Hattiesburg native and onetime big leaguer Robert Carson is still out there chucking it in the hinterlands of pro baseball. Carson is a main bullpen piece for Southern Maryland, which won the first-half title in the Freedom Division of the independent Atlantic League. The Atlantic League, which is filled with a lot of veteran talent, is in the last week of its regular season with the playoffs looming. Carson, 28, a large left-hander, has a 4.00 ERA and a 3-4 record in 55 games for the Blue Crabs. He is in his 11th pro season, with 447 appearances on his ledger, including 31 for the New York Mets in 2012-13. Also in the league is former Ole Miss pitcher Hawtin Buchanan, who has put up a 3.26 ERA in 37 games as a reliever for York. The Revolution is close to clinching the second-half race in the Freedom Division. The 6-foot-8 Buchanan, originally drafted by Seattle in 2014, was released by Cincinnati in the spring. Alcorn State product Angel Rosa is the shortstop for Bridgeport, hitting .219 with two homers and 16 RBIs for a team that has the league’s best overall record but likely will miss the playoffs. Rosa, who played in the Southern League for Mobile this year, was released in mid-summer by the Los Angeles Angels. Jackson native Stan Cliburn, a veteran Atlantic League manager, is the skipper in New Britain, but his Bees are not a postseason contender in 2017.
There were two huge stunners in the opening round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Ellisville and upsets of considerable weight in Hattiesburg and Pearl, as well, on Wednesday. To wit: NJCAA Division II No. 1 Jones County Junior College squandered a four-run lead and fell to Pearl River 5-4 in the regional, and Hinds upended second-ranked LSU-Eunice 6-2. John Moore and Lucas Scott got clutch hits for PRCC and Colby White did the clutch mound work. Jones lost for just the third time all season and first time at home. The Wildcats and Hinds will play in a winner’s bracket game today. Jones meets East Central in an elimination game. … William Carey University won twice to stay alive in the NAIA Opening Round tourney at Wheeler Field. In their second game of the day, the Crusaders rallied to beat top-seeded and ninth-ranked Southeastern (Fla.) University 6-4, forcing a winner-take-all game today for a berth in the NAIA World Series. Carey scored twice in the ninth to tie the score, then went ahead in the 10th on a Christian Smith two-run single. Closer Lane Fazende worked the last three innings to get the win. … West Lauderdale High entered the MHSAA state finals at Trustmark Park with a 31-2 record and is the only Mississippi school ranked by Baseball America at No. 10. But Corinth (29-8) jumped on the Knights for three runs in the first inning and Kyle Crigger made the lead stand up with a complete game effort in a 5-3 win in Game 1 of the best-of-3 Class 4A series. P.S. There also was an upset of note in the SWAC Tournament in New Orleans as Alcorn State, the 4-seed from the East, beat West No. 1 Grambling State 7-6 in 11 innings.
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.
Beyond that big SEC series going on in Oxford this weekend – and Game 1 certainly moved the needle on the drama meter – there are other games of interest scattered around the state. In Lorman, at Rat McGowan Field, Alcorn State hosts Alabama State, the SWAC leader, in a three-game set. The Braves, 3-6 in the league, have a chance to climb the standings by taking down the 7-2 Hornets, who feature the league’s leading hitter, Cage Cox from Cairo, Ga. In Hattiesburg, at Wheeler Field, NAIA No. 9 William Carey, which has lost three straight games, tries to get back on track in an SSAC series against Bethel, which comes in at 18-12, 5-4. Carey is 23-9, 9-3. They are two of the top hitting teams in a league known for hitting. In Jackson, at Twenty Field on the Millsaps campus, the Majors, needing to make a stand in the Southern Athletic Association race, face off against Hendrix, which is in a similar situation. Millsaps (11-15 overall) is 2-6 in the league, Hendrix (9-16) 3-6. In Fulton, at Cresap Field, ninth-ranked Itawamba Community College hosts MACJC leader Pearl River CC for a Saturday doubleheader. ICC is 18-4, 5-1 in conference. Unranked PRCC is 15-5, 6-0, and has won 10 straight. The Wildcats have four regulars batting .327 or better – Lucas Scott leads the way at .436 — and five pitchers with two wins, including Colby White, who also has three saves. At Oak Grove High’s R.A. Clinton Park, the Warriors, ranked No. 15 in MaxPreps’ latest Xcellent 25, will look to beef up their 15-1 record when they host Meridian today and Seminary on Saturday (before a trip to Purvis on Saturday night). Oak Grove is led by Drew Boyd, a Southern Miss signee who is hitting .396 with four bombs and boasts a 4-0, 0.00 pitching ledger.
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.
The Winter Meetings are generating almost as much excitement as the World Series, with the names of quite a few Mississippians churning through the rumor mill these days. Mitch Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State star from Amory, reportedly has signed a 1-year, $5.5 million deal with Boston, where he’ll likely platoon with Hanley Ramirez at first base. The Red Sox, having acquired Chris Sale, may look to trade away a starter, possibly Ole Miss alum Drew Pomeranz. Former UM star Seth Smith apparently is being shopped by Seattle, which is said to be looking for starting pitching. Southern Miss product Brian Dozier has been linked to the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers but says he wants to remain with Minnesota. There were rumblings that Texas was interested in Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton to play center field before the club re-signed Carlos Gomez. P.S. Catching up: Ex-Ole Miss standout David Goforth accepted an assignment to Triple-A Colorado Springs in Milwaukee’s system. … Scott Copeland, the former Southern Miss ace, signed a minor league deal with Miami. … Greenwood native and Pillow Academy product Louis Coleman, non-tendered by the Dodgers, is on the free agent market, as is Alcorn State alum Earl Burl III, who was recently released by Toronto after two sub-par minor league seasons.
Delta State, in a major rebuilding mode this fall, is holding its Green-and-White Series today and Saturday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. Most of the key players from last year’s 42-17 team are gone, and 22 newcomers were positioning for jobs during fall ball. The notable returnees are left-hander Tre Hobbs, a 13-game winner and All-America candidate, Juwan Burney (.321 in 26 games) and Dakota Glore (.290 in 32). … Alcorn State’s program took a tough 0-for-4 this week. According to the penalties handed down by the NCAA Committee on Infractions, all of the Braves’ wins from the 2012 through the 2015 seasons are vacated. As in, gone. Brett Richardson gets to keep the 16 wins he picked up in 2016, his first season as coach. The SWAC Tournament championship from 2011 was unaffected. … Ole Miss’ highly touted recruiting class has generated a lot of buzz this fall, but veteran Colby Bortles rates some attention, too. The senior third baseman has been raking this fall, according to every report out of Oxford. He had seven hits, including two homers, and four RBIs in last weekend’s scrimmages. Bortles hit .269 with eight homers and 50 RBIs for the Rebels in 2016. … Fall ball has to feel a little weird in Starkville with John Cohen expected to move into the athletic director’s chair and hand the reins to a new coach for 2017. Mississippi State has scrimmages set for today, Saturday and Sunday. Freshman Dustin Skelton, the ex-Magnolia Heights star who can catch and play third base, reportedly stood out in last weekend’s games. … Southern Miss players will be presented with their 2016 Conference USA championship rings at the Oct. 29 homecoming football game against Marshall. The Golden Eagles made the NCAAs last season for the first time since 2011 and finished 41-20.