team to make the trip to Texas. However, Sunday's trip has earned the team an all-expense paid trip from the MLB as they will travel by plane to Minneapolis on Aug. 3 to play in the tournament at the Minnesota Twins' Target Field.

    “The connection MLB has with RBI just opens doors for things like this,” Emory said. “I would never be able to fundraise enough to go to something like this. It is great to have Major League baseball to allow something like this to happen for these kids.”