Well, that was impressive. Pearl River Community College, riding a barrage of home runs, plowed though four top 10 teams in four days to advance to the NJCAA Division II World Series in Enid, Okla. The Wildcats, ranked No. 6, overpowered No. 1 LSU-Eunice 11-2 for the Region 23 title on Saturday, a day after beating No. 2 Itawamba 21-13 on ICC’s home field in Fulton. “We went through the toughest of teams and we finished it,” PRCC coach Michael Avalon said in a school release. “I’m so proud of them.” The Wildcats (40-12), wearing their “championship gold” unies on Saturday, got two homers from Dexter Jordan, another from Kasey Donald and a strong start from Colin Danley to end the season for LSU-E, the defending national champ. The Wildcats also hit three homers — two by Reece Ewing — in their shocking win over ICC and tallied 10 bombs for the tournament. They entered the event leading the state in homers and now have 83 all told. … It’s on to Tampa, Fla., for Delta State, which won its NCAA Division II South Sub-Regional in Cleveland and will next face Tampa in a Super Regional with a berth in the D-II World Series on the line. … It’s on to Hoover, Ala., for Mississippi State and Ole Miss and on to Biloxi for Southern Miss. The Bulldogs and Rebels will be playing primarily for NCAA Tournament seeding position in this week’s SEC tourney, while the Golden Eagles may be playing to keep their season alive in the C-USA Tournament. … It’s on to 2020 for Jackson State and Alcorn State, both of whom fell early in the SWAC Tournament at New Orleans. The Tigers, a 2-seed. went 1-2, losing twice to 3-seed Texas Southern. Alcorn did a 2-and-out. … Props to MUW for reaching the semifinals of the USCAA Small College World Series last week. … And props, too, to MHSAA champions DeSoto Central, West Jones, New Hope, North Pontotoc, Calhoun City and Smithville. Calhoun City beat Taylorsville in Game 3 of the Class 2A series on Saturday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
As we await the announcement on Monday of the 2019 Ferriss Trophy winner, it feels like a good time to check in on the last two winners of the state’s top college player award, both now in the minor leagues. Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin, last year’s honoree, is dealing at Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system. The sidearming right-hander, a second-round pick last June, has an 0.79 ERA in 10 games (11 1/3 innings) with 17 strikeouts. He earned his first save with a two-inning effort on Thursday night, fanning four of the eight batters he faced. Sandlin zipped through four levels of the minors in 2018, topping out at Akron, and posted a 3.00 ERA, two wins and five saves in 25 games. The Indians moved Sandlin back to the bullpen after he served as the No. 1 starter for USM last year. The 2017 Ferriss winner, Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, moved quickly up Minnesota’s ladder after being a supplemental first-rounder in June ’17, starting this season at Triple-A Rochester. But the righty-hitting outfielder/first baseman has scuffled at the new level, batting just .222 with six homers and 12 RBIs while striking out 43 times in 90 at-bats. Rooker hit 40 homers over his first two pro seasons and was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. P.S. Cody Reed, the veteran lefty out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, was recalled today by Cincinnati from Triple-A Louisville. He got into one game with the Reds earlier this season and has 40 appearances over the past four years.
Things went a little nuts Thursday in Starkville, where the runaway train that is Mississippi State scored 24 runs, its most in an SEC game in 22 years, to blow away South Carolina. The Bulldogs (44-10, 19-9 SEC and 31-4 at Dudy Noble Field) had a seven-run inning and two five-run innings. Twelve different players scored, with Jake Mangum and Tanner Allen crossing the plate four times each. Eleven different players got a hit, with Allen going 5-for-5. Four Dogs homered. Oh, and Ethan Small breezed through five innings to improve to 8-1.
Delta State, behind the pitching – again — of Hunter Riggins, beat Embry-Riddle 5-1 in an NCAA Division II South Sub-Regional game at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. Riggins, who somehow did not make the final five in the Ferriss Trophy voting, threw a seven-hitter with six strikeouts to move to 11-3 and trim his ERA to 2.03. DSU is now 40-12, winning 40 for the 15th time under coach Mike Kinnison. The Statesmen get Valdosta State in a winner’s bracket game today.
In the big juco showdown at Cresap Field in Fulton, No. 2-ranked Itawamba Community College took down No. 1 LSU-Eunice 5-2 in the winner’s bracket of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. LaBryant Siddell drove in two runs and scored two for ICC (41-6-1). Justin Medlin (7-1) went 6 1/3 innings for the win, striking out 11, and Kyle Crigger worked the final 2 2/3 for the save. ICC next plays Pearl River, which beat Gulf Coast 12-11 in 11 innings as Shemar Page homered twice.
