There’s a lot on the line this weekend when Mississippi College hosts old rival Delta State to finish the regular season at Frierson Field in Clinton. MC (19-23) is 14-15 and in seventh place in the Gulf South Conference standings. The top eight teams make the GSC Tournament. DSU (35-10), ranked No. 1 in the South Region and as high as third overall in NCAA Division II, is first (23-7) in the league and trying to nail down the top seed in the tournament. The top seed hosts. After a terrible start, MC has won 17 of its last 23, including a clutch series win at Lee University last weekend. Led by Casey Echols (.347), the Choctaws have seven regulars batting .307 or better. But MC’s pitching (6.07 ERA) will need to step up. DSU is the GSC’s best offensive club, batting .323 with 44 homers. Zack Shannon has been amazing: .461, 13 homers, 71 RBIs. And the pitching quartet of Seth Birdsong, Corey Beard, Tre Hobbs and closer Zach Osbon makes taking a series from the Statesmen a tall order. DSU leads the all-time series 106-29-1. The teams play one game today and doubleheader on Saturday. … Millsaps begins Southern Athletic Association postseason play against Hendrix at Memphis today. Millsaps (17-22) is the sixth overall seed and is playing in the four-team bracket hosted by Rhodes, the No. 2 seed. Andy Page (.397), Lee Ogletree (.303, five homers, 34 RBIs) and Jacob Mardick (8-2, 2.59) have had all-conference type seasons for the Majors. … Blue Mountain finishes an SSAC series against Brewton-Parker at home today after sweeping a twinbill on Thursday. With Caleb Leach (.368, five homers, 35 RBIs) and Dustin Allen (8-3, 3.04) leading the way, the Toppers (30-23, 11-12) already had clinched a spot in next week’s conference tourney at Montgomery, Ala. William Carey (17-7 SSAC) also will be there. The NAIA nationally ranked Crusaders (34-15) are finishing up a non-conference series against Stillman College in Hattiesburg today. James Land hit his 15th bomb in a 16-6 win on Thursday. … Tougaloo finished its regular season 10-42, including a pair of home losses to Miles on Wednesday. Earl Sanders’ Bulldogs lost 18 of their last 19 and went 0-6 against GCAC competition. … Belhaven (26-14) is awaiting word on a bid to the NCCAA Tournament; regionals begin the week of May 15.
We should have known it was going to be an unusual week on Monday, when Brian Dozier ripped a base-loaded double for Minnesota, accounting for all the Twins’ runs in a 3-2 win against Texas. That was especially noteworthy because the former Southern Miss star is one of those rare major leaguers who does NOT hit well with the bases loaded. He was 5-for-41 since 2012. The big hit Monday also doubled Dozier’s RBI total for the season. Of course, we were only getting started. On Tuesday, Ole Miss alum Chris Coghlan did his high-flying act for Toronto, soaring over St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina to land on home plate. It was hard to miss that highlight. On Wednesday, ex-UM standout Seth Smith scored a so-called “Little League home run” for Baltimore after a simple single to right field. Smith circled the bases as Tampa Bay fielders threw the ball all over the place trying to nail a runner, Ryan Flaherty, at third base. That highlight got a lot of play, too. This brings us to Thursday night and to Kendall Graveman, the Mississippi State product who pitches for Oakland. All he did was turn an unassisted double play, tagging out a Los Angeles Angels runner between third and home and then getting another as he slid into third. “That’s probably the best play I’ve ever seen a pitcher make, hurdling over a defender to get the second out unassisted,” A’s manager Bob Melvin told The Associated Press. It was the first unassisted DP by an A’s pitcher since the immortal Blue Moon Odom turned the trick in 1971. What could possibly happen today? Can’t hardly wait.
