22 Mar

trophy hunting

Belhaven University is humming: 13-4 with a seven-game win streak. Millsaps is sputtering at 10-10. The timing of the first Maloney Trophy Series game of 2016 certainly looks favorable for the Blazers, who’ll host the Majors today (4 p.m.) at Smith-Wills Stadium. Of course, both BU coach Hill Denson and Millsaps’ Jim Page are likely to trot out a bunch of pitchers, so anything can happen. The Blazers’ hot streak has been fueled in large part by junior outfielder Terrell Hodges, a former Northwest Rankin High and Holmes Community College star. He is batting .463 (slugging .791) with four home runs, 15 RBIs, four triples, 22 runs and 15 steals. Last week, Hodges had 11 hits, two homers, six RBIs, 10 runs and five steals — and somehow did not win American Southwest Conference player of the week honors. Millsaps lost two of three at home to Rhodes over the weekend, scoring five runs all told. The Majors have only two homers (both by Lee Ogletree) all season. Isaac Glenn, the Madison Central product, leads their attack at .360 with 11 RBIs and 17 runs. Ogletree, from Raymond High via Hinds CC, is hitting .333 with 19 RBIs. P.S. Meanwhile, at MGM Park in Biloxi, Southern Miss will hook up with longtime rival Tulane in an intriguing non-conference contest. The Golden Eagles (16-5) and Green Wave (13-7) have met 152 times, with Tulane leading 93-59. USM features a lot of power, with 26 homers as a team, six by Tim Lynch, the preseason All-C-USA pick who is batting .373 with 22 RBIs. Tulane has some thump, too: 20 homers, led by Hunter Hope with five. USM is 0-1 at MGM Park, having lost to South Alabama earlier this month.

21 Mar

watch for it

Cody Reed, the former Horn Lake High and Northwest Mississippi Community College standout, will get the start tonight for Cincinnati against San Diego in a Cactus League game to be televised live (9:10 p.m.) on MLB Network. Left-hander Reed, one of the Reds’ top prospects, has a 1.13 ERA in eight innings this spring as he bids to crack their rotation. Even if he doesn’t make the club out of spring training, it’s expected the 22-year-old will make his big league debut sometime this season. The bespectacled Reed – he has worn the black-rimmed glasses on the mound since high school – went 6-2 with a 2.17 ERA in eight starts for Double-A Pensacola in 2015 after the Reds got him from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto trade. P.S. Corey Dickerson, from McComb and Meridian CC, and ex-Itawamba CC star Desmond Jennings are with the Tampa Bay Rays on their historic trip to Cuba. The Rays will play the Cuban national team on Tuesday at 1 p.m. on ESPN, the first time since the Baltimore Orioles played an exhibition vs. Cuba in 1999 that an MLB team is taking the field there.

20 Mar

names to know

In Nashville, Tenn., on Saturday night, under the SEC Network spotlight, Jake Mangum and Noah Hughes — freshmen and former Jackson Prep teammates –- played starring roles for Mississippi State in an SEC series-clinching win against Vanderbilt. Mangum had a go-ahead, two-run hit in the eighth inning and Hughes delivered two scoreless innings of relief in the 5-4 victory against a Commodores team ranked as high as No. 2 in the country. But those aren’t the only names to know today. Other Magnolia State players taking star turns this weekend: Southern Miss catcher Chuckie Robinson delivered a go-ahead hit and threw out a Marshall baserunner trying to steal in the eighth inning as the Golden Eagles won the rubber game of their C-USA series on Saturday. … Ole Miss’ Wyatt Short notched his fifth save of the year and 18th of his career as the Rebels beat Tennessee 6-4 on Saturday and evened their SEC series. … Wallace Rios of Alcorn State hit two homers and drove in six runs as the Braves beat Alabama A&M 15-13 in a SWAC contest. … Nick Lowe hit a game-tying sac fly and Cody Christian drew a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth to give William Carey a 5-4 win over visiting Blue Mountain in a Southern States Athletic Conference game. … Garrett Odom blasted two homers and knocked in six runs to pace Mississippi College to a 13-7 Gulf South Conference win against Christian Brothers. …. Terrell Hodges went 6-for-12 with six runs, three RBIs and two steals as Belhaven swept Louisiana College in an American Southwest Conference series at Smith-Wills Stadium. … Millsaps’ Brennan Ducote had two hits and two RBIs to spark the Majors to a 4-1 win over Southern Athletic Association rival Rhodes in Game 2 of a Saturday twinbill. … And in Cleveland, where Delta State swept a GSC doubleheader from Alabama-Huntsville, ranked No. 9 in NCAA Division II, the heroes were many. Lefties Justin Vincent and Tre Hobbs threw complete games; Ben Pickard drove in seven runs; Brandon Cummins scored five times; and Trent Giambroni hit his seventh homer.

