JACKSON — With a chance to win its first baseball state championship since 1966, Southeast Lauderdale is turning to its Dandy Dozen.

    Leading the MHSAA Class 3A state championship series following Thursday's 7-1 Game 1 win against Kossuth, the Tigers are handing the ball to senior Ledarious Clark, a Dandy Dozen selection by the Jackson Clarion-Ledger when Southeast (31-6) and the Aggies (25-8) meet today at 4 p.m. at Smith-Wills Stadium.

    "That's the plan," Southeast coach Shay Cooper said following that Game 1 win.

    And that's a plan that works for Clark, a right-hander.

    "It 'll feel good to lead my team out there on the mound," he said. "I know they're going to help behind me on defense, and hopefully, we can keep the bats going."

    Clark propelled Southeast to the state championship series when he shut down St. Andrews in the South State clincher Monday. Bouncing back from a rough outing in Game 1 of the South State title series, Clark allowed just two hits to the Saints on Monday, striking out 12.

    That was just one of a handful of gems Southeast starters have thrown during the run to this point. Senior Colby Ramey silenced the Aggies in Thursday's state championship opener, allowing just the lone run on five hits while throwing just 65 pitches. And senior Blake McMullen twice shut down four-time defending state champion Sumrall in the third round.

    After no-hitting the Bobcats in Game 1 of that series, while striking out 13, McMullen returned on two days rest to one-hit Sumrall and strike out 15 in the series clincher. But that with a price as McMullen partially tore his ulnar collateral ligament. That has left the Southeast ace and starting shortstop limited to designated hitting duties the past two rounds.

    "Blake's a competitor," Cooper said. "And even when he's not out on the field, you see what he's doing, he's over here leading cheers and making sure all the guys are up.

    "Blake's a good kid. It kills him not to be out there. But still, he's a leader."

    But McMullen, who plans to give up baseball after this season to enter the ministry, has embraced his new role.

    "I love being able to sit over here and watch these other guys excel," he said. "I hate that I can't be out there pitching or playing defense, but I absolutely love that I can sit over here and watch all these other guys shine and enjoy that moment."

    And there are plenty of Tigers excelling. Seven Southeast hitters are batting better than .300 and that depth showed Thursday when the Tigers strung together a three-run inning and a four-run inning.

    "It sounds like the same story we've talked about all year," Cooper said. "But yeah we've had different people step up in different situations.

    "I can't say enough about the whole lineup."

    Added McMullen: "Everybody knows about the Dandy Dozen and the All-American. But we've got an entire team, all nine of our starters could start on any team in the state. And we've got guys over on the bench, freshmen and sophomores, that could start for any team in the state.

    "We've just got so many guys that are dangerous."

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