Opening day is always a special occasion. Belhaven University’s 2019 opener on Feb. 8 at Smith-Wills Stadium has taken on added significance. It’ll be the first game of the last season of Hill Denson’s illustrious coaching career. Denson announced via the school website that he has decided to retire after more than 50 years of coaching at the prep and college level. He has won more than 1,200 games all told, collected a bundle of trophies and awards and been elected to numerous Halls of Fame, including the American Baseball Coaches Association just last year. A former Southern Miss player, he helped lay the foundation for what that program has become during his 14 seasons as the coach there; the field at Taylor Park is named in his honor. He also took Belhaven baseball to new heights, including a trip to the NAIA World Series, over his 19-year tenure. During one memorable year (2005), he coached the Blazers and managed Jackson’s independent pro team, the Jackson Senators. Denson is a down-home, good guy who has had a wide-ranging impact on baseball in this state. This final season is one to celebrate all that, yes, but it’ll be tinged with sadness. Games at Smith-Wills won’t be the same without him.
A little history will be made today. Mississippi University for Women is slated for its inaugural baseball game at the University of Dallas. The Owls, coached by Matt Wolfenbarger, have a 36-player roster comprised mostly of freshmen with a few junior college transfers sprinkled in. MUW, which has applied for NCAA Division III membership, will play four games at Dallas, a D-III school in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, then return for a seven-game homestand at Columbus High starting Feb. 16. … Belhaven University also opens today at Centenary in Shreveport, La. This will be the 18th season at BU for Hill Denson, the former Southern Miss coach who was formally inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame last month. The Blazers, still in transition to Division III status, went 26-14 in 2017. They had two players make the American Southwest Conference preseason watch list: Will Costinett (.311, 11 homers in 2017) and Austin Douglas (3-1, 3.86 ERA). … Incidentally, Belhaven will host MUW at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson on April 11. P.S. Jones County Junior College, ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA’s Division II preseason poll and No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball, opens the season on Saturday against Southwest Tennessee CC in Ellisville.
The news slipped by quietly. Silento Sayles retired on July 6 at age 21. The former Port Gibson High star – who garnered national attention when he stole a prep record 103 bases during his senior year in 2013 – was playing for Mahoning Valley, the Cleveland Indians’ affiliate in the short-season New York-Penn League. In seven games, Sayles was batting .143 with no steals. Drafted by the Indians in the 14th round in 2013, Sayles was projected by some as the next Billy Hamilton, the Taylorsville High product who set a minor league stolen base record en route to the big leagues. But the 5-foot-9, 185-pound Sayles stole only 36 bases and was caught stealing 18 times in his 200 minor league games. He batted .222 with a .320 on-base average. Sayles is one of those players who probably would have benefitted from playing college ball before jumping into the pros. P.S. Kudos to Brent Rooker, who was promoted to high Class A Fort Myers by Minnesota, and Hill Denson, who will be inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2018. Ex-Mississippi State star Rooker, the 35th overall pick last month, went 0-for-4 in his Florida State League debut; he was batting .270 with seven homers in rookie ball. Denson, now the coach at Belhaven University after a long tenure at Southern Miss, has more than 1,000 wins on a resume that includes many coach of the year honors and other achievements.
Cody Satterwhite, the former Ole Miss star out of Hillcrest Christian, is pitching for Triple-A Syracuse in the Washington system. He is 0-2 with a 5.79 ERA in eight appearances. Satterwhite has been in pro ball since 2008, battling through injuries and still chasing the big league dream. The 30-year-old right-hander spent part of last season in Japan, signed with Baltimore in the off-season, was released at the end of spring training and caught on with the Nationals. … Also on the Syracuse roster are Pascagoula’s Joey Butler (.275 in 15 games) and UM product Aaron Barrett (on the disabled list). Butler last appeared in the majors in 2015 with Tampa Bay; he spent 2016 in the Cleveland system. Barrett, who had earned a role in the Nats’ pen in 2014-15, missed all of 2016 with an injury, became a free agent and re-signed with Washington this year. … Ex-Itawamba Community College star and veteran big leaguer Desmond Jennings is hitting .237 with six home runs and 19 RBIs at Triple-A Las Vegas in the New York Mets’ system. Released by Tampa Bay last summer, Jennings signed with Cincinnati, got released again in spring and landed with the Mets. … Murrah High alum and onetime Mississippi Braves pitcher Zack Bird is now in the Texas organization but on the disabled list at Class A Down East. Bird, who made three appearances for the M-Braves in 2015, posted an 8.87 ERA in 28 games in A-ball for the Braves in 2016. The Rangers claimed the big right-hander on waivers. … Tanner Cable, the Belhaven University alum from Southaven, signed with the Gateway Grizzlies of the independent Frontier League shortly after the Blazers’ season ended and has a 3.64 ERA over six games. Cable, who also pitched at Northwest CC and Delta State, was 9-2, 2.29 ERA in two seasons at Belhaven.
