Jackson State will look to the past on Saturday when it hosts a homecoming celebration of Bob Braddy’s 1977 and 1978 SWAC championship teams. The Tigers are having a pretty good present, too, which may portend a bright future. The resurgent Tigers take a 10-game winning streak into the weekend series against Mississippi Valley State at Braddy Field. Led by a trio of hot hitters, JSU has climbed to 22-18 overall and 9-6 in the league. Valley (6-18, 5-9) limps in on a nine-game losing skid. Jaylon Williams, Equon Smith and Raul Hernandez are all hitting .367 or higher for the Tigers, Williams and Hernandez supplying power with four homers each and Smith lending speed with 32 steals. Kevin Perez has been the most consistent pitcher for JSU coach Omar Johnson with a 4-2 record and 2.64 ERA. The Delta Devils are led by Fredrick Spencer, a .321 hitter who pitched a shutout against Tougaloo on March 27 for the team’s last victory. … Also on the weekend docket: Blue Mountain College hosts William Carey in a compelling matchup of Southern States Athletic Conference rivals. BMC is 24-20-1 and third in the league at 13-8. Carey has battled to reach 17-23, 11-10 (sixth). Player to watch: BMC’s Hayden Tapper, from Nesbit, is the reigning SSAC player of the week after hitting .455 with two home runs and six RBIs, including a walk-off vs. Brewton-Parker. And two more: BMC’s Jose Torres tops the SSAC in steals with 24, while Carey’s Jonathan Turner is batting .351. … Mississippi College rode a nine-game winning spree into the NCBWA Division II Top 25 this week, checking in at No. 17. Alas, the Choctaws lost at Southern Arkansas (in 13 innings) on Tuesday. They’ll take a 25-13 overall record and 17-5 Gulf South Conference mark (tied for first place) into a series at West Alabama this weekend. After a three-hit game on Tuesday, Blaine Crim is raking at .355 with nine homers and 45 RBIs. Looming on the MC schedule: nationally ranked Delta State, next weekend at Frierson Field in Clinton. … Fueled by a five-hit, six-RBI game from Justin Milam, Belhaven whipped Millsaps 12-6 on Wednesday to complete a sweep of the three-game Maloney Trophy Series. Belhaven (10-27) will end its season and bid farewell to retiring coach Hill Denson this weekend in a three-game series (today-Friday) vs. McMurry at Smith-Wills Stadium. Millsaps, in the throes of an 8-29 campaign, finishes its regular season this weekend at Twenty Field in Jackson against Oglethorpe. The Majors will be the 8-seed in the Southern Athletic Association Tournament next week.
“Bat flips have become part of the game.” So says Tim Anderson in an mlb.com story. Former East Central Community College star Anderson, the Chicago White Sox’s marvelously talented shortstop, plays the game with much zeal, which is fine. But a demonstrative bat flip after a home run in the fourth inning of a scoreless game? That crosses the line. Anderson should not have been surprised when he was plunked — in the butt — by Kansas City pitcher Brad Keller in his next at-bat. Keller was ejected, as he should have been. Anderson was, too, rather inexplicably. All he did was yell at people as the two teams confronted each other on the field. The managers, Rick Renteria and Ned Yost, also did a lot of yelling and also were booted. A show of genuine emotion in baseball is great. Let the kids play, as they say. But there’s a time and place for it. Players have always done a pretty good job of policing their game. That’s what happened in Chicago on Wednesday. What baseball doesn’t need is the over-the-top histrionics of the NFL and the NBA, where every sack and every dunk are celebrated as if world peace had been achieved.
Forget Yelich, Grandal and Cain. The hottest hitter for Milwaukee is Brandon Woodruff, the former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout who is raking at a .714 clip and had a big two-run double in an 8-4 win against St. Louis on Tuesday. According to his baseball card, Woodruff is a pitcher, and he’s been pretty good in that role, too. He went 5 2/3 innings vs. the Cardinals, yielding two runs and fanning six. He is 2-1 with a 5.23 ERA in four starts for the 12-6 Brewers, who lead the National League Central. It is said that Woodruff, who bats lefty and throws righty, puts on quite a show when he takes batting practice. And who can forget the bomb he hit off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs last year. … East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson went hitless for the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday but still leads the American League in batting with a .421 average. He slipped behind Cody Bellinger (.433) for the MLB lead. … After a good start with Kansas City, Billy Hamilton has skidded to .205 through 14 games. The Taylorsville High product has just three steals and six runs. … In the Ugly Numbers category, we find ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier (.152, one RBI in 46 at-bats for Washington) and Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart (.091, two RBIs in 44 ABs for the Los Angeles Angels). … Ugly also would describe the outing by the New York Mets’ Steven Matz, who gave up eight runs and failed to retire a batter vs. Philadelphia on Tuesday. He became just the fifth starter ever to do that. One of the others is McComb native Blake Stein, who suffered that indignity on Aug. 31, 1998, pitching for Oakland against Cleveland. To his credit, Stein (21-28, 5.41 ERA over five MLB seasons) struck out eight batters in a row in a 2001 game, also a remarkable feat. … Jacob Webb became the fourth Mississippi Braves alum to debut in the majors this season when he appeared in relief for Atlanta on Tuesday.
