1996 MCC team came up just short of NJCAA title
This is the third of a six-part series looking at past Meridian Community College baseball teams that have taken part in the Junior College World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
By Austin Bishop / EMG regional sports director
May 26, 2004
Many fans remember that the 1996 Meridian Community College team finished second in the Junior College World Series that year.
Most know they came within one swing of the bat of winning the whole thing. And even the casual MCC fan can recognize the names of some of that team's stars: Paul Phillips, Braxton Whitehead, Scott Cheek, Chance Melvin, Jason Smith and Eric Adams, just to name a few.
But there are a couple of items that may have been forgotten over the past four years.
That 1996 team touted by some as the best in school history didn't even win the Miss-Lou Conference Championship. The Eagles finished second to Delgado (La.) Community College that season. MCC also dropped the first game of the District Playoff Series to Connors (Okla.) State before rallying to take the next two.
Things looked even bleaker when the Eagles got to the NJCAA World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
After losing to Middle Georgia 8-5 in the tournament opener, the Eagles appeared to be poised to drop out of the tournament in two straight games when Indian River (Fla.) Community College took an 11-6 lead into the seventh inning.
The bomb Berry was referring to was a game-tying grand slam homer that cleared the 40-foot high scoreboard behind the right-center field fence and landed three rows deep into the parking lot some 400-plus feet away from home plate.
MCC went on to win the game 15-14, thanks to another big bases-loaded hit by Cheek, this one a two-run single.
Culpepper said the key to the success that team had was leadership.
Several MCC players had outstanding tournaments, including Paul Phillips who ripped five homers in the tournament, giving him 10 for the season.
After the come-from-behind win over Indian River, the Eagles needed to find a way to save some starting pitching.
The third game of the event saw MCC drill St. Louis Meremac 12-3, followed by a 19-3 dismantling of Indian Hills (Iowa).
That put Meridian against the only remaining undefeated team. It didn't phase the Eagles at all as they rolled past Northeast Texas 13-4.
MCC got a bye into the title game as Northeast beat Arizona Western 11-1 to set up the showdown game.
The championship game was a classic.
Phillips gave Meridian a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning with a lead-off homer.
The lead swapped hands a couple of times with Meridian tying the game 3-3 late in the contest before Northeast Texas finally took the lead and held on for the win.
Whitehead and Melvin were the leading hitters for the entire season that year, both hitting at a .386 clip. Six Eagles had 10 or more homers while Whitehead led the way with 16 long bombs and 68 RBIs.
Not only did Phillips hit .369 at the plate, but he was 4-0 on the mound with five saves and a 1.07 ERA. Eric Adams was 12-4 as the ace of the staff.