19 Mar

getting up to speed

Starting in center field for the first time this spring, Billy Hamilton and his surgically repaired right shoulder didn’t get tested in Cincinnati’s game against Milwaukee on Friday. He caught one fly ball and fielded one base hit. He also went 0-for-3 in five innings as the leadoff batter. But the ex-Taylorsville High star called it “a good day.” He told mlb.com that his arm feels fine when he throws on the side and his biggest concern is getting more at-bats. He has had only 10 so far, getting two hits, a triple and a bunt single. The lithe switch-hitter doesn’t have a stolen base attempt, and that, of course, is his most valuable skill. Hamilton has 126 bags in his two-plus big league seasons, but he needs to hit more (.242) to make that speed work. … That other MLB speed demon from Mississippi, McComb’s Jarrod Dyson, is reportedly making nice progress on his return from an oblique strain suffered on his first at-bat of spring training. Dyson is throwing but not yet swinging a bat. He has said that he expects to miss only a couple of weeks of Kansas City’s season. Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Dyson, who has 146 career bags, was projected as the Royals’ starting right fielder this year. P.S. Joey Butler, the Pascagoula native and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC product, smashed a grand slam for Cleveland on Friday. Butler is trying to win an outfield job with the Indians, who claimed him on waivers from Tampa Bay in the off-season. His is hitting .208 with two homers this spring. Butler faces a lot of competition. Cleveland recently signed veteran outfielder Marlon Byrd to a minor league deal, and injured star Michael Brantley is expected to make his spring debut today.

18 Mar

small talk

The state’s small colleges will roll out the welcome mats this weekend, with Delta State, Mississippi College, Belhaven and Millsaps hosting out-of-state guests for conference series. Also on the agenda are two matchups of in-state rivals: Rust at Tougaloo and Blue Mountain at William Carey. Tougaloo just beat Rust twice (13-0 and 15-1) in Holly Springs on Thursday; they’ll play another twinbill on Saturday. The BMC-Carey series (single game today, two on Saturday at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg) should be more competitive. Maybe. Carey is 18-8 and 4-2 in the Southern States Athletic Conference. The visiting Toppers are 13-13 and 0-6. Led by Tyler Odom (.416), Carey is batting .319 as a team. The Crusaders’ pitching also has been very good, posting a 2.81 ERA. Coach Bobby Halford has a stable of starters to choose from, including Devin Smith (3-0, 1.64 ERA) and J.D. Little (4-1, 3.50). For BMC, All-SSAC first baseman Seth Davis has scuffled (.227), but Miciah Heard has been hot (.325) and Caleb Leach has four homers in 33 at-bats. The key for Curt Fowler’s Toppers might be how well their pitching staff (6.90 ERA) handles Odom and Co. P.S. In juco land, the state’s two big dogs will be on home turf on Saturday. Jones County Junior College (19-1, 2-0 MACJC) will host East Mississippi Community College (4-14, 0-2). Mason Irby and Erick Hoard have combined for 13 bombs for the Bobcats; Hoard hit a grand slam and a three-run shot in a sweep of East Central on Wednesday. Meridian CC (17-1, 2-0) welcomes Copiah-Lincoln (5-10, 1-1). Jones and Meridian were rained out of their big showdown last weekend; it has been rescheduled for May 2, the end of the regular season.