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.
From early indications, Belhaven University is going to bounce back from what Hill Denson called his program’s “worst season.” The Blazers, who slumped to 20-18 in 2016, are 7-3 heading into a three-game weekend series at Texas-Tyler, which is ranked in the latest d3baseball.com poll. The Blazers, not yet eligible for the postseason in NCAA Division III, are ranked No. 8 in the National Christian College Athletic Association poll. Making the NCCAA’s postseason tournament is a reasonable goal for BU, which appears to have a good balance of power and speed plus depth in its pitching staff. Terrell Hodges, in his second season in the green and gold, is batting .412 with two homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs. Fellow veterans Daniel Ammirati and J.G. Miley are at .375 and .342, respectively, and Miley has five steals. Stephen Sexton, a Pontotoc native who transferred in from Arkansas-Monticello, has stood out among the newcomers with a .353 average, three homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs. Tyler Wolfe, a juco transfer, and Tanner Cable, injured much of 2016, have been the pitching stalwarts. Wolfe is 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA and two complete games, while Cable is 1-0, 2.18. P.S. There are no parades scheduled in Hattiesburg or Perkinston, but both William Carey and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College are celebrating homecomings. Carey, forced from its campus by the Jan. 21 tornado, will play at Wheeler Field for the first time, hosting Loyola-New Orleans for a three-game Southern States Athletic Conference set that begins today. WCU is 12-4 with eight straight wins. In Perkinston, Gulf Coast will play Illinois Central in a Saturday twinbill in its first games at renovated Farris Field since April 2015. The Bulldogs are off to a 9-1 start. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Delta State, which has played only one of its 13 games at home, will host Union in a three-game Gulf South Conference series this weekend at Ferriss Field. DSU is 10-3, 4-2 GSC.
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.
Smith-Wills Stadium, approaching its 42nd birthday, will crackle to life again today for Belhaven University’s season opener. BU takes on Berry College at 4 p.m. at the Jackson ballpark, which opened in April of 1975 as the home of the Double-A Jackson Mets. The Blazers have called Smith-Wills home since 2006 – after the last pro tenant departed — and the big yard with the artificial surface has been a good fit. They went 12-7 at home in 2016 en route to a disappointing 20-18 overall record. Two key players return from that team: Terrell Hodges, a former Northwest Rankin High and Holmes Community College star, and Tanner Cable, an ex-Delta State pitcher. Both made the American Southwest Conference preseason watch list. Hodges, an outfielder, had a monster year in 2016, batting .397 with seven homers, 26 RBIs, 43 runs and 30 stolen bases in 38 games. Cable, a right-hander, was 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA in an injury-shortened campaign. Also back is third baseman Daniel Ammirati, a .331 hitter last year. Belhaven is still in transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III and is not yet eligible for the ASC Tournament or D-III postseason play. P.S. Jones County Junior College also opens today with a considerable target on its back. The defending NJCAA Division II national champs were ranked No. 1 by the NJCAA and Collegiate Baseball magazine and were pegged as the team to beat in D-II by Baseball America. The Bobcats, 54-9 in 2016, return a wealth of talent, featuring the power of Erick Hoard and Tanner Huddleston, the speed of Shelton Wallace and Fred Franklin and an armada of arms. JCJC starts with a twinbill today against Southwest Tennessee at Community Bank Park in Ellisville.
