Old rivals Belhaven and William Carey will meet in the first round of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament on Wednesday in Montgomery. Fourth-seeded BU (38-17) took two of three from 5-seed Carey (31-24) in the regular season series at Smith-Wills Stadium in February. The Mississippi schools are in the same side of the bracket as NAIA second-ranked and tourney top seed Faulkner (42-12). Belhaven, as host of an NAIA regional, is assured of life after the SSAC event; Carey is going to have to play its way into a bid. … Millsaps, bounced from the Southern Athletic Association postseason by top-seeded Birmingham-Southern on Sunday, plays Mississippi College in a makeup game on Tuesday in Clinton. That might be the end of the road for the Majors (23-18), who would seem to be a longshot for an NCAA Division III at-large bid. … D-II No. 7-ranked Delta State, which claimed first place in the Gulf South Conference regular season by sweeping No. 4 West Florida in Cleveland over the weekend, will open GSC Tournament play on Friday at Birmingham. The top-seeded Statesmen (35-9) meet 8-seed Christian Brothers in the first round.
The weekend started with a bang Thursday night in Oxford, where LSU beat Ole Miss 4-3 in 13 innings in a collision of top 10 teams. More fireworks are sure to follow. Mississippi State is at Missouri for a three-game SEC set, and Southern Miss is hosting Louisiana Tech in a three-game C-USA series. But the more compelling games may involve the smaller schools. To wit: Jackson State vs. Mississippi Valley State in Moorhead. JSU, the defending SWAC champ, sits in third place in the SWAC East at 6-9 (23-17 overall). Time to get healthy in this three-game set with 1-28 Valley. Player to watch: JSU’s Tilur Smith, who has picked up the slack for slumping Charles Tillery (.224) and is batting .347. Delta State at Shorter. The Statesmen are in the midst of playing 10 straight road games, but they are 15-5 away from Cleveland’s Ferriss Field, so no worries there. In fact, DSU seemingly has few worries at all. The Mean Green is 28-8, 19-4 Gulf South Conference and ranked in the top 10 in NCAA Division II. Player to watch: Landon Thibodeaux, hitting .351 with five homers and 25 RBIs. Mississippi College vs. Howard Payne in Clinton. The Choctaws are 15-15 after dropping Thursday’s series opener 6-3. They are chasing a bid to the National Christian College Athletic Association regionals, and they need more wins. Player to watch: Blake Mcilwain, (5-1, 2.91 ERA) who threw a no-hitter last weekend and is slated for one of today’s two games. Millsaps at Oglethorpe. The Majors, ranked in NCAA Division III in preseason, are 19-16 and 9-8 (fifth) in the Southern Athletic Association. They need to build some momentum for league tournament play, which starts next weekend. Player to watch: Keith Shumaker, rocking along with a .340 batting average and a 4-1, 1.56 pitching ledger. Belhaven vs. Bethel in Jackson. The Blazers (34-14) have been guaranteed an NAIA postseason berth as host of a regional, but they certainly don’t want to limp through the last two weekends of the regular season. They’re just 14-10 in the Southern States Athletic Conference. Player to watch: Reagan Rutledge, who is batting .313 and has 51 stolen bases in 55 attempts. William Carey vs. Auburn-Montgomery in Hattiesburg. The Crusaders began the year ranked in the NAIA poll but are just 27-22 and 13-11 in the SSAC, fighting for one of the eight tournament berths. A 13-15 record at Wheeler Field is hard to figure. Player to watch: Jeremy Ferguson, who has a .423 on-base percentage and a team-best 32 runs.
The Magnolia State has seven college teams ranked in various polls this week — not bad for a football state. Mississippi State (20-10), with a big SEC series at LSU looming, is up to No. 9 in Baseball America’s latest NCAA Division I poll, while Ole Miss (21-8) is down to No. 23 on the heels of being swept at Alabama last weekend. Belhaven University (28-11), which whipped Millsaps 10-7 in a Maloney Trophy Series game on Tuesday, dropped to 13th in this week’s NAIA poll. Jones County Junior College (28-4), which blanked Copiah-Lincoln in a doubleheader sweep on Tuesday, is No. 1 in NJCAA Division II, with East Mississippi fifth and Mississippi Delta 10th. But no team in the state is hotter than Delta State, which has won 11 in a row and is ranked 12th in Collegiate Baseball’s newest NCAA Division II poll. The Statesmen are 21-6 with a home game today against Arkansas-Monticello and a home Gulf South Conference series this weekend against Lee University. DSU is hitting .334 as a team, led by Will Robertson (.385), Carlos Leal (.382) and Dex Herrington (.369), the former Senatobia High and Northwest CC star who has four homers, 23 RBIs and 30 runs. The staff ERA is 2.34, and Michael Manley, from Terry by way of Meridian CC, is 6-0 with a 0.98.