At Trustmark Park in Pearl, West Jones (Class 5A) and North Pontotoc (3A) claimed MHSAA state championships, New Hope rallied late to win its 4A opener and emergent draft prospect Jared Johnson pitched Smithville to a 4-2 win over Stringer in 1A. Johnson, a sturdy 6-foot-3, 200-pound right-hander, wasn’t particularly sharp but yielded just two cheap singles over seven innings, notching eight strikeouts and five walks. He hit 94 mph on the stadium gun and was consistently around 92. The MSU (and former ICC) commit is 9-0 with an 0.68 ERA.
While the debut — OK, the smashing debut — of Austin Riley in Atlanta was a compelling event on Wednesday, there was some other significant stuff going on closer to home. At Trustmark Park in Pearl, DeSoto Central High — Riley’s alma mater — beat St. Martin 3-1 in the first game of the MHSAA Class 6A championship series. West Jones beat Lafayette 10-1 in 5A, North Pontotoc beat Magee 12-2 in 3A and Taylorsville beat Calhoun City 8-1 in 2A. In Fulton, No. 2-ranked Itawamba Community College scrambled past Mississippi Gulf Coast 8-7 in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. ICC’s Jackson Lancaster got the win in relief and also had a homer among his three hits. With the win, ICC (40-6-1) moves into a winner’s bracket showdown today with No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice (49-6), which beat Northwest in its opener. Pearl River knocked off Jones, sending the Bobcats into an elimination game against Gulf Coast. In New Orleans, Jackson State lost to Texas Southern and Alcorn State fell to Grambling in the first round of the SWAC Tournament. JSU (30-23), which entered the tourney on something of a nice roll, now faces elimination today against Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Alcorn (14-30) plays a loser’s bracket game today against Prairie View. At Cleveland today, Delta State plays Embry-Riddle in the first round of the NCAA Division II regionals. P.S. For the record, by homering in his Atlanta rookie debut, Riley joins a list that includes Bob Horner, Marty Malloy, Jermaine Dye, Jeff Francoeur, Jordan Schafer, Jason Heyward and Evan Gattis. Like Riley, Francoeur, Schafer, Heyward and Gattis are Mississippi Braves alumni.
And the National League leader in wins is – drumroll, please — former Wheeler High and Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, who notched his sixth on Tuesday. Not what anyone would have predicted for mid-May. The big right-hander threw six innings of one-hit ball as Milwaukee beat Philadelphia 6-1 in a matchup of two of the NL’s best clubs. Woodruff walked five but fanned five in winning his fourth straight start. “The fastball is really overpowering at times, it feels like,” Craig Counsell told mlb.com. “He’s using it well, he’s throwing his off-speed for strikes; it’s a good recipe for success.” Woodruff is 6-1 with a 3.72 ERA in nine starts this season, his third in the big leagues. He also got a hit in three at-bats Tuesday and is at .350 for the year. … Though he doesn’t have the win total to show for it, ex-Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull actually has pitched better than Woodruff to date. The Detroit Tigers rookie right-hander is 2-2 with a 2.42 ERA, fourth-best in the American League, in eight outings. Over his last five starts, Turnbull is 2-0 with a 1.21. He last pitched on Sunday vs. Minnesota, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings and departing with a lead. He got a no-decision after the sub-.500 Tigers’ bullpen blew the save. P.S. Miguel Sano, who was at Trustmark Park in Pearl last week on a rehab assignment with Double-A Pensacola, has been activated by the Twins. Accompanying Sano on the rehab assignment was Sam Perlozzo, a Twins senior advisor who managed the Jackson Mets to back-to-back Texas League championships in 1984-85.
In a move that seemed like a long time coming, Austin Riley, the former DeSoto Central High and Mississippi Braves star, will be promoted to Atlanta today, according to multiple reports. Riley, 22, was a supplemental first-round pick in 2015 and has been ranked among the Braves’ top prospects ever since. He has been on a sizzling streak at the plate for Triple-A Gwinnett with seven homers in his last 10 games, including one – No. 15 on the season – Tuesday night. He hit 14 homers over parts of two seasons with the M-Braves and has 86 home runs in 463 pro games all told. Primarily a third baseman, he had played some left field recently for Gwinnett. The Braves are expected to put center fielder Ender Inciarte on the injured list.
Former Biloxi Shuckers star Keston Hiura, Milwaukee’s No. 1 prospect, has been called up to the big leagues. Hiura, a second baseman, was batting .333 with 11 home runs at Triple-A San Antonio. A first-round pick in 2017, he played for the Shuckers in 2018, batting .272 with six homers in 73 games, and was MVP of the ’18 Arizona Fall League. Hiura, likely to start tonight at Philadelphia, is the 27th Shuckers alum to advance to The Show since the team’s debut at MGM Park in 2015. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Brandon Woodruff, another Shuckers alum, is slated to start for the Brewers. He is 5-1 with a 4.25 ERA. Among the other former Shuckers currently with Milwaukee are closer Josh Hader and shortstop Orlando Arcia.