Trent Giambrone is in a groove. Again. Or still. At any rate, the former Delta State star has homered in three straight games and four of his last five at Triple-A Iowa. He has lifted his average to .302 through 10 games in his first hack at this new level. Giambrone spent most of spring training in the Chicago Cubs’ big league camp as a non-roster invitee and batted .324 with two homers in 34 at-bats. That came after a .327 showing in the Arizona Fall League, which came on the heels of a 17-homer season at Double-A Tennessee. The 5-foot-8, 178-pound infielder, 25, isn’t rated among the Cubs’ best prospects but surely is on the big club’s radar. (Though it isn’t currently lacking infield talent, the big club is 6-9.) “I’m just trying to hone in on my approach, take it day by day and not really think about the big picture of anything else and just be myself, mainly,” Giambrone recently told the Des Moines Register.
If you’re a Mississippi baseball aficionado, Roy Cresap Field in Fulton is the place you oughta be today. The top two teams in the MACJC standings will clash in a doubleheader that should be worth the price of admission and then some. Host Itawamba Community College is ranked No. 4 in the latest NJCAA Division II poll, sporting a 28-5 overall record and 13-3 mark in the conference. Northwest Mississippi CC, ranked 15th, is 25-7, 14-4. ICC’s Houston Harding, a lefty from Walls and a Mississippi State commit, is one of the top pitchers in the country; he is 8-0 with a 1.72 ERA. The staff’s other ace is Austin King, 5-1, 3.22. Two-way standout Justin Medlin is 4-0, 2.05 as a pitcher and is batting .355 with seven homers and 31 RBIs. Northwest trots out a powerful lineup that features five hitters with five or more homers, led by Hammer Franks with seven. Franks is batting .316 with 32 RBIs. Brayland Skinner leads the Rangers regulars with a .359 average and 12 steals. The Rangers’ best pitchers have been the Stinnett brothers – sophomore Carson is 6-0, 3.22, freshman Parker 4-2, 1.80 – and lefty Dalton Fowler (5-1, 2.32).
One hundred years ago – in September of 1919, to be precise – Ray Roberts of Cruger made his big league debut, a rather impressive stint of 6 2/3 innings for the Philadelphia A’s against the Chicago White Sox at Shibe Park. Roberts entered the game in the first inning after Lefty York had made a mess of things. Six runs were charged to York. Facing a lineup of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Buck Weaver, Chick Gandal and others from the infamous Black Sox scandal, Roberts allowed just one run in his time on the hill that day. The A’s lost 7-0. The Mississippi State alumnus made two more appearances that season and got roughed up in both, finishing with a 7.71 ERA. He never pitched in the majors again. At the plate, Roberts was 1-for-4 with a steal and a run. Maybe he missed his calling. … This year marks the debut anniversary of several Magnolia State names of note, among them Willie Mitchell (1909), Sam Leslie (1929), Luke Easter (1949, as the first black Mississippian to break in), Marshall Bridges (1959), Bob Didier (1969) and Marcus Lawton (1989). Lawton, from Gulfport, came up through the New York Mets’ system and established a reputation as a base-stealing machine, notching 111 steals in A-ball in 1985 and 44 the next year with the Double-A Jackson Mets. He finally reached the majors with the Yankees but got into only 10 games and swiped just one bag. That was it. Making The Show is certainly something to celebrate, but as is often noted, staying there is harder to do. Ten years ago, six Mississippi natives made their big league debut: Julio Borbon, Roosevelt Brown, Jarret Hoffpauir, Tony Sipp, Craig Tatum and Donnie Veal. Only Sipp, a Pascagoula native now with Washington, had a sustained MLB career.
There were seven former Ferriss Trophy winners still playing in 2018, three in the big leagues, three in the minors and one still in college. The number is down to six now. Auston Bousfield, the 2014 winner of the prestigious college award while at Ole Miss, announced his retirement prior to the start of spring training. He finished last year in Triple-A in the San Diego system, batting .239 at El Paso. That was also his career average over five seasons. Drafted in the fifth round in 2014, that summer in short-season Class A might’ve been his best. Of the 15 Ferriss winners to date, four have made the majors: the current crop of Drew Pomeranz, Chris Stratton and Hunter Renfroe plus Ed Easley, who retired a couple of years ago. Brent Rooker, the 2017 winner after his monster season at Mississippi State, is currently in Triple-A with Minnesota and will get the big league call soon enough. Southern Miss alum Nick Sandlin, last year’s winner, is currently assigned to Double-A by Cleveland. Jake Mangum, the only freshman Ferriss winner, is still banging out hits at State, having been drafted twice already. He could become the first two-time Ferriss winner.