Some power hitters — former Mississippi Braves stars Ernesto Mejia, Evan Gattis and Matt Esquivel come to mind — have fared just fine at Trustmark Park. Many more have not. (See Josh Burrus, Cody Johnson, Eric Campbell … .) The spacious TeePee gives up bombs very grudgingly. That in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how Travis Demeritte and Adam Brett Walker, sluggers of some renown, handle it over the course of this season. Walker, 25, recently sent down from Triple-A Gwinnett, has played five games for the M-Braves and hit two homers, both at Montgomery. The M-Braves start a five-game homestand tonight against Tennessee. Walker, 6 feet 5, 225 pounds, entered this season with 124 homers in five pro years, including 31 for Chattanooga in the Southern League in 2015. Atlanta acquired Walker, originally a Minnesota draftee, on a waiver claim from Baltimore in January. Demeritte, only 22, is a top 10 prospect making his Double-A debut this season. Listed at 6 feet, 180, Demeritte’s got impressive thump. Acquired from Texas in a trade last summer, he belted a total of 28 home runs, along with 29 doubles and nine triples, in A-ball in 2016. He had a 25-homer campaign in 2014. Demeritte has hit only one home run through 18 games for the M-Braves, though he did get that one at the TeePee, back on April 10. At the moment, the long ball isn’t the biggest concern for Demeritte or Walker. Both are just looking for hits of any kind. Demeritte is batting .212. Walker’s only two hits in his 20 at-bats are the two bombs; he was batting .128 at Gwinnett. P.S. Former Southern Miss star Bradley Roney is back with the M-Braves, moving up from a brief assignment at Class A Florida. Roney began 2016 in Pearl, posting a 2.82 ERA and two saves in 17 games before earning a promotion to Gwinnett. He was on the disabled list there to start 2017.
Of the 127 runs that were scored in major league games on Tuesday night, Chris Coghlan’s is the one that will live on in highlight-reel perpetuity. The Ole Miss product went airborne — Superman-style — over St. Louis catcher Yadier Molina and landed hands first on home plate in the seventh inning of Toronto’s 6-5, 11-inning victory at Busch Stadium. “He’s (crouched) down, maybe I can jump, so let’s jump,” Coghlan told The Associated Press about his split-second decision to leap over rather than plow into Molina, who was up the third-base line several feet as he caught the throw from the outfield. “You’ve got to win that game because that’s what made it worthwhile,” Toronto manager John Gibbons said. “You probably don’t see that for 100 years.” Coghlan, batting .167 in his limited at-bats with the Blue Jays, drew a walk as a pinch hitter and scored from first on a wall-banging hit by Kevin Pillar. It was Coghlan’s first run as a Blue Jay and gave the team a short-lived 3-2 lead. Perhaps it was the kind of play that will propel them to more victories. At 6-14, the worst record in MLB, they needed a lift.
The Governor’s Cup is a big deal. There will be a big crowd tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Mississippi State’s surprising sweep of Ole Miss in Oxford last month will be a big topic of conversation. Fans will ooh and ahh as rival sluggers Brent Rooker and Colby Bortles take big swings for the fences. But in the grand scheme, tonight’s non-conference clash doesn’t mean a whole lot. There are much bigger things just ahead for both schools. For State, that would be Auburn. For UM, Arkansas. State, enjoying a remarkable first year under Andy Cannizaro, has the best record in the SEC at 13-5, including those three one-run wins over Alabama last week. The Bulldogs (28-14) have jumped into the top 10 in some of the polls. But State’s seat atop the league is about to be threatened: Here comes Auburn for an SEC series that starts Friday in Starkville. The Tigers, coached by former Bulldogs assistant Butch Thompson, are 30-12, 12-6 SEC and also highly ranked. It’s a series that will garner national attention. Ole Miss, meanwhile, will be at Arkansas this weekend (Thursday-Saturday) to face a nationally ranked Razorbacks team (32-10, 12-6) that is 24-3 at Baum Stadium. Mike Bianco’s Rebels (25-15) are just 9-9 in the SEC and fighting to stay in the picture for an NCAA regional bid. The winner of tonight’s game at the TeePee gets a fine feather in its cap, but both teams will move on with some urgency. P.S. Belated props to Cole Marsh, a freshman right-hander at Mississippi Delta Community College, and Bubba Stockstill, a sophomore lefty for East Mississippi CC. Marsh pitched a six-hit shutout against No. 1-ranked Jones County JC on Friday in Moorhead. The 3-0 loss was just the second of the season for JCJC (36-2, 18-2 MACJC), which is averaging nine runs a game. Delta is 24-14, 11-9. The 6-foot-7 Stockstill threw a six-inning no-hitter with 10 strikeouts against Pearl River CC in a 10-0 victory on Sunday in Scooba. He was named MACJC pitcher of the week.
