31 May

three stars — plus one

Three Mississippians in the majors flashed some major star power on Saturday.
1. Billy Hamilton. The ex-Taylorsville High standout went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, a run and a steal (No. 20) to help Cincinnati beat Washington 8-5. Hamilton, who has been scuffling (along with his team) and now hits ninth in the order, boosted his average to .228.
2. Joey Butler. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product from Pascagoula went 2-for-3 with a home run (No. 3) as Tampa Bay topped Baltimore 3-0. Butler, getting regular playing time for the first time in his brief MLB career, is batting .309.
3. Brian Dozier. The former Southern Miss star from Tupelo (and Fulton) tripled off the glove of the right fielder, plating the go-ahead run in the seventh inning of Minnesota’s 3-2 victory over Toronto. Dozier’s 26 extra base hits (including nine homers) leads all MLB second basemen. He has 25 RBIs and 38 runs.
P.S. Williams Perez was never a ballyhooed prospect as he slowly climbed the ladder in Atlanta’s minor league system, but he certainly looked the part on Saturday night, when he threw seven shutout innings against San Francisco and notched his first big league win (beating Tim Lincecum). Perez, 24, who went 7-6 with a 2.91 ERA for the Mississippi Braves in 2014, was signed by the Braves out of Venezuela in 2009 and spent four seasons toiling in the low minors, finally reaching Class A Rome in 2013. With a 2.66 ERA over five games (three starts), he appears to have earned a spot in Atlanta’s rotation. … Perez was one of six former M-Braves to earn either a win or a save on Saturday. The others: Charlie Morton, J.J. Hoover, Chasen Shreve, Randall Delgado and Blaine Boyer (one of the original M-Braves of 2005).

29 May

remember the eagles

As the NJCAA Division II World Series plays out in Enid, Okla., it seems a shame that Hinds Community College isn’t there for an encore. Sam Temple’s Eagles, national runners-up in 2014, won a school-record 43 games this year but couldn’t get past a strong LSU-Eunice club in Region 23. Hinds recently bid farewell to an impressive group of sophomores who went 83-28 during their career, with two state titles (regular season and tournament in 2015), a region title and a long stay at No. 1 in the national poll. Twelve Eagles made first- or second-team All-MACJC this season. Moving on are the likes of All-Region right-hander Randy Bell (HCC record-tying 21 career wins), RH Austin Sanders (record 21 career saves), first baseman Marshall Boggs (record 139 career hits), 2B Matt Jones (team-leading .369 average in 2015), catcher Jonathan Washam (team-best 68 hits in 2015), 3B/SS Chase Lunceford (team-leading nine homers in 2015, 19 career), RH Casey Sutton (7-1 this season), RH Houston Case (7-2), RH Derek Martin (6-0), OF Tyler Cox (.323), OF Quade Smith (team-leading 11 steals) and RH Keller Bradford (1.54 ERA). Shortstop Jordan Washam (.369) and RH Graham Ahlrich (1.99 ERA) played only this season, and they are among six Eagles bound for Louisiana Tech. Sanders signed with Ole Miss, Case with Southern Miss and Bell with South Alabama. Cox, Martin and Bradford will play for Louisiana-Monroe. Years from now, we may still look back with wonder on this two-year run by HCC. P.S. Austin Riley, who led DeSoto Central High to the MHSAA Class 6A championship, is rated No. 107 in mlb.com’s latest list of the Top 200 draft prospects. Mississippi State signee Riley, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound third baseman/pitcher, batted .423 with 11 homers and went 7-2 with a 2.70 ERA for the 28-9 Jaguars. Pearl River CC right-hander Jacob Taylor is No. 77 on the mlb.com draft chart.