Neither Mississippi College nor Millsaps seemed particularly impressed that Belhaven University broke into the NAIA top 10 this week. No. 8 Belhaven, which has announced its intention to move to NCAA Division III, lost to both the current D-III schools, falling to 26-9. On Tuesday night at Frierson Field in Clinton, MC — which is in the process of returning to NCAA Division II, by the way — beat BU on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth after squandering a 7-4 lead in the seventh. Blake Mcilwain, now 3-1, earned the win for 9-11 MC with two scoreless innings. On Wednesday afternoon at Millsaps’ Twenty Field, the Majors erupted for eight runs in the third inning and whipped the Blazers 12-5. Keith Shumaker had a three-run homer and Stephen Gates a three-run double in that pivotal third for the Majors (13-11). Millsaps is now 3-0 in the Maloney Trophy Series, with BU 1-2 and MC 1-3. Millsaps and Belhaven hook up Monday at Smith-Wills Stadium. … Delta State, nationally ranked in D-II, is heating up, having stretched its win streak to eight after beating Ouachita Baptist twice in Cleveland this week. Ben Pickard, a sophomore from Biloxi, went 7-for-7 with five RBIs and five runs in the two games against Ouachita. DSU is 18-6 overall and takes a 14-3 Gulf South Conference record into a weekend series at West Georgia.
Road tests are in order as conference play begins this weekend for the state’s Big 3. Ole Miss is at South Carolina, Mississippi State is at Georgia and Southern Miss is at Marshall. All three series are big in their own way, but it’s USM’s that seems most compelling. The Golden Eagles are scuffling at 7-10. They’re hitting .230 as a team, with a .301 slugging percentage. They aren’t running much either: 7-for-12 on steals. Keep in mind that USM started sluggishly in 2013 and wound up winning the Conference USA regular season title and making the tournament championship game. No need for panic at this stage. Note, too, that the pitching has been generally good. Cameron Giannini, slated to start Sunday, is 1-1 with a 1.42 ERA in four starts, and Bradley Roney (a .302 hitter) has five saves and a 0.96 ERA in seven relief appearances. Perhaps the bats will get going at Marshall, which is 5-10 overall — but 2-1 in the league. P.S. Two other key series are going on this weekend: Jackson State hosts Mississippi Valley State in the SWAC and Belhaven visits Faulkner in a Southern States Athletic Conference clash. JSU is 13-6 (2-1 SWAC) and has won six straight games, with Melvin Rodriguez (.317, 15 RBIs) swinging the hot bat. Valley is 0-15 and 0-4. … Belhaven is 22-4 with seven straight wins. Faulkner is 22-5 – and ranked No. 1 in NAIA. The teams are tied atop the SSAC at 7-2. The Blazers love to run; they’ve got 96 steals. The Eagles love to mash; they’ve got 17 home runs.
Mississippi Valley State, still winless through 14 games, was no-hit by Alabama on Saturday in Tuscaloosa. It was the Crimson Tide’s first nine-inning no-hitter since 1942. … Ross Mitchell, Mississippi State’s crafty lefty, suffered the first loss of his college career on Saturday as the Bulldogs fell to UC-Santa Barbara 7-6 in the Hi Corbett Classic in Tucson, Ariz. Mitchell had won his first 18 decisions. The Bulldogs are 0-3 in the desert tournament (11-7 overall) and face Arizona today. … Belhaven University won its 20th game on Saturday. The Blazers (20-4) swept Blue Mountain in a Friday-Saturday series at Smith-Wills Stadium and are now 7-2 in the Southern States Athletic Conference. BMC, in its first year in the tough NAIA league, fell to 2-14, 1-11. The Blazers have stolen 83 bags, led by Reagan Rutledge with 24, Paul Pickerrell with 15 (in 15 attempts) and Emilio DeSilva with 14. … Mississippi College took two of three from East Texas Baptist in Clinton this weekend to improve to 4-8 overall and 4-5 in the American Southwest Conference. Robbie Jernigan and Colton Mears combined for five RBIs in the Choctaws’ 7-2 win in Saturday’s rubber game. … Millsaps, behind a complete-game effort from Keith Shumaker in Game 2, split a twinbill at Birmingham-Southern on Saturday in its first Southern Athletic Association games of the season. The Majors (9-6) and the Panthers (10-2) play their rubber game today.
If you had the means, which is to say a lot of free time, some disposable income and a dependable car (or, better yet, a helicopter), you could see some pretty good baseball (teams and/or players) around the state this week. … Start today in Hattiesburg, where Southern Miss is hosting Troy. The Golden Eagles are scuffling along at 5-6, but Mason Robbins is swinging a hot bat at .304 with a homer and 10 RBIs. On Monday, zip up to Jackson and catch Belhaven-Millsaps in a Maloney Trophy Series game at Twenty Field. The Blazers are 15-4, led by Paul Pickerrell, who’s hitting .373 with 15 RBIs and 16 runs. The Majors are 7-5, and their lineup features the red-hot Isaac Glenn (.455). Head for Cleveland on Tuesday for Delta State’s game against Harding. The Statesmen are 6-5 as of today, and Dex Herrington is rocking along with a .381 average. On Wednesday, in Starkville, surging Mississippi State (9-4 with five straight wins as of Sunday morning) takes on South Alabama. Wes Rea has been a power source for the Bulldogs, with three homers and 19 RBIs. Wheel over to Senatobia on Thursday to see nationally ranked Northwest Mississippi Community College (8-4 heading into a Wednesday doubleheader with unbeaten Jones County JC) play Arkansas Baptist CC. Luke Latham has belted five homers for the Rangers. Over in Oxford on Friday, Ole Miss hosts Arkansas-Little Rock. As of Sunday a.m., the Rebels were 10-1 with four straight one-run wins, all walk-offs. Luke Allen (.391, three homers, 17 RBIs) was responsible for two of those. Wind