Ti’Quan Forbes, in his fourth pro season but still only 20 years old, has come out swinging at Class A Hickory. The former Mr. Baseball from Columbia is batting .353 with five home runs and 12 RBIs through 17 games in the South Atlantic League. He already has more homers than he got all of last season, when he hit four in 120 games with the same Hickory club. He didn’t go deep in either of his first two minor league seasons. Forbes, 6 feet 3, 180 pounds, was a second-round pick by Texas in the 2014 draft. A shortstop at Columbia High, he is now playing third base, a power position. Forbes hit just .251 last year with 24 extra-base hits. If he continues to rake at his current pace, he could get a midseason promotion to high-A Down East in the Carolina League, where former East Mississippi Community College standout LeDarious Clark is now playing. They were teammates in Hickory in 2016.
It’s easy to get caught up in the offensive numbers on the William Carey University stat sheet. After all, there’s James Land batting .383 with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs. Tyler Graves is at .347 with a team-leading 55 RBIs. Adrian Brown is hitting .333 with 49 runs. But don’t overlook what right-handed reliever Lane Fazende has done for this team, which is 31-15 and 17-7 in the SSAC after a big series win at NAIA No. 2 Faulkner over the weekend. Fazende, a senior from Picayune, threw four scoreless innings to get the win in the opener of the series on Friday, then got the last out for a save in the first game of Saturday’s twinbill. Fazende has made 23 appearances for No. 23 Carey and worked 52 innings. He is 5-4 with six saves and a 2.25 ERA. He has 47 strikeouts. Yes, Carey’s hitters played a role in the two wins. Land and Tyler James homered in the opener, a 4-3 victory, and Brown went 2-for-3 with two doubles and two runs in Saturday’s 3-2 win. Starter Cole Edgens, now 7-0, got the victory for the Crusaders. Faulkner won the series finale. Carey is done with its SSAC schedule and now awaits its seeding in the conference tournament, set for May 3-6 at Montgomery, Ala. The Crusaders, currently third, could still win the regular season title with some help.
JaCoby Jones’ tough season took a turn for the worse on Saturday when the ex-Richton High star was hit in the mouth by a pitch. Detroit’s rookie center fielder left the field with a mouthful of blood and received nine stitches in his lip at a Minnesota hospital but reportedly is otherwise OK. The Tigers put Jones, batting just .150 with a homer and four RBIs, on the 10-day disabled list. Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told the Detroit Free Press the sight of Jones’ injury made him “squeamish.” (Cue up the video; it is scary.) The pitch was a fastball thrown up and in by Twins reliever Justin Haley. The Tigers had hit two home runs earlier in that third inning off Adalberto Mejia. When Tigers starter Matt Boyd threw a pitch behind Miguel Sano later in the game, tempers flared and benches cleared. Boyd and Sano were ejected. Detroit went on to win 5-4. The teams play again today at Target Field.