17 Mar

now playing shortstop …

When the Mississippi Braves open the 2016 season on April 7 at Trustmark Park, keep an eye on the shortstop. He’s a heckuva player. As of today, we have no clear indication who the shortstop for the Double-A club will be, but we do know that he’s a heckuva player. It might be Dansby Swanson, Atlanta’s No. 1 prospect. First pick in the 2015 MLB draft by Arizona. Former All-SEC star and College World Series MVP at Vanderbilt. But Swanson, 22, played in short-season Class A last year, and even though he has played a lot – and well — for the big league club in spring training, Braves brass might opt to start him in A-ball. So … the M-Braves’ shortstop might be Ozzie Albies, rated Atlanta’s No. 3 prospect on the mlb.com chart. The Curacao native, who also has been impressive in big league camp, played at low-A Rome in 2015. A switch-hitter, he batted .310 with eight triples and 29 steals. And yes, he can pick it. But Albies is only 19, and the Braves might be considering shifting him to second base. It’s possible he’ll start the year at high-A Carolina. So … the M-Braves’ shortstop might be Johan Camargo. The Panama native doesn’t get the kind of attention lavished on Swanson and Albies, but he’s certainly no slouch. Rated the No. 25 Atlanta prospect, the switch-hitting Camargo, 22, batted .258 with six triples, 32 RBIs and 50 runs for the Carolina Mudcats in 2015. He was a Carolina League midseason and end-of-year All-Star and was selected for the Arizona Fall League. So … it might be Swanson … could be Albies … maybe Camargo. However it shakes out, the guy at shortstop on April 7 will be worth watching. P.S. The M-Braves have had a succession of quality shortstops, including Luis Hernandez, Yunel Escobar, Diory Hernandez, Brandon Hicks, Brent Lillibridge, Tyler Pastornicky, Andrelton Simmons, Ed Lucas and Daniel Castro, all of whom have played in the big leagues.

17 Mar

leading the way

Brian Dozier has jokingly called himself a “Grapefruit League All-Star” for the good numbers he usually hangs up in spring training. The Southern Miss product is doing it again. Dozier went 2-for-3 and belted his second home run for Minnesota on Wednesday, boosting his Grapefruit League average to .435. Dozier was an American League All-Star in 2015 and, entering his fifth MLB season, the Tupelo native has emerged as a leader for a Twins team that many expect to contend. Dozier hit 28 homers last year but batted just .236. The average may rise in 2016. Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci recently noted that Dozier, typically a pull hitter, is one of a number of players “making swing path adjustments—the counterattack to shifts” and has been going to right field frequently this spring. P.S. Some familiar names appeared in the Toronto box score on Wednesday: Ex-Mississippi State star Chad Girodo threw 1 1/3 clean innings, D.J. Davis, the 2012 first-rounder from Stone County, got an at-bat and so did Brett Wellman, son of former Mississippi Braves manager Phillip Wellman. Girodo, bidding to make the Blue Jays’ bullpen, has not allowed a run in four appearances. Davis, a top 10 prospect in the Jays’ organization, is coming off a good 2015 season in A-ball but reportedly needs to improve in some areas. The younger Wellman, who used to serve as a bullpen catcher for the M-Braves, has been in the Toronto system for three years after playing at Auburn-Montgomery. … Detroit has given Richton’s JaCoby Jones a lot of work in big league camp. In 13 games at shortstop and third base, he is batting .231 with a homer and three RBIs. A 2013 third-round pick by Pittsburgh, Jones reached Double-A last year but will start this season on suspension for a failed drug test last fall (see previous posts).

