William Carey University, yet to play a true home game, has won eight in a row and will take a 12-4 record into its first games at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg this weekend. Tyler Graves leads the Crusaders’ attack with a .442 average and 26 RBIs, and Adrian Brown also has been stuffing the box scores. The son of the former big leaguer of the same name is batting .385 with three homers, 15 RBIs, 22 runs and 10 steals. Lane Fazende, working out of the Carey bullpen, has three wins, a save and an 0.89 ERA. … Going the other way is Mississippi College, reeling from three straight one-run losses at West Alabama over the weekend. UWA scored four in the ninth to win 5-4 on Sunday. The NCAA Division II Choctaws, who play Spring Hill on Wednesday, are 2-13 and 0-6 in the Gulf South Conference. Casey Echols is batting .368 and Chance Whitten has four home runs, but the MC pitching staff has a 7.64 ERA. … Millsaps and Belhaven will battle on Tuesday at Twenty Field in a Maloney Trophy Series game; the Majors won the first meeting of the D-III rivals 6-3 at Smith-Wills Stadium last week. Millsaps is 6-6 but coming off what could be a springboard victory, rallying from a 7-0 first-inning deficit to beat Webster 13-11 in Memphis on Sunday. Jon Dale Dieckman had a big two-run hit in a four-run eighth inning that propelled the Majors. Seth Trulock and Jimmy Fondren also had two RBIs in that game. Belhaven took a series from American Southwest Conference foe Hardin-Simmons over the weekend. Tyler Wolfe (3-0, 1.53 ERA) notched a complete game in the 13-3 victory in the rubber match on Saturday, and Stephen Sexton had a homer and four RBIs. He is batting .355 with three homers on the year. Terrell Hodges is at .406 with two bombs and 11 RBIs. … Delta State won the rubber game of its GSC series at Lee University and moved to 10-3, 4-2. Juwan Burney, batting .406, led the Statesmen in the 13-5 clincher with a pair of homers. DSU will play D-I rival Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena on Wednesday. Valley is 1-4, having beaten Arkansas State 10-9 last Wednesday in its last game. … Caleb Leach (.433) and Dustin Allen (4-1, 2.81 ERA) have led Blue Mountain to a 12-6 record. … Tougaloo has dropped six straight to fall to 4-10. Correction: The Carey-MC game is scheduled for March 28 in Clinton.
On the first full day of spring training games, the names of Mississippians were all over Saturday’s box scores. Ex-Mississippi State star Tyler Moore, trying to make the Miami club as a non-roster invitee, hit what proved to be the game-winning home run for the Marlins against St. Louis. The blast came in the seventh inning against former Mississippi Braves pitcher John Gant and it made a winner of Southern Miss alum Scott Copeland, who had yielded the tying run in the top of the inning. Appearing in center field in that game for the Cardinals was ex-M-Braves standout Jordan Schafer, who is getting a look as both an outfielder and pitcher. … Southwest Mississippi Community College alum Jarrod Dyson, in his first game with Seattle, played left field, batted leadoff and went 1-for-2 with a run and a stolen base. Former State star Hunter Renfroe, batting cleanup and playing right field, had an RBI double in that game for San Diego. … Ex-Richton High standout JaCoby Jones went 2-for-2 with a run and Ole Miss product Alex Presley 1-for-1 with an RBI and a run for Detroit. Both are in the mix for the Tigers’ center field job, though Presley is in camp on a minor league contract. … MSU alum Adam Frazier hit leadoff and played shortstop for Pittsburgh, going 2-for-3 with a run. Frazier is likely to be the Pirates’ super-utility player this season. … Jonathan Holder, the ex-State standout, pitched a perfect inning for the New York Yankees, fanning two. … Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl, now on Oakland’s 40-man roster, struck out two in a scoreless inning of work for the A’s. … East Central CC alum Tim Anderson went 1-for-3 for the Chicago White Sox, batting leadoff and playing shortstop. … Ex-Itawamba CC star Desmond Jennings, trying to stick as a non-roster invitee with Cincinnati, started in right field and went 1-for-2. … Former State standout Mitch Moreland picked up his first official RBI for Boston; he hit a three-run homer on Thursday in an exhibition against a college team. … Petal High product Anthony Alford, batting fifth and playing right field for Toronto, was 1-for-3 with an RBI double against Atlanta. Seven former M-Braves played for the Braves; Dustin Peterson went 2-for-3 with a run and Johan Camargo 1-for-2 with two runs.