28 May

hurdles for the rebels

Maryland won’t have suspended coach John Szefc on Friday when it plays Ole Miss in the Los Angeles Regional, but arguably more important to the Terrapins are Mike Shawaryn, Brandon Lowe and Jose Cuas. Shawaryn, a 6-foot-3 sophomore right-hander reputed to have overpowering stuff, is 12-2 with a 1.65 ERA. He’s the likely starter on Friday. Second baseman Lowe, a freshman All-America in 2014, is hitting .342 with nine homers and 52 RBIs. Cuas, a junior third baseman who goes 6-2, 190, has blasted 11 homers and driven in 53 runs, both team-bests. The Terps have won 39 games this season, and many on the roster are NCAA Tournament-tested. Maryland won the Columbia Regional last year, beating host South Carolina twice, and took Virginia to three games in their Super Regional. Even without their strong-willed coach, the Terps won’t go gently. … On the other side of the bracket at Jackie Robinson Stadium is host UCLA, 42-14, the No. 1 overall seed, the Pac-12 regular season champion, the 2013 national champion, a team well-stocked with talent, especially pitching. But don’t dismiss Cal State Bakersfield, which Ole Miss could also see on Saturday. The Roadrunners (36-22-1) won three straight do-or-die games to claim the Western Athletic Conference Tournament title. They are 19-12-1 away from home. They’ve beaten UC Santa Barbara, Arizona State, Purdue and Gonzaga. They’ve got a roster replete with California kids, led by 5-8 David Metzgar, who is hitting .358 with 42 RBIs, 46 runs and 10 steals. And they’re playing for a coach, Bill Kernen, who founded the program in 2007 and is expected to retire when the season ends. No, the Roadrunners won’t go gently, either.

28 May

some rain must fall

Tony Sipp had gone all season — 16 appearances out of the Houston bullpen — without allowing a home run before last Thursday. That’s when Detroit’s James McCann took Sipp deep for a game-winner in the bottom of the 11th inning. Sipp, a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Moss Point High product, made his next appearance Wednesday in Baltimore. The left-hander was brought in to face lefty Chris Davis in the bottom of the eighth with the score tied. Davis hit the first pitch out, and the Orioles went on to win 5-4. “I just missed with it, just left it up, middle,” Sipp told mlb.com. Sipp hasn’t missed much this season. The 29-year-old has a 1.53 ERA with 20 strikeouts over 17 2/3 innings for the surprising Astros, who continue to lead the American League West. For his MLB career, spanning seven seasons, Sipp has a 3.64 ERA, 20 wins and six saves working mostly as a situational lefty. Not bad for a 45th-round pick (by Cleveland out of Clemson in 2004). P.S. With the Wednesday recall of Donnie Veal by Atlanta and the recent promotions of Jacob Lindgren (New York Yankees) and David Goforth (Milwaukee), there are now nine Mississippi-connected pitchers in the big leagues and two more on the disabled list. Picayune High product T.J. House, assigned to Triple-A after a recent rehab stint, could be close to returning to Cleveland. … Former Mississippi State star – and Ferriss Trophy winner — Ed Easley was recalled by St. Louis from Triple-A Memphis on Wednesday but didn’t play against Arizona. He is still seeking his first appearance in an MLB game. Catcher Easley, 29, also was on the Cardinals’ roster for three games in April.

27 May

change in the wind

Maybe Jason Hursh has started to turn it around. Maybe the Mississippi Braves right-hander will take another step in the right direction tonight at Trustmark Park when he faces Pensacola in the opener of an 11-game homestand. Hursh, Atlanta’s first-round pick in 2013 and a highly rated prospect, has had a rough go in his second tour of Double-A ball. Through nine starts, Hursh is 1-3 with a 6.35 ERA. He has worked only 39 2/3 innings, with 25 strikeouts and 21 walks. The Oklahoma State alum went 11-7, 3.58 for the M-Braves in 2014. “(A) little adversity sometimes helps,” Hursh told milb.com recently. Maybe. For sure, Hursh’s last two outings have been solid. He beat Pensacola on May 16, throwing six shutout innings. He went 6 1/3 against Jacksonville last Thursday, allowing 10 hits but just two runs in a no-decision. Hursh, 23, is in a big group of young arms the Braves are counting on to emerge in their rotation over the next couple of years. But he needs to step it up. Refining his off-speed pitches (curveball and changeup) are the keys to his advancement, according to mlb.com’s preseason scouting report. Hursh will take the hill tonight for an M-Braves team that went 6-4 on its road trip and is 24-20 on the season, trailing first-place Biloxi (27-18) by 2½ games in the Southern League South. Mallex Smith continues to ignite the M-Braves’ attack with a .345 average and 15 steals. Eric Garcia is batting .340, Matt Lipka .286. The club, as well as the organization, are still waiting for a breakout from prospect Rio Ruiz (.169). P.S. M-Braves fans know the TeePee doesn’t give up a lot of home runs. For the record, the Pearl ballpark yielded 0.57 homers per game in 2014, the lowest average (by a good margin) among all Double-A and Triple-A stadiums, according to a recent Baseball America feature.

