The lawnmower doesn’t always crank the first time for that first mow of the season. Some sputtering and stalling out can occur. Delta State’s baseball team knows the feeling. The Statesmen’s engine didn’t turn over for the start of their season. They scored just five runs (and stranded 24 baserunners) in three straight losses to Nova Southeastern in Florida over the weekend. Next up is Arkansas-Monticello today. Look for DSU to rev it up against the Boll Weevils. William Carey also got off to a sluggish start, losing its first five games before finally notching a victory. But there were no such problems for Belhaven, Mississippi College and Hinds Community College, to mention a few. BU is 6-2, including a win over NAIA defending national champion Cumberland, and winds up its nine-game season-opening homestand today against winless Tougaloo. Emilio DeSilva and Joey Harris are both humming along at .400 for the Blazers and have combined to drive in 24 runs. MC mowed over Tougaloo three straight by a 51-9 cumulative score and then chewed up equally outmanned Lemoyne-Owen 21-1 and 7-0 on Tuesday. Former Starkville Academy star Hunter Bolin is batting an eye-popping .588 with eight RBIs and nine runs for the Choctaws. Hinds, ranked No. 2 in the juco polls, beat Mineral Area (Mo.) in a pair of doubleheaders last weekend as Chase Lunceford cranked out six hits in 10 at-bats with a homer, two RBIs and five runs.
Cody Satterwhite, on the comeback trail from a variety of injuries, has received a non-roster invite to the New York Mets’ big league spring camp. The former Ole Miss standout from Jackson, now 28, notched 15 saves with a 2.33 ERA at Double-A Binghamton in 2014. It wouldn’t be a shock to see him land a role in the Mets’ bullpen. … Former Mississippi State ace Chris Stratton, San Francisco’s top pick in 2012, has a non-roster invite to the Giants’ camp. Stratton, from Tupelo, reached Double-A last season. … Belhaven University, 4-0 after whipping Tougaloo 16-2 on Tuesday, will host the BU Invitational starting Thursday at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Blazers will play Culver-Stockton; NAIA nationally ranked Missouri Baptist, which swept William Carey three straight last weekend; and NAIA national champ Cumberland University. … Tougaloo’s game at Belhaven on Tuesday marked the coaching debut of former Jackson State star (and onetime Jackson Generals pitcher) Earl Sanders. … Blue Mountain went 1-2 last weekend at Georgia Gwinnett despite allowing 36 runs. … Hinds Community College, the No. 2 team in the national juco polls, has moved its opener to Friday (from Saturday) in Raymond. The Eagles will play two against Mineral Area (Mo.). … Also opening on Friday are Mississippi College, which will take on Tougaloo at Frierson Field in Clinton, and Delta State, which travels to Nova Southeastern in Florida. … The NCAA Division I schools start on Feb. 13. Both State and Ole Miss are ranked in various national polls. … Also slated to start on Feb. 13 is Division III Millsaps, which hosts Ozarks (Ark.) at Twenty Field on its Jackson campus.
When last we saw the Belhaven Blazers — on May 14 of last year — they were walking off the Smith-Wills Stadium turf following an 8-7 loss to Oklahoma Wesleyan. That heartbreaking defeat, in an NAIA opening round regional, ended BU’s season at 42-21. Today, the Blazers turn the page. They’ll walk back onto the Smith-Wills turf to start the 2015 season against Saint Francis (Ind.). Among Belhaven’s returning cast are two key position players: NAIA All-American Paul Pickerrell, who batted .345 with 44 RBIs, 48 runs and 38 steals, and Reagan Rutledge, a .278 hitter who swiped a school-record 64 bags, batted .278 and scored 60 runs. How those two go may well determine how the team goes. … Meanwhile, in Hattiesburg, William Carey also opens its season, facing NAIA nationally ranked Missouri Baptist at Wheeler Field, and a milestone watch begins in earnest. This is Bobby Halford’s 30th year as Carey’s coach, and he has 992 wins. The Crusaders (31-26 in 2014) are led by D.J. Johnson, who hit .305 last year.
Ready or not, the 2015 college baseball season begins in Mississippi one month from today, when Belhaven University hosts Saint Francis (Ind.) at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson and William Carey takes on Missouri Baptist in a twinbill at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Tougaloo, under new coach Earl Sanders, the former Jackson State star, opens on Feb. 3 at Belhaven. The Bulldogs will serve as the opening day foe for Mississippi College on Feb. 6 at Frierson Field in Clinton. MC, transitioning to NCAA Division II, begins playing a Gulf South Conference slate this season; the much-anticipated Delta State series will be April 11-12 in Clinton. DSU starts the 2015 campaign on the road on Feb. 6, playing Nova Southeastern in Florida. The Statesmen’s home opener at Ferriss Field in Cleveland is Feb. 18 against Harding. Opening day for NCAA Division I schools is Feb. 13, and each of the Big 4 is at home: Ole Miss hosts William and Mary, Mississippi State gets Cincinnati, Southern Miss plays Murray State and Jackson State welcomes Texas-Pan American. Alcorn State opens at Savannah State. Mississippi Valley State hasn’t published a schedule. The Delta Devils’ opener will be the debut of coach Aaron Stevens, a longtime assistant to Doug Shanks, who retired in November to take a high school job at Central Hinds Academy. Shanks had a good run at Valley, winning five division titles, but 2014 was a rough year: 4-38, 4-17 in the SWAC. NAIA member Blue Mountain also has not released its schedule. P.S. The Maloney Trophy Series between Belhaven, MC and Millsaps, once a nine-game round-robin, has been reduced to a total of three games. Maybe it’s time to bring Tougaloo into the mix.