With a new-look lineup but familiar expectations, Delta State is humming along this season. DSU takes an 8-2 record – with only one appearance to date at Ferriss Field in Cleveland – into a big Gulf South Conference series at Lee University this weekend. The Statesmen took two of three at West Alabama last weekend in their GSC opening series. Lee is 10-2 and 2-1. Both schools are ranked in various polls. DSU won the conference tournament last season, earning yet another bid to the NCAA Division II postseason, and was pegged to finish second in the league in the preseason poll. Newcomers are all over the DSU lineup, and many have settled in quite nicely. Zack Shannon, a junior college transfer from Illinois, is batting .410 with 10 RBIs and Emil Ellis, an East Mississippi Community College transfer, is at .359 with nine runs. Division I transfer Clay Casey, a former DeSoto Central and Northwest Mississippi CC standout, has just six hits but two have left the park, and he’s got five RBIs. The pitching staff also lost some key players from 2016 but returned a solid core. Oddly enough, Tre Hobbs, the senior All-America candidate, owns both of the team’s losses. The left-hander is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA. That number is sure to drop. Corey Beard, who has been the No. 1 starter, is 2-0, 4.76. Zach Osbon has been an ace out of the bullpen: 2-0, two saves, no runs allowed and 12 punchouts in 9 2/3 innings. DSU coach Mike Kinnison has averaged 42.6 wins over his 20 seasons. That’s a high standard – but one the 2017 Statesmen appear capable of reaching. P.S. Mississippi College, the state’s other D-II program, heads into a GSC road series this weekend still tuning its engine. The Choctaws thumped Arkansas-Monticello 10-5 earlier this week for just their second win. They are 2-10 and 0-3 GSC as they take on West Alabama in Livingston. MC went 17-30, 8-25 in 2016. Bettering those numbers in Jeremy Haworth’s second season might be tough.
Top-ranked Jones County Junior College has rolled out to an 8-0 start and is the only Mississippi juco still unbeaten. The defending NJCAA Division II national champion plays host to Kaskaskia (Ill.) today in Ellisville. Fred Franklin is batting .346 (.485 on-base percentage) with 11 runs and four steals for Chris Kirtland’s Bobcats, and Ben Stiglets is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA. … Coahoma started 6-0 but lost a doubleheader on Wednesday to the Rhodes College JV. Latalo Newson was batting .667 with three homers and 15 RBIs through six games for the Tigers, and Hunter Wilson, a star from Star, was at .472 with two bombs and 12 RBIs. … East Central’s Cole Gray, a freshman from Meridian, was named the NJCAA D-II pitcher of the week on Thursday after earning MACJC honors earlier in the week. Gray went six innings, allowing one run on two hits with 10 strikeouts in a win last week against Coastal Alabama. The Warriors, ranked eighth in preseason, are 5-1. … Hinds, ranked No. 17 in the NJCAA preseason poll, is 4-4. … Southwest’s “T Tez” Cole was the MACJC hitter of the week after going 4-for-7 with five RBIs and five runs. The freshman from Monticello is 8-for-16 on the season for the 5-1 Bears. … Gulf Coast, sparked by Tyler Evans (.381, four RBIs, eight runs) is 5-1 with five straight wins. The Bulldogs, playing exclusively on the road while Farris Field in Perkinston undergoes renovation, take on Dyersburg (Tenn.) State and Kaskaskia in d’Iberville on Saturday. … Mississippi Delta is 4-2 under first-year coach Dan Rives, the longtime Hinds assistant, and Pearl River, under new coach Michael Avalon, is 0-2 heading into a twinbill today against Dyersburg.