If you saw Tommy La Stella play for the 2013 Mississippi Braves, you knew he could hit. The lefty-swinging infielder batted .343 in 81 games. The power he’s displaying in 2019 isn’t something anyone has seen before. Now with the Los Angeles Angels, La Stella belted his 10th home run of the season in a victory at Minnesota on Monday night. That’s as many as he had hit in his previous five MLB seasons combined. La Stella – which means “The Star” in Italian – has more homers this year than Angels stars Mike Trout or Albert Pujols. With 24 RBIs, he trails only Trout on the club. La Stella also has more homers than any other M-Braves alum in the majors; Ronald Acuna is second in that pack with eight. After his big year in Pearl in 2013 (when he hit four homers), La Stella made it to Atlanta the next season. He was dealt to the Chicago Cubs in November of 2014 for Arodys Vizcaino and spent four years with the Cubbies, winning a ring in 2016. The Angels acquired him last November. His emergence as a regular has taken at-bats away from Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart, who is mired in a deep slump (.136, no homers). P.S. Former M-Braves star Dansby Swanson is the second-most improved hitter in the big leagues this year, behind only Cody Bellinger. That’s according to a detailed analysis by mlb.com’s Mike Petriello. After a couple of disappointing years in Atlanta, Swanson is currently batting .268 with six homers and 25 RBIs – plus, according to the mlb.com piece, striking out less, walking more and hitting the ball harder and higher.
The stakes are higher now for Delta State and many others in the state. Fresh off another Gulf South Conference Tournament championship, DSU will host an NCAA Division II South Sub-Regional starting Thursday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. The Statesmen (39-12), who won the GSC title for the 15th time last week, will play Embry-Riddle in their opener. Eckerd and Valdosta State meet in the other game. Tampa is hosting the other sub-regional with West Florida, Nova Southeastern and Spring Hill also in the field. Mississippi College, which went 2-and-out in the GSC tourney, did not get a regional bid. MC’s season ends at 28-17, and GSC player of the year Blaine Crim’s career ends, as well. He hit .379 with 11 homers in 2019. … Jackson State, 30-22 and a 2-seed in the SWAC Tournament, plays Texas Southern on Wednesday at New Orleans, while Alcorn State (14-29 and a 3-seed) meets Grambling. The tourney winner gets an NCAA bid, likely the only one the SWAC will receive. … The NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament begins Wednesday at Fulton, with host and MACJC champ Itawamba Community College playing Mississippi Gulf Coast, Jones meeting Pearl River and Northwest drawing No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. The region winner goes to the Juco World Series. Gulf Coast, powered by Brandon Parker and Cullan O’Shea, swept Meridian in their best-of-3 playoff, but the other three series went three games. Northwest beat Northeast, Jones topped Hinds (behind Coleton Ausburn’s Game 3 shutout) and Pearl River whipped East Central (thanks in part to another big homer by Dexter Jordan in the rubber game). … MUW, 16-11 in its second year of competition, opens play today in the non-scholarship USCAA Small College World Series at DuBois, Penn. … The MHSAA Tournament finals begin Wednesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. DeSoto Central hosts Northwest Rankin today for a berth in the Class 6A finals against St. Martin, which is coached by former Ole Miss and Jackson Generals star Kary Bridges.
Funny how these things happen in baseball. In five starts and two relief appearances for the Los Angeles Angels this season, Chris Stratton was 0-2 with an ERA over 8.00. Traded to Pittsburgh on Saturday – and reunited with ex-Mississippi State teammate Adam Frazier – Stratton made his debut on Sunday, pitched a scoreless inning and got the win as the Pirates rallied past St. Louis 10-6. Frazier, pinch-hitting for Stratton in the seventh inning, knocked in the go-ahead run with a two-run double. Stratton and Frazier were a dynamic duo for the 2012 Bulldogs, who won the SEC Tournament. Frazier batted .371 that season and was MVP of the league tourney. Stratton went 11-2 with a 2.38 ERA, earned first-team All-America honors, the SEC pitcher of the year award and the Ferriss Trophy. He was drafted in the first round by San Francisco that June. The Tupelo native went 15-14, 4.63 over parts of three seasons with the Giants, who traded him to the Angels at the end of spring training. He was designated for assignment by L.A. on May 7. With the Pirates, he’ll reportedly work mainly out of the bullpen. … The Pirates’ rally on Sunday at Busch Stadium denied Dakota Hudson, another former Bulldogs ace and first-round pick, what would have been his third win of 2019. He left with a 6-3 lead after six innings. Hudson is 2-3, 4.61 in nine games, eight starts.