The Jones County Junior College express just keeps rolling on. The Bobcats, ranked fourth in the nation, beat Holmes Community College in Goodman 15-13 and 5-4 on Tuesday, improving to 18-2 in the MACJC and 35-3 overall under new coach Chris Kirtland. Over just its last 11 games, JCJC has won by scores of 11-1, 12-2, 13-3, 9-1, 13-3, 14-3, 20-1 and 8-3 before the sweep of Holmes. … Mississippi Gulf Coast CC’s Brian Lane was named MACJC player of the week after batting .571 with a homer and six RBIs and extending a hitting streak to 11 games in four contests last week. The Delta State signee is batting .411 on the year with 29 RBIs. … In Cleveland on Tuesday, DSU’s Will Robertson, having a monster season, went 4-for-6 with two doubles and a homer in a sweep of Ouachita Baptist. Robertson’s 26th double broke the school record held by, among others, Statesmen coach Mike Kinnison. Robertson, a redshirt senior from Falkner, is batting .451 with six homers and 59 RBIs for the 30-13 Statesmen, ranked 15th in NCAA Division II. … Logan Ferrell, Caleb Upton and Hunter Bolin combined for 10 hits as Mississippi College beat Belhaven University 13-9 on Tuesday at Smith-Wills Stadium in a game between Maloney Trophy Series combatants. MC went 2-0 against BU this season and beat Millsaps in their only meeting. … Millsaps (19-19), which wound up fourth in the Southern Athletic Association regular season, will play No. 5 seed Berry in the first round of tournament play on Friday at Birmingham-Southern. BSC, the regular season champ, opens with Sewanee in one of the two four-team, double-elimination pods. The winners from the two pods meet in a best-of-3 series for the SAA championship. … Here’s an interesting stat on Jackson State’s Jesus Santana. Of his 33 hits, 10 have left the park; he also has eight doubles. The Tigers (21-17) host the University of New Orleans tonight at Braddy Field. … Tate Blackman got a hit for Ole Miss on Tuesday, extending his streak of reaching base to 22 of 23 games as the Rebels whipped Memphis 7-0 at AutoZone Park. The nationally ranked Rebels (27-10) also blasted three homers in the minor league ballpark. … Southern Miss, also ranked in some polls, lost at Tulane 12-0 on Tuesday, perhaps looking ahead to the huge series against Rice this weekend in Hattiesburg. The Golden Eagles (27-11) and Owls are tied for first in C-USA at 12-3. … Mississippi State (24-12-1) takes its various national rankings to Biloxi tonight to play Louisiana-Monroe at MGM Park. ULM’s roster includes seven Mississippi juco products, among them ex-Hinds CC star Keller Bradford, son of former big leaguer Chad. Keller has a 2.78 ERA in 23 relief appearances for the Warhawks.
Mississippi State jumped to No. 5 (from 10th) in the new Baseball America poll, and on Tuesday the Bulldogs will jump back into the fray against Southern Miss, unranked but rolling, in the first of the three College Series games at Trustmark Park in Pearl. This should be good. State, at 17-7-1, has more losses than any team ranked 13th or higher in the BA poll. But the Bulldogs have beaten Vanderbilt and Georgia two of three in their first two SEC series, apparently impressing the pollsters. USM is 19-6, coming off a sweep of a C-USA series against Texas-San Antonio. The Golden Eagles won last year’s College Series game, ending a six-game skid against State with a 3-0 victory before a rowdy crowd of 5,438 at the TeePee. You can debate the significance of these midweek games, but last year’s sure seemed to be a harbinger. USM was 13-8-1 at the time, finished 35-16-1. State was 18-8 and finished 24-30. If nothing else, a win for USM on Tuesday would be a big boost toward cracking the national polls. Looming just ahead for State is a home series with Ole Miss, 20-5 but coming off a lost weekend against South Carolina that dropped the Rebels from seventh to 13th in the BA poll. … A few miles from Trustmark Park on Tuesday, Millsaps will host Belhaven at Twenty Field in the second Maloney Trophy Series game of the year. The Majors topped their NCAA Division III rivals 10-7 last week. … And a short hop from Twenty Field on Tuesday, Hinds Community College and East Central CC will play an MACJC doubleheader at Smith-Wills Stadium. Hinds, ranked in preseason, is 11-13 and 3-5. ECCC is 19-7, 7-3.