In his first game in a Boston uniform, Mitch Moreland hit a three-run homer today during an exhibition game in Fort Myers, Fla. The Amory native and former Mississippi State star, signed as a free agent in the off-season, went deep against a pitcher for Northeastern (the school swept by Southern Miss in Hattiesburg last weekend). Moreland is one of the players the Red Sox are counting on to fill the void left by retired slugger David Ortiz. Lefty-hitting first baseman Moreland smacked 22 homers for Texas in 2016 and has 110 in his seven years in The Show. He also won a Gold Glove last year. P.S. On a disheartening note, former Terry High star Van Pope, once a highly rated Atlanta prospect, is wanted for burglary in two Mississippi counties, according to a Mississippi News Now report. Pope was a power-hitting third baseman with a big arm who played two seasons for the Double-A Mississippi Braves, including the 2008 Southern League championship year. He was released by Atlanta in 2010 and played independent league baseball for a time thereafter.
The eye-popping number of the state college season to date belongs to William Carey University’s Tyler Graves. The number: 17. Graves has driven in 17 runs through 11 games for the Crusaders, who are 7-4 while playing every game away from home. Graves, a senior from Petal, is 15-for-37, a .405 average matched by teammate Christian Smith. … Ole Miss’ sweep of highly rated East Carolina over the weekend was fueled in part by Ryan Olenek’s bat; the SEC player of the week went 6-for-13 with two doubles, two RBIs and two runs. But noteworthy also are the numbers put up by Cole Zabowski, one of the lesser heralded freshmen in Oxford; the Georgia native is 3-for-7 with a homer and four RBIs. … Taylor Braley carried the big bat for Southern Miss in its sweep of Northeastern, going 4-for-10 with two homers, seven RBIs and four runs. … Hunter Stovall banged out eight hits in 15 at-bats with three RBIs for Mississippi State, off to a 3-1 start. … Kirt Cormier is 8-for-14 with a homer and three RBIs for Alcorn State (2-2). … Jackson Webb has two homers in a 7-for-18 start for Missisisppi Valley State (0-4). … Jackson State (1-2) was led over the weekend by Lamar Briggs, who went 4-for-12. … Delta State (7-2) has gotten major production from Emil Ellis, who is 13-for-34 with eight runs and three RBIs. … Will Elliott is 10-for-31 with a homer, five RBIs and five runs for Mississippi College, which has stumbled to a 1-10 start. … Miciah Heard is 21-for-49 with 13 runs and six RBIs for Blue Mountain (8-6). … Terrell Hodges (8-for-17, two homers, nine RBIs) and J.G. Miley (8-for-17) have helped Belhaven get off to a 4-1 start. … At Millsaps (2-5), Logan Patterson has eight hits in 22 trips. … D’Anthony Morrow has six hits in his last 11 at-bats for Tougaloo, which is 4-5 heading into a twinbill with William Carey in Jackson on Wednesday.
There are six Mississippians bopping around Cincinnati’s camp in Goodyear, Ariz. Billy Hamilton might be the only one who breaks camp with the big league team. Though he still hasn’t hit as much as the Reds would like (.260 in 2016, .249 career), former Taylorsville High star Hamilton is their center fielder, bringing plus speed and defense to the job. Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart is the Cincy shortstop – but for how long? Trade rumors have circled Cozart for a while and now that he is in his last season before free agency, they’ve only intensified. Cozart, 31, bounced back from a bad knee injury in 2015 to bat .252 with 16 home runs last year, though knee pain curtailed his season. He says he feels 100 percent now and is happy to be with the Reds. But, it’s not an ideal situation. He could be dealt at any time. “You’re in limbo,” he told cincinnati.com. “That’s the tough part about it.” Stuart Turner, another ex-UM star, is also in a sort of limbo. He is in camp as a Rule 5 pick and is battling for a job as the backup catcher. If he doesn’t get that spot, he’ll likely be returned to Minnesota. Left-hander Cody Reed, a highly rated prospect out of Northwest Mississippi Community College who had rough MLB debut in 2016, will contend for a job on the pitching staff but may well wind up back in the minors. Greenwood native Louis Coleman is in the Reds’ camp as a non-roster pitcher, former Itawamba CC star Desmond Jennings as a non-roster outfielder. Both veterans face seemingly long odds to make the 25-man roster out of spring training.