Here’s a fun fact: Seven Mississippians (natives or college alums) have hit leadoff for seven different teams in the big leagues this season. They come in all shapes and sizes and profiles, from the power-hitting Corey Dickerson to small speedsters Billy Hamilton and Jarrod Dyson. Dickerson, the Meridian Community College alum, doesn’t look like the classic leadoff type – a stocky 6 feet 1, 205 pounds – and he’s not a base-stealing threat. But he has fit the bill at the top of the order for Tampa Bay. He belted a leadoff homer on Friday night in a loss to Houston and is batting .317 (.358 on-base percentage) with four homers, eight RBIs and nine runs. Ex-Taylorsville High star Hamilton does look like a leadoff batter, and he might be the fastest man in the game. After a good start for Cincinnati, however, he has dipped to .224 with eight runs and seven steals. Southwest Mississippi CC product Dyson has been used occasionally as Seattle’s leadoff man and is batting .228 with nine runs and four bags. Brian Dozier, the former Southern Miss star, brings a blend of power and speed to the top of Minnesota’s order. He is off to a sluggish start at .226 with two homers and five stolen bases. He was a 42/18 man in 2016. Ole Miss product Seth Smith typically bats leadoff for Baltimore against right-handed starters; he has been out since Tuesday with a hamstring problem. Smith is a solid hitter who, like Dickerson, is more about power than speed. He is batting .259 (.355 OBP) with two homers, three RBIs and seven runs in his first year with the Orioles. Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central CC standout, hits leadoff on occasion for the Chicago White Sox but is off to a slow start (.169 with six runs) in his sophomore campaign. The slender Anderson is expected to develop into a base-stealing threat and also has surprising pop. Pittsburgh uses Adam Frazier, the Mississippi State alum, all over the field and the lineup, including some leadoff opportunities. Frazier is hitting .289 with a homer, four RBIs and five runs. In addition to those seven, there are three other Mississippians in the big leagues who could get looks in the leadoff spot: Ole Miss product Zack Cozart (Reds), UM alum Chris Coghlan (Toronto) and former Richton High star JaCoby Jones (Detroit). Jones, scuffling at the moment, is projected as a 20 homers/20 steals type. P.S. Ex-State standout Chris Stratton is back in the big leagues with San Francisco, taking the roster spot that opened up when Madison Bumgarner went on the disabled list. Stratton had a 7.84 ERA in two starts at Triple-A Sacramento but has a 3.99 career ERA in the minors and posted a 3.60 in a brief MLB trial last year. … Fellow Bulldogs alum Tyler Moore was assigned to Triple-A New Orleans by Miami.
Jackson State rules the SWAC. At this moment. JSU will have to prove itself again in the SWAC Tournament next month, but there can be little debate about whether the Tigers are the SWAC’s best team right now. Omar Johnson’s club has won 11 straight games to improve to 29-11 overall and 15-3 in the conference heading into a weekend series against Alcorn State at Lorman. Tigers hitters and pitchers lead the SWAC in just about everything. They’re batting .327 with an amazing 338 runs. The 3.45 staff ERA is almost two runs better than the second-best number in the league. JSU hitters also lead the SWAC in slugging, steals, doubles and triples, and the pitchers lead in strikeouts, shutouts, complete games and saves. All-SWAC candidates abound: Lamar Briggs, Miguel Yrigoyen, Jesus Santana, Bryce Brown, Cornelius Copeland. Two of the Tigers’ three SWAC losses came against Alabama State in early March; JSU got some payback by sweeping the Hornets three straight on the road last weekend. The other loss was to Alcorn in Biloxi on March 17. Johnson has rather quietly built a nice resume at JSU with well over 300 wins in 11 seasons, two SWAC championships and several division titles. More hardware may be coming. Baseball America projects the Tigers as SWAC champs and an NCAA regional participant. With an RPI that likely will be around 200, they’ll have to win the tournament to get in. P.S. William Carey University, ranked 23rd in the latest NAIA poll, gets a crack at No. 2 Faulkner in a three-game SSAC series this weekend in Montgomery, Ala. Faulkner, which had been No. 1 the previous six weeks, is 39-8, 14-4, just a notch ahead of the Crusaders (29-14, 15-6) in the league standings. Faulkner’s T.J. Condon leads the SSAC in home runs (18) and RBIs (57). Carey’s James Land, who has 15 homers, is the league’s top hitter at .392. Faulkner’s Israel Fuentes and Ivan Pelaez rank 2-3 in ERA, with Carey’s Lane Fazende and Cole Edgens at 4-5. … Belhaven is ranked 10th in the NCCAA poll released this week and may be positioned for an invitation to the organization’s national tournament. The Blazers are 23-14 heading into their last American Southwest Conference series of the season at LeTourneau. BU, in transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III, is not eligible for the ASC Tournament.