With five hits in his last three outings, Anthony Alford appears to be finding his stroke in the Australian Baseball League. The former Mr. Baseball from Petal High is 5-for-12 with a home run, six runs and two RBIs in his last three games for Canberra. For the young ABL season, Alford is at .219. Drafted by Toronto in the third round in 2012, Alford has just 94 minor-league at-bats to date as he had been focused on football, which he has now given up. … Mississippians Hunter Renfroe and Tim Anderson got kudos from mlb.com’s Jim Callis for their work in the Arizona Fall League, which wrapped up last week. Mississippi State product Renfroe, a San Diego prospect, batted .284 with a league-best six homers and 20 RBIs. He also led the AFL in extra base hits, total bases and slugging. Anderson, a Chicago White Sox prospect from East Central Community College, hit .301 with six steals. “(F)ew shortstops can match his tools,” Callis wrote. … Tyrell Jenkins, the 6-foot-4 right-hander acquired by Atlanta from St. Louis in the Jason Heyward deal, posted a 2.22 ERA in the AFL. Jenkins, 22, is a candidate for the Mississippi Braves’ roster in 2015, which will be his sixth pro season. He pitched in high-A ball this past season. … Former M-Braves star Jeff Francoeur will get another shot (how many is that?) at making a big league club next spring, this time with Philadelphia. Francouer had a big year (.289, 15 homers, 69 RBIs) in Triple-A with San Diego in 2014, though he didn’t hit at all in his MLB trial. … Ex-MSU standout Tyler Moore is batting .299 with six homers, 17 RBIs and 19 runs in 22 games in the Dominican Winter League as he attempts to improve his stock in the Washington organization. … Mississippi Gulf Coast CC alumnus Roy Corcoran, 34, is pitching in the Mexican Pacific League. The onetime major leaguer is 2-3 with a 3.66 ERA for Hermosillo. Corcoran, who originally signed with the Montreal Expos in 2001, pitched in independent ball the last two years. His last MLB season was 2009; he has a career 4.17 ERA in 82 games. … Belhaven University is ranked No. 14 in the NAIA preseason poll. The Blazers open the 2015 campaign on Jan. 30 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. William Carey also opens that day in Hattiesburg.
Hunter Renfroe mashed a grand slam in a televised Arizona Fall League game on Saturday. The former Mississippi State standout and San Diego prospect is batting .271 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in the AFL. … East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, also playing in the AFL, had another three-hit game on Saturday and is batting .313 with two homers and five stolen bases. The Chicago White Sox prospect missed a big chunk of the 2014 season because of a broken wrist. “I definitely saw some things that helped me become a better ballplayer,” he told mlb.com about his downtime. … Former Petal High star Anthony Alford, understandably rusty, is 2-for-16 with eight strikeouts in the Australian Baseball League, where Toronto sent him to get some work in preparation for his return to the minors in 2015. … Belhaven University senior second baseman Paul Pickerrell has been named to the NAIA preseason All-America team. The Pearl River CC transfer batted .345 with 38 runs and 38 steals for the Blazers in 2014. … Preston Brown threw five scoreless innings and Reid Humphreys, the former Northwest Rankin High star, went 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs as the Maroon beat the Gray 8-0 in a Mississippi State fall scrimmage on Saturday. … Hinds CC, the NJCAA Division II runner-up in 2014, will open its 2015 season on Feb. 7 in Raymond against Mineral Area (Mo.) College. The Eagles will play 28 MACJC games next season. With Meridian re-joining the state association, every team in the league will play two games against every other team. There are still North and South divisions, but the playoff qualifying system has been altered slightly.
Fall ball has cranked up at Ole Miss, where the Rebels welcomed back 20 players from last spring’s College World Series finalist and blended in 18 recruits from a class rated No. 15 in the nation by Collegiate Baseball. Sophomore Colby Bortles, a .250 hitter in a part-time role in 2014, went 5-for-7 with a home run, three RBIs and three runs in two intrasquad scrimmages last weekend. Mike Bianco’s Rebels are slated for games today and Saturday at Oxford-University Stadium. … For the record, Mississippi State’s recruiting class was rated No. 6 by Collegiate Baseball. Baseball America’s ratings have not been released. … Belhaven University’s Steak and Burgers Series is under way at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. The Green leads the Gold 2-0; Thursday’s game was halted after eight innings with the scored tied 5-5. The Blazers were an NAIA regional participant last spring. … Mississippi College held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its new Rice Field House on Thursday. The hope in Clinton is that the baseball-specific facility will aid in recruiting as the Choctaws move into NCAA Division II. They’ll play a Gulf South Conference schedule in 2015. … Two new coaches are on the job in the junior college ranks: former Delta State assistant Rodney Batts at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and Ken Jackson at Southwest Mississippi CC. Batts was replaced on Mike Kinnison’s staff by former DSU star Eric Patten.
