The good news for Mississippi Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons was bad news for ex-M-Brave Tyler Pastornicky. Atlanta summoned Simmons to the big leagues late Wednesday and sent Pastornicky to Triple-A Gwinnett. (Greg Paiml is coming down from Gwinnett to fill Simmons’ roster spot.) Simmons, who will become the 62nd M-Braves alum to play in The Show, looked ready for a new challenge. He was batting .292 with three home runs and playing good defense. Still, it’s a big move for a 22-year-old, as Pastornicky, also 22, found out. After an excellent 2011 campaign split between Pearl and Gwinnett, he won the shortstop job in spring training. He was hitting .248, used mostly in the difficult No. 8 hole, but his defense reportedly was found lacking by Braves brass. We shall see if this change works out; it would seem that Atlanta’s bigger issue is starting pitching.
Two different Mississippi four-year colleges have won a national championship in baseball. William Carey won the NAIA title in 1969, and Delta State captured the NCAA Division II crown in 2004. The Magnolia State’s Big 3 NCAA Division I schools, their strong traditions notwithstanding, have never brought home that kind of hardware. The closest any has come was in 1985, when Mississippi State finished tied for third in the College World Series. That team, which won 50 games, was arguably State’s finest; it included Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Brantley and Bobby Thigpen, all future major league stars. Southern Miss had its streak of NCAA postseason appearances snapped this year at nine, but State and Ole Miss will renew their quest for a national championship in NCAA regionals that start on Friday. The Rebels haven’t been to Omaha for the CWS since 1972, and to get there this year, they’ll first have to negotiate a regional in College Station, Texas, that includes host Texas A&M;, TCU and Dayton. State’s task might be tougher. At Tallahassee, Fla., the Bulldogs are lumped in with No. 3 national seed Florida State, Conference USA champ Alabama-Birmingham and unsung but unquestionably dangerous Samford. And yet, State rode its stellar pitching to an SEC Tournament title, which is a tougher row to hoe than any regional. Eight SEC teams made the NCAAs. Mississippi’s best chance at a national crown this year might be Delta State, which is 2-0 in the ongoing D-II CWS in Cary, N.C. But both State and Ole Miss rate a fighting chance, to be sure. Both clubs are somewhat offensively challenged, but both have pitching. For the Bulldogs, it starts with ace Chris Stratton and ends with Jonathan Holder, the freshman sensation closer. Ole Miss features Bobby Wahl at the top of its rotation and record-setting Brett Huber as the last line of defense in the bullpen. This much is for sure: It takes strong arms to lift a championship trophy.
John Cohen just might have a future at Mississippi State. There were those who weren’t happy when Cohen was hired as coach four years ago, and when his first two seasons at the helm went badly, the howling got louder. Last year’s run to an NCAA regional title quieted things a bit, but some might have called that a fluke. That certainly can’t be said of the SEC championship Cohen and the Bulldogs bit off on Sunday in Hoover, Ala. The SEC Tournament is tougher to win than any regional; the league is that good. This was State’s first SEC tourney title since 2005, when Ron Polk won the last of his five. Cohen was on two of Polk’s title teams (1987 and ’90) and is the first person to both play for and coach an SEC Tournament champ, according to MSU. The pitching staff Cohen has built carried the 2012 Bulldogs to the championship and should make them a force in the NCAA postseason. Cohen called on 11 pitchers during the SEC run, and they posted a collective 1.96 ERA. That’s hard to beat. … Meanwhile, in Pearl, UAB’s C-USA Tournament title came with a dash of Mississippi flavor. Blazers coach Brian Shoop was a Polk assistant at State for seven years (1983-89), and Polk currently serves as a volunteer assistant to Shoop. Pitchers Ryan Nance and Michael Busby, who combined on a 5-0 shutout of Memphis in Sunday’s title game, are Mississippi natives and Hinds Community College products.
Here’s the skinny. The school is from a state where football is king but where baseball nips at its heels. The school’s coach is an icon. The program owns a national championship. The lineup is stacked with standout hitters, and the pitching staff is loaded, as well. This would describe Delta State … but it also fits the Statemen’s opponent in today’s NCAA Division II College World Series clash, the opener for both in the eight-team event at Cary. N.C. St. Mary’s, from San Antonio, Texas, is the No. 1-ranked team in the country with a 48-9 record. The Rattlers are coached by Charlie Migl, who is in his 26th year and claims 900-plus wins. He also claims a national title, which came in 2001 in St. Mary’s last trip to the CWS. The team is led at the plate by Billy Richard (.369, nine homers), M.P. Cokinos (.340, eight, 53 RBIs) and Brandon Bates (.338). On the mound, the Rattlers have D-II pitcher of the year Carl O’Neal (13-0, 2.27), plus Rene Solis (13-2, 1.55), Skye Stevens (9-0) and Jonathan Perez (18 saves, 0.81 ERA). It’s a tough first-round draw for DSU, seeking a second national title to add to the one it won in 2004. But Mike Kinnison’s 2012 Statesmen seem to made of something special, having climbed off the mat to win both the Gulf South Conference Tournament and the NCAA South Regional.