27 May

powering the rangers

Texas is on fire, and Mitch Moreland is providing a lot of the fuel. The former Mississippi State standout from Amory has a 10-game hitting streak going during which he has batted .341 with four home runs and nine RBIs. The Rangers have won seven straight — eight of the last 10 — to reach 23-23 on the year. Since Moreland returned from the disabled list following minor surgery on his left elbow, the Rangers are 9-4. They were 7-7 while their lefty-hitting first baseman was out. Moreland hit a go-ahead homer in the eighth inning on Tuesday night as the Rangers beat Cleveland 4-3. It was his fifth of the year – the Rangers are 5-0 when he homers — and 70th of his career. He is batting .306 with 18 RBIs. … Pascagoula’s Joey Butler is actually hotter than Moreland, hitting .423 over his last 10 games for Tampa Bay. Butler was 3-for-4 with two runs in a 7-6 loss to Seattle on Tuesday; the Rays have dropped four straight. In 57 at-bats, Butler is hitting .333 with two homers and seven RBIs. He had only 17 MLB at-bats before this season, his eighth in pro ball. He was drafted out of UNO in 2008 by Texas. … Ole Miss product David Goforth got two outs on three pitches in his big league debut for Milwaukee on Tuesday. … Ex-State star Jacob Lindgren, who debuted with two scoreless innings on Monday, became only the second New York Yankees draft pick to make the majors in less than a year. The other was Deion Sanders.

26 May

tough enough

On April 9, after a 6-0 loss to Vanderbilt, Ole Miss certainly didn’t look like an NCAA Tournament team. The Rebels were 16-18 and 5-8 in the SEC. But the Rebels won the next two games against the then top-ranked Commodores, the start of a 14-7 charge to the end of the regular season. On Monday, Ole Miss received an at-large bid to the NCAAs, the 20th in program history. There are some who might say Ole Miss still doesn’t look like an NCAA Tournament team. The Rebels are 30-26. They finished one game above .500 in the SEC and, as a 6-seed, were bounced in the first round of the league tournament by Alabama. They were 11-15 away from Oxford. UM was 10th in the SEC in hitting (.269) and 13th in pitching (4.44 ERA). So, how’d the Rebels get in when teams like Nevada-Reno (41-15), Michigan State (34-23), North Carolina (34-24) and Southern Miss (36-18-1 and 2-0 vs. UM) were left out? Score one for strength of schedule. Ole Miss played the toughest slate in the country, according to a couple of different rankings. The Rebels were 11-11 against other tournament invitees, 7-6 against top 10 teams and 5-4 against No. 1 teams. Apparently, the selection committee was impressed enough to make Ole Miss a No. 2 seed in its regional. Of course, it’s not all mint juleps. There is a downside. UM must travel to Los Angeles to play in the bracket with the No. 1 overall seed, UCLA (42-14). The Rebels’ first game is against Maryland, a strong 3-seed which went 39-21 and reached the Big Ten Tournament final. P.S. Former Rebels star David Goforth, who has emerged as a bullpen ace in Milwaukee’s system, has been called up for the first time by the Brewers.