(Editors note: Much of this story was written by Creg Stephenson and printed in The Mississippi Press in early May of 2013. Curtis Rockwell, Sports Director for 228Sports, has added some material to the story as well)
It was 40 years ago, in 1983, that one of the more talent-laden teams in Pascagoula High School baseball history won the program’s third state championship.
The 1983 Panthers featured 11 players who would go on to play college baseball, including four at the Division I level. Coach Donnie Davis’ Pascagoula team went 26-7 that year and set still-standing school records for runs (331), batting average (.368), home runs (39), total bases (540) and extra-base hits (113).
Perhaps the most well-documented name in the baseball annals of Pascagoula, Johnny Olsen, was a second-year assistant coach under Davis on that team.
“My gosh, we were so good,” Olsen, who played for Davis at PHS as well, told 228Sports this week. “And we as coaches knew how loaded we were going in, it wasn’t something we realized years later. We were very talented, and salty.”
Pascagoula came into the 1983 season with high expectations, despite having not won a division championship since 1977 and having not won a state title since the 1967 and 1968 teams won back-to-back crowns. However, the Panthers proved their mettle early, hitting a school-record seven home runs in a 19-3 victory over nationally ranked Choctawhatchee of Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
“One through nine (in the lineup), we could hit the ball out of the park,” Panther standout Mike Moreland, the Panthers’ sophomore center fielder that year, told Stephenson in 2013. “That was the makeup of our team. We relied on the big inning. And we had great senior leadership from our captains, Steve Boyd, Mike Thomas and Rob Powers.”
The Panthers won the division championship with a 17-3 record, defeating such future college pitching stars as Earl Sanders of Moss Point and Rodney Mattina of Biloxi in the process. Sanders would go on to pitch at Jackson State and in the Toronto Blue Jays’ minor-league chain, while Mattina played at Ole Miss.
After its stellar regular season, Pascagoula advanced to the double-elimination South State tournament, which also featured Hattiesburg, Wingfield and McComb. The Panthers won an 8-7 thriller over Hattiesburg and then pummeled Wingfield 12-0, but lost to the Tigers in back-to-back games for the AA South State title.
The MHSAA baseball playoffs were then structured similarly to basketball, meaning both the South and North State champions and runners-up advanced to the overall state tournament in Clinton. North half entries Starkville and Greenville joined Pascagoula and Hattiesburg for the double-elimination tournament at Mississippi College’s Frierson Field.
Pascagoula beat Starkville 11-3 in the state tournament opener behind a solid pitching effort from senior Mike Thomas, plus three hits each from seniors Paul Tanner and Danny Holifield. The Panthers’ second state tournament game was another nailbiter, a 7-6 victory over a Greenville team ranked No. 1 in the state at the time.
Davis, however, had to coach from the dugout in the state tournament, leaving Olsen and another PHS assistant Luther Kuykendall to take over on the field at third base and first base, respectively.
“Back then, we coaches always wore like a polo shirt with our logo on it and coaching shorts,” Olsen told 228Sports. “But at the first meeting when we got up there, they informed us that all coaches on the field had to be in uniform. We were able to find a uniform for me and Luther from some of the reserve players, but not coach Davis.”
The exciting victory over Greenville put Pascagoula in the state finals against Hattiesburg, which would have to beat the Panthers twice for the championship. The Tigers won the opener 6-2, but the Panthers claimed game 2 and the state title with a 6-4 victory behind junior pitcher Steve McElroy.
Pascagoula had 11 hits in the game to build its lead, but Hattiesburg managed to put the tying run on with two outs in the seventh. The final out came when Thomas, pitching in relief, got a grounder to shortstop Danny Holifield who flipped to Troy Summerlin at second for the game-ender and the celebration-starter.
“Steve McElroy pitched the game of his life,” Moreland told Stephenson 10 years ago. “And he got excellent relief help from Jeffrey Ellis and Mike Thomas.”
In addition to the team statistics, the Panthers also set several individual school marks in 1983. Senior right fielder and cleanup hitter Paul Tanner remains the lone Pascagoula baseball player to bat .500 or better for a season, going 49-for-98 that year in addition to five home runs and a team-best 48 RBIs.
Thomas and Mike Seaman each won 10 games on the mound, and are still the only Panthers teammates to do so in the same season. Thomas, who also batted .388 with 10 home runs, was named Mississippi Player of the Year by the Clarion-Ledger of Jackson.
Davis was Coach of the Year in his final season at Pascagoula, departing that summer to begin a long coaching career in Texas. He was replaced by Olsen, who went on to win 562 games and the 1996 state championship in 27 seasons at Pascagoula before resigning in 2010. Both Olsen and Davis were members of the second class of the PHS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2016. Thomas joined the HOF as part of the third class in 2018, and Moreland as part of the fourth class in 2020.
“I have some really fond memories of that team,” Olsen, who also went on to lead Resurrection to the Class 1A state championship last season, said. “We came close when I played for coach Davis in high school, but couldn’t win it all. That was my first time being a part of a baseball state championship squad on the high school level. A lot of people say about how great a certain team was here and there at times, but that 1983 squad really was a special team.”
Thomas was an all-conference performer at Southeastern Louisiana. Moreland played initially at Tulane, and later made all-conference at Southern Miss before serving as an assistant on Pascagoula’s 1996 title team.
Keith Coleman, a sophomore outfielder for the Panthers in 1983, would later earn all-conference honors at Arkansas-Little Rock, while senior pitcher Wayne Sharpton attended the United States Military Academy at West Point. Seniors Tanner, Summerlin, Holifield and pitcher Danny Coleman later played at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, as did juniors Seaman, Steve Moye, Bobby Ogle and David Winstead.
There will be a 40th-anniversary celebration of that 1983 Panther title team around 1:50 Saturday afternoon at Ingalls Field just before the current PHS squad hosts D’Iberville in what could be a huge Region 7-6A contest. Many former players are expected for the ceremonies, as well as coaches from that title-winning team.
Also, the day will begin with an alumni game featuring some players from that same 1983 team as well as other players from prior Panther programs from the past four decades. The alumni game will start at 10:30 a.m., and batting cages open at 9 a.m., while registration begins at 9:30. Anyone needing more information should contact PHS head coach Richie Tillman at [email protected].