The 40th anniversary of the first game at Smith-Wills Stadium comes next April. What a shame it would be if the Jackson ballpark is no longer standing at that time. Reports are out there that the old yard may be demolished. To make way for a Costco. A Costco on Cool Papa Bell Drive? Squeezed in between the Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and the Murrah High baseball field? Smith-Wills still serves a purpose. Not only does Belhaven University play there, but in recent years so have junior colleges, high schools, youth teams and semi-pro squads. Heck, maybe Biloxi’s homeless Southern League team could move in there next season. Smith-Wills has an unappreciated history. It has been nine years since the last pro game was played there and 15 since the final Texas League game. People forget. They should be reminded. This was a place where stars came out, from Lee Mazzilli to Selwyn Langaigne. Darryl Strawberry called it home, and Mookie Wilson and Jeff Reardon and Lenny Dykstra and Gregg Jefferies. And Billy Wagner and Bobby Abreu and Lance Berkman. Fernando Valenzuela made a visit there, and Pedro Martinez and Mark McGwire and Roberto Alomar and Johnny Damon. The list goes on. Will Clark and a host of other Mississippi State and Ole Miss stars played there, too, in the old Mayor’s Trophy Game. Max Patkin and the San Diego Chicken performed there. And the Silver Bullets and The King and His Court and two U.S. Olympic squads. Six pro teams won league pennants while playing there. These things should not be forgotten; they should be celebrated. They want to take this tradition and put up a wholesale store? Carole King ought to write a song.
Joe DiFabio is the answer to a good – no, make that a great – trivia question. Who was the first Mississippian (native or college alum) to be picked in the first round of the MLB draft? DiFabio, a right-hander out of Delta State, went 20th overall to St. Louis in the very first draft in 1965. Despite a good pro career (45-34 record, 3.28 ERA), DiFabio never made the big leagues. That’s the fickle nature of baseball — and the baseball draft. Being picked high is no guarantee of an MLB job, nor does going in a later round mean you’ve got no chance. Several Mississippians currently in the majors are evidence of that. Brian Dozier, having an All-Star worthy season (.251, 12 homers, 30 RBIs, 13 steals, 48 runs) for Minnesota, was an eighth-round pick out of Southern Miss in 2009. Corey Dickerson, batting .348 with seven homers in his second MLB season with Colorado, was picked in the eighth round in 2010 out of Meridian Community College. Aaron Barrett, having a marvelous rookie season with Washington (0.87 ERA in 22 games), was a ninth rounder from Ole Miss that year. Mitch Moreland, batting .256 with two homers and 17 RBIs in his fifth year as a regular in Texas, was a 17th rounder out of Mississippi State in 2007. And then there’s Jarrod Dyson. He is batting .275 with 10 stolen bases and playing solid defense in center field as a part-timer for Kansas City. Dyson was a 50th-round pick in 2006 out of Southwest Mississippi Community College and made The Show four years later. There might not be a Mississippian selected in today’s first round, but plenty will be called in the next 39. As Dyson and others have shown, all you need is an opportunity. P.S. Belhaven University is ranked 18th in final NAIA poll. The Blazers went 42-21 and made the regionals. Two BU players, Tyler Akins and Paul Pickerrell, were named All-Americans. … Three Mississippi high schools, all state champions, made the top 27 in Baseball America’s final poll. West Lauderdale was No. 10, New Hope No. 24 and Oak Grove No. 27.
Expect the Belhaven Blazers to kick up a lot of dust during this week’s NAIA opening round tournament. Well, they won’t actually be kicking up dust because Smith-Wills Stadium has an artificial surface — but the Blazers’ feet will be flying. That’s their game. The team has stolen 194 bases in racking up 40 wins. Five BU players have swiped double-figure totals. Reagan Rutledge has 59 bags (in 63 attempts), Paul Pickerrell 35, Emilio DeSilva 33, Dominick Francia 26 and Tyler Akins 11. This is not a team of mashers. Akins, the former Madison Central High and Hinds Community College star, leads the club with four home runs. Homers are hard to hit at Smith-Wills, especially with today’s bats. Stealing bases helped BU win 31 of 35 games there. Of course, you need some pitching depth, as well, to have postseason success, and the Blazers have a nice stable of arms. Boomer Scarborough, the Southern Miss transfer, won nine games with a 3.55 ERA. Preseason All-America pick Chris Good went 4-2, 3.73 and Ben Allison 6-0, 2.32. Austin McCann has a 1.98 ERA in 32 relief appearances, and Akins has notched a school record 17 saves. BU will try to dash past Oklahoma City today at 2:30. Oklahoma Wesleyan, which will play in today’s third game, is the top seed in the five-team regional.