What a whirlwind of happenings on Saturday involving Mississippi-connected players in the majors. The scene-stealer was Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s walk-off pinch home run — first of his career — for Boston against heated rival Tampa Bay. Reports from the Rays say Desmond Jennings (knee) may be back mid-week. In Texas, Mitch Moreland hits the third of the Rangers’ three straight sixth-inning homers against Toronto. In Cincinnati, J.J. Hoover notches his first career win for the National League Central-leading Reds. In Miami, Gregor Blanco raps out three hits — he’s hitting .290 — for San Francisco in a losing cause. In Los Angeles, Bobby Abreu boosts his average to .291 with a 1-for-3 effort for the NL West-leading Dodgers against Houston. At Baltimore, Jarrod Dyson suffers a hamstring injury — he’s day-to-day for Kansas City — in an outfield collision. At Chicago, Tony Sipp gets knocked around in a late-game appearance for Cleveland, which is now just 1½ games up on the surging White Sox in the American League Central. In Atlanta, Mike Minor gives up another homer — that’s 14 in his last six starts — and Kris Medlen takes the loss as the skidding Braves fall into fourth place in the NL East. In Pittsburgh, Paul Maholm — five walks, four hits in five innings — can’t stop Chicago’s tumble, which reaches 11 in a row.
Chris Coghlan needs something to get him going, and what better than a game-turning home run against Tim Lincecum to do it. The former Ole Miss standout, who has scuffled for two years, hit his first homer in almost a year on Friday night, helping Miami beat San Francisco 7-6. “That home run was very huge, against one of the best pitchers in the game,” Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen told mlb.com. Coghlan, recently recalled from Triple-A because of Miami’s injury situation, is hitting just .120 in limited at-bats. The Marlins are currently in the thick of the competitive National League East race and would certainly like to see Coghlan return to his 2009 rookie of the year form. P.S. Philadelphia, which has climbed over .500 with a three-game win streak, has won 24 games. Oddly enough, Meridian Community College’s Cliff Lee, who got another no-decision on Friday, has none of those wins. Meanwhile, Mississippi State alumnus Jonathan Papelbon has saved 14 (in 14 chances) of the Phils’ W’s. … Nettleton native Bill Hall’s return to The Show didn’t last long; Baltimore designated the veteran infielder-outfielder for assignment on Friday. He was hitting .286 in seven at-bats. The first-place Orioles reportedly want to keep Hall in Triple-A if he passes through waivers, which is likely.
He reportedly impressed the Colorado Rockies brass when he showed up in top shape for spring training. And Corey Dickerson, the ex-Meridian Community College star from McComb, hasn’t stopped making an impression. The third-year pro, now at Class A Modesto in the California League, opened the season with a 14-game hit streak and currently sits at .364 with nine homers and 38 RBIs. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound left-handed hitting outfielder slugged 45 homers in his first two seasons. A 29th-round pick in 2009, Dickerson, 23, has climbed onto the top shelf among Rockies prospects. His defense needs improvement, but that may be coming. “His effort from the off-season to this point in the current season has been just phenomenal in all aspects of his game,” Colorado farm director Jeff Bridich told Baseball America a couple of weeks into the season. P.S. On this date in history, Babe Ruth slugged the last three of his 714 home runs. The last two came against Aberdeen native Guy Bush, one of the state’s all-time top hurlers.
Ten years ago today, Jeremy McClain toed the rubber at Smith-Wills Stadium and threw the first pitch of the first home game in Jackson Senators’ history. A crowd announced at 3,475 on a Friday night watched the Senators, of the independent Central Baseball League, fall to the Alexandria Aces 7-6. The outcome notwithstanding, the game was a fun one. The crowd was into it. McClain, now the Delta State athletic director, fell behind early, let down by his defense, but departed after six innings with a 6-5 lead. Tommy Bost homered in the second inning. Kyle Hawthorne scored a couple of runs, both times knocked in by Dan Singletary. Yuji Nerei and Gerard McCall notched RBIs. The visiting Aces, who had beaten the Sens four straight times in Alexandria, pulled out the victory with single runs in the eighth and ninth against Ramon Linares. The Sens enjoyed a short but relatively sweet run at Smith-Wills. That first team, which brought pro ball back to Jackson after a year’s hiatus, would come up one win short of a league championship. The 2003 team won the title. The club quietly ceased operations after the 2005 season, essentially forced out by the arrival of the Double-A Mississippi Braves in Pearl that same year. The Senators are long gone now but not completely forgotten.
Southern Miss players and fans might remember the seventh inning of today’s game for a long time. And for the wrong reasons. The Golden Eagles had their ace on the hill and a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning of the Conference USA Tournament opener against Memphis. Then, disaster. Thirteen Memphis batters went to the plate. Nine runs scored. Pierce, working under a scorching sun, was pulled after allowing a leadoff double and hitting a batter. USM coach Scott Berry went to the bullpen three times looking, without much success, for someone who could throw strikes. Or just quality pitches. There was another hit batsman. A walk. Another walk. A single. As things fell apart, the gold-clad Eagles fans got very grumpy. Mixed in before the torture ended were a wild pitch, a stolen base and five more hits, all blood-letting singles. Memphis led 11-3 when it had finished hitting and went on to post a 14-3 victory in eight innings. USM, needing a good performance at Trustmark Park this week to boost its NCAA regional hopes, is in a bind. The Eagles will get to play at least twice more, but one of those games is with top-seeded Rice. Oh, that seventh inning. Just like that, USM’s chances of making the championship game don’t look so good.
Sometimes you can just tell. Pascagoula High players were scattered about in front of their dugout last week, playing catch before the game. Knowing nothing about any of them, you could tell that No. 8 was a ballplayer. He was built like a ballplayer. Carried himself like a ballplayer. Then the game started. No. 8 played second base and hit leadoff for Pascagoula. He banged out three hits in a loss to Hernando in Game 1 of the MHSAA Class 5A state championship series at Smith-Wills Stadium. A couple days later, in Game 2, No. 8 banged out three more hits, scored twice and drove in a run as ’Goula evened the best-of-3 series with a 13-3 win. No. 8, it turns out, is Chase Nyman, an Ole Miss signee and an MLB draft prospect. Yes, he can play. Tonight, the Panthers go for the state title, which would be the first for ’Goula in 16 years. Keep an eye on No. 8.