The Mississippi Braves will trot out a highly rated prospect to start their home opener tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Tucker Davidson, whose scheduled Double-A debut was washed out on Monday, is Atlanta’s No. 22 prospect (per MLB Pipeline), a hard-throwing left-hander coming off a solid season in A-ball (7-10, 4.18 ERA). But here’s the thing: This M-Braves staff has three other starters rated more highly than Davidson, yet another example of just how rich Atlanta’s system is in quality arms. Opening day starter Ian Anderson, the Braves’ No. 3 prospect and the third overall pick in the 2016 draft, is slated to start Thursday’s game. The right-hander worked four innings at Tennessee last week, allowing three hits and a run with seven strikeouts. Drawing the opening day start for the M-Braves has been a harbinger of big things. The rather impressive list from the previous 14 seasons includes Anthony Lerew, Sean White, Matt Harrison, Jonny Venters, Mike Minor, Randall Delgado, Luis Avilan, Jason Hursh, Lucas Sims, Max Fried and Kyle Wright, all of whom made the big leagues. P.S. Joey Wentz (No. 12 prospect) and Kyle Muller (No. 13) also pitched well in limited innings on the 1-3 road trip, but the bullpen was a little leaky. … Jonathan Morales hit .364 and drove in five runs, and No. 8 prospect Drew Waters batted .316. Veteran minor leaguer Andy Wilkins hit the team’s lone homer. … Tonight’s game against Mobile starts at 6:35, the new weekday starting time for 2019.
Forget WAR, BABIP and FIP for a moment. Baseball is about runs, primarily scoring them. As Ole Miss demonstrated in its weekend sweep of Florida, score a bunch and you’re likely to win a bunch. The Rebels tied a school record with 40 runs in the three-game series against the Gators, who just couldn’t keep pace. The Rebels are averaging 8.4 runs per game and boast a 23-10 record heading into today’s rivalry clash with Southern Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Thomas Dillard, who scored seven runs in the Florida series, and Grae Kessinger, who tallied five times, are the Rebels’ leading scorers with 38 each. Leading scorers in baseball aren’t as celebrated as those in basketball and football. That just ain’t right. USM’s top scorer is Gabe Montenegro, who has 32 runs. The Golden Eagles (20-9) are averaging a healthy 6.6 runs per game and coming off a three-game C-USA sweep of Marshall in which they put up 25 runs. Preventing runs is the other part of the equation, and both Ole Miss and USM have had some issues on the bump. But their scoring punch has generally allayed those problems. The Rebels have outscored their opponents 276-158, the Eagles 192-134. Bottom line: Don’t expect a pitchers’ duel at the TeePee. … For the record, Mississippi State is even more prolific than Ole Miss, averaging 8.9 runs a game in its 27-6 start. Jake Mangum, the Bulldogs newly anointed hit king, leads the way with 38 runs, a figure matched by Jordan Westburg. Jackson State’s leading scorer is Equon Smith, who has 30 runs for the 17-18 Tigers, who are one of the higher scoring teams in the SWAC (231 runs). Mississippi Valley State, on the other hand, has scored just 89 runs (4.0 per game) while yielding 190. Hence, the 6-16 record. Delta State’s leading scorer is Jake Barlow with 28 runs for the 26-10 Statesmen, and Blaine Crim and Dylan Duplechain have crossed the plate 35 times each for Mississippi College (22-12).
Here’s a timely trivia question: Who was the winning pitcher for the Jackson Senators in the deciding game of the 2003 Central League Championship Series? It was none other than Jeremy McClain, then a crafty right-hander for the independent Sens, now the newly named athletic director at Southern Miss. McClain enjoyed a highlight-filled playing career. The Houlka native went 45-9 at Delta State – where he is in the Hall of Fame – and still holds school records for career wins, strikeouts and innings pitched. He went 15-0 for the 1999 team that made the NCAA Division II regionals. He had a fling in affiliated ball with the Boston Red Sox, then pitched for two different independent teams at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. McClain won seven games for an awful DiamondKats team in 2000 and spent two seasons with the Senators, helping them reach the CBL title series in 2002 and claim the pennant the next year. He was the starter for the Sens’ first home opener in 2002, and in Game 5 of the ’03 finals, he came on in relief in the 10th inning and earned the victory when Keto Anderson delivered a game-winning knock in the bottom half. It was McClain’s final appearance as a player, and he said after the game that season was as much fun as he had ever had playing baseball.