Watching the Urban Invitational on MLB Network and there in the batter’s box for Alcorn State is A.J. Makarewicz. Yes, indeed, the son of Scott Makarewicz, a catcher on the original Jackson Generals team in 1991. Where does the time go? A.J., batting leadoff and playing shortstop for the Braves in their opener, is a junior transfer from Seminole State College, a Florida juco. Scott played parts of four seasons for the Generals over the course of his minor league career, most of which was spent in the Houston organization.
Baseball came roaring back at the state’s NCAA Division I schools on Friday. You might have heard the noise raised by the more than 25,000 fans who turned out at the old ballparks in Oxford, Starkville and Hattiesburg. At Oxford-University Stadium, a.k.a. Swayze Field, Ole Miss drew a record 12,117 for its 5-4 victory over East Carolina. At Dudy Noble Field, an opening day record 10,217 attended Mississippi State’s game against Texas Tech, a 5-2 loss. And at Taylor Park, 3,234 (in a 6,600-seat stadium) witnessed Southern Miss’ 9-4 blowout of Northeastern. Yes, Mississippi is a so-called football state, but let’s give baseball its due. Each of the Big 3 went to an NCAA regional in 2016. Each has some rebuilding to do in 2017. Judging from the attendance on opening day, fans of all three are eager to see the new product and, we can assume, are carrying some high expectations.
We live in a golden age for shortstops. Look around the big leagues and you see Corey Seager, Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor and Xander Bogaerts at the forefront of a young class that also includes the likes of Trevor Story, Dansby Swanson, Orlando Arcia and East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson. Third base is called the hot corner, but shortstop is a hot spot these days, a position where you’re expected to hit, field and oftentimes lead, as well. Here in the Magnolia State, the players on that spot at the Big 4 Division I schools bring different levels of experience to the job along with intriguing potential. … Jackson State’s shortstop is Cornelius Copeland, a senior and an All-SWAC pick in 2016, his first year in the program after transferring from a Florida junior college. Copeland, who was drafted out of high school, hit .422 with five homers last season. His defense could stand to improve; he made 23 errors (an .895 fielding percentage) in 54 games. … At Mississippi State, junior Ryan Gridley is a returning starter at short and could be poised for a breakout year. He had a solid if unspectacular 2016 campaign, batting .284. New Bulldogs coach Andy Cannizaro, a shortstop in his playing days, has raved about Gridley’s defense and leadership skills. … At Southern Miss, they’re replacing Nick Dawson, who was a mainstay – and a .328 hitter — on the C-USA championship club. Tracy Hadley, a senior from Pascagoula by way of Pearl River CC, and Northwest Mississippi CC transfer LeeMarcus Boyd were vying for the job in preseason camp. Hadley hit .256 in 39 games for the Golden Eagles last year. Boyd was a dynamic player at NWCC — .339, three homers, 21 steals – but might need time to adjust to the pitching at the D-I level. … At Ole Miss, they’re handing the reins to a true freshman. But Grae Kessinger isn’t just any freshman. He was a prep All-America at Oxford High, a four-time All-State player, a two-time state champion and an MLB draftee in 2016. And, yes, he’s the grandson of the great Don Kessinger and the son of Kevin Kessinger, also a Rebels star. Grae carries a lot of expectations into the season, which starts Friday in Oxford against East Carolina. “There’s nowhere I’d rather be,” Kessinger told the Oxford Eagle. His career should be fun to watch. … State opens Friday at Dudy Noble Field against Texas Tech, USM welcomes Northeastern to Taylor Park that same day and J-State takes on Morehead State and Jacksonville on Saturday at Braddy Field. P.S. As a fund-raising event for storm-damaged William Carey University, the Biloxi Shuckers will play the Crusaders in an exhibition game on April 4 at MGM Park. For the record: The Crusaders will have to use wood bats.