3 Pearl River Wildcats earn NJCAA All-America honors
POPLARVILLE, Miss.— Awards and accolades have run rampant through Pearl River since Michael Avalon has been at the helm of Wildcat baseball. That tradition continued Wednesday as three Wildcats were named to the NJCAA All-America teams. Landon Gartman (Bogue Chitto; Enterprise) and Tate Parker (Gulfport; West Harrison) were First-Team All-America selections, while Graham Crawford (Sumrall) was a Third-Team All-America selection.
“One of the things that I am thankful for and humbled by is the fact that our program has helped produced these three All-America selections,” coach Michael Avalon said. “It’s humbling because of the success that was recognized and the notoriety that has been brought to our program through these selections. This notoriety is 100 percent due to these guys and their teammates belief in this program and Pearl River Community College. A saying that we echo in our program is ‘iron sharpens iron.’ These guys wouldn’t have been the players that they are without their teammates pushing them every day.”
Gartman, Parker and Crawford have increased the list of Pearl River All-America selections to 11 members, joining Greg Guidry (1st team; 1994), Jake Smith (2nd team; 2003), Rhyne Hughes (1st team; 2004), Craig Rodriguez (1st team; 2005), Kyle Lindsey (1st team; 2008), Krisjon Wilkerson (2nd team; 2013), Simon “Meaux” Landry (2nd team; 2018) and Wiley Cleland (3rd team; 2019).
Gartman was a key contributor to the Wildcats’ MACCC Championship season. As the ace of the rotation, Gartman started 11 games for Pearl River, earning wins in nine of them, two of which were complete games. The Memphis signee finished his season with 60 innings pitched, 81 strikeouts, and 12.15 strikeouts per nine innings. His 1.95 ERA was second in the nation and first in the MACCC.
Gartman adds another honor to his long list after collecting MACCC Pitcher of the Year, First-Team All-MACCC, All-Region 23, and four MACCC Pitcher of the Week awards.
“Landon was a marked man from early on in the season, winning the pitcher of the week award four times,” Avalon said. “You worry about how these young men are going to handle success. He handled the success and bullseye as well as any player that I’ve ever coached. I think he did so well because he has a very humble, blue-collar work ethic. He always gets up and goes to work. He believed in this program. He loved his teammates, his coaches, and Pearl River. The success that he had was because of his work ethic and belief in the program. I’m excited for him and his family.”
Gartman was in disbelief when he learned about the honor.
“The honor is absolutely amazing,” he said. “There are only three pitchers in the country who receive this honor, and I was chosen as one of them. When I saw the list, I was speechless about it. I didn’t know what to think.”
Gartman spoke highly of his All-America teammates.
“Tate and Graham were some of the best teammates that I ever played with,” he said. “They were always there for you. If you did bad, they would always keep your head up. They were great all-around teammates and amazing guys to play with.”
Gartman’s battery mate, Crawford, felt that catching Gartman made his job easy.
“He didn’t make my job hard at all,” he said. “He was the most consistent guy that we had every time that he went out there. Even when he didn’t have his best stuff, he still got the job done. I’m pretty sure he gave up less than two runs a game. It was always impressive.”
Parker put fear into the opposition each time he stepped to the plate. The South Alabama signee was Pearl River’s leading hitter in most statistical categories. He led the Wildcats in homers (18), batting average (.386), slugging percentage (.829), RBIs (65), doubles (14), hits (61) and runs (63). His .476 on-base percentage was second on the team. Parker finished third on the team in steals and walks with 10 and 21, respectively.
The honor adds another piece of hardware to Parker’s collection after already claiming MACCC Player of the Year, First-Team All-MACCC, All-Region 23, Region 23 Gold Glove Award and two MACCC Player of the Week awards.
“Tate came in and we had high expectations for him,” Avalon said. “From Day 1, he exceeded those expectations. The most impressive thing about Tate was his humbleness. He always did everything that you asked for, plus more. He put in the extra work and that’s all you could ask for. I think that’s why he was as successful as he was. Baseball is a game that if you remain humble and work hard, good things will happen. I’m excited for him and his family and I’m thankful that he’s a Wildcat.”
Parker was thankful for those who pushed him.
“It’s a huge honor,” Parker said. “I loved being able to play for Pearl River and having the season that I did. I just want to give all the glory to God and my teammates. Without them, none of this would be possible. Iron sharpens iron is a huge quote for us. Just having people in the lineup like the guys we did pushed me to get better every single day. Everyone who pushed me along the way, my parents, coach Avalon and coach (Slater) Lott were a huge help.”
Crawford mentioned that Parker’s presence in the lineup made his at-bats easier.
“Hitting in front of Tate was great for me,” he said. “It allowed me to see better pitches because they didn’t want to face him. They always had to be worried about him stepping into the box.”
Crawford was the definition of a two-way catcher. Not only was the Alabama signee an outstanding defensive catcher, but he was also a force at the top of the Pearl River lineup.
Among those with at least 30 games played, Crawford finished his .485 on-base percentage and 35 walks were first on the team. His 15 homers, 49 RBIs and 48 hits were each second on the team. Like his teammates, Crawford received several awards this season being named First-Team All-MACCC and All-Region 23.
“Being named an All-America selection at the catching position might be a little bit tougher than other positions,” Avalon said. “Not only do your numbers count offensively, but defense plays a huge role in winning the award. He was very good defensively and he handled an outstanding pitching staff. Offensively, he hit at the top of our order each game and great numbers. He was the captain of our team. We’re very excited for him and his family.”
Crawford mentioned that this was a goal he had hoped to achieve.
“It’s a huge honor,” Crawford said. “It’s a goal that I set for myself early in the year. I don’t think any of this would have been possible without my coaches and teammates. Like coach Avalon always says, iron sharpens iron. I had amazing teammates and an amazing catcher, Matt Mercer, pushing me hard every day and that always helps.”
Crawford was excited for his teammates that joined him as All-America selections.
“Tate and Landon are some of the best players that I have ever played with,” said Crawford. “Every time Tate was at the plate, he was getting on base or hitting a home run and every time that Gartman was on the mound, we knew that we were going to win.