16 Mar

ups and downs

Tuesday was a happening day. In Hattiesburg, Southern Miss enjoyed one of those games you’d like to bottle and store. Ole Miss traveled to Birmingham and rolled to its 11th straight win. At Braddy Field in Jackson, Jackson State overwhelmed LeMoyne-Owen with a 43-run barrage. But there was no joy in Starkville, where Mississippi State blew a six-run lead in the eighth inning and lost 16-12 to Eastern Kentucky in extras. Let’s start at Taylor Park, where the Golden Eagles beat Alabama 9-2. A crowd of 3,577 saw USM (14-4) get 15 hits against a good Bama staff. Sizzling Jake Sandlin went 4-for-4, Hunter Slater got three hits and Dylan Burdeaux clubbed his third homer. Nick Johnson worked a masterful 6 2/3 innings for his first win. Michael Gilbert made a huge play at third base. “You can’t ask for more,” catcher Chuckie Robinson said in a school release. Nationally ranked Ole Miss is now 16-1 after routing UAB 8-1, getting homers from Henri Lartigue and Cameron Dishon. The Rebels scored three in the first inning, the 10th time this year they’ve scored in the opening frame. Jackson State (9-7) used seven homers to crush an overmatched LeMoyne-Owen 23-2 and 20-3. Anthony Stricklin went yard in both games. But at Dudy Noble Field, things went horribly wrong. Nathaniel Lowe, the power-hitting juco transfer, blasted his first homer and drove in seven runs as State built a 12-6 lead through seven. Stunningly, EKU tied it with a six-run eighth, then put up four in the 10th to win it. Four Bulldogs relievers yielded 14 earned runs over the final six innings. State, climbing in the national polls after its sweep of Oregon over the weekend, dips to 12-4-1. While USM, UM and JSU players are walking tall today, it might be the Bulldogs who are most eager to get back on the field. They’ll want to put Tuesday’s clunker behind them, and they get that chance tonight at home against Oral Roberts.

15 Mar

low battery

Oxford High, generally considered the best prep team in Mississippi, has crashed out of the new MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national poll. The Chargers, preseason No. 1 and seventh in last week’s poll, ran out of juice in the Perfect Game Showcase in Cartersville, Ga., losing twice to move their record to 8-3. Oxford went 35-1 in 2015 en route to a Class 5A championship. Next up for Oxford, which hasn’t lost to a Magnolia State school, is South Panola on Wednesday. Jason Barber, the state’s Gatorade player of the year in 2015, is off to another fine start, batting .429 with two homers, though he has lost a game on the mound. He was unbeaten with a 0.00 ERA in 2015. Grae Kessinger, like Barber an Ole Miss signee, is hitting .412, and Drew Bianco, son of UM coach Mike Bianco, has three home runs. Rest assured, the Chargers will power up again and contend for another MHSAA crown.

15 Mar

taking up arms

Chris Stratton was optioned out to Triple-A Sacramento on Monday, but the right-hander from Mississippi State surely made a good impression in San Francisco’s camp. Stratton pitched five innings over two starts, yielding four hits and no runs. In his last outing last Thursday, he threw three hitless innings against Milwaukee. The Tupelo native, who went 4-5, 3.86 ERA at Sacramento in 2015, could be the first pitcher recalled if or when the Giants need another starter this season. … Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College product, is still hanging around in Cincinnati’s camp as a non-roster pitcher. The left-hander, a highly rated prospect, has a 1.13 ERA in three games, two starts. In eight innings, he has seven strikeouts and no walks. … Ex-State star Kendall Graveman has scuffled in his two appearances for Oakland, posting a 7.20 ERA in five innings. Graveman, 6-5 with a 4.09 ERA for the A’s a year ago, is competing for a rotation spot. … Picayune High product T.J. House, a darkhorse to make Cleveland’s rotation at the start of spring, has a 9.53 ERA in three relief appearances. The left-hander is coming off an injury-wrecked 2015 season. … Drew Pomeranz, the former Ole Miss standout, has a 3.86 ERA in three appearances for San Diego, his new club. His role with the Padres hasn’t really been defined. … Southern Miss alum Scott Copeland, a non-roster invitee in Toronto’s camp, hasn’t yielded a run in three innings but is a longshot to stick with their staff. He made three starts for the Blue Jays last season. P.S. Jonathan Papelbon, the former MSU star who gets his share of bad press, received some well-deserved positive attention after attending the annual Leukemia Ball, held by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, in Washington, D.C., over the weekend. Papelbon and his wife, Ashley, reportedly donated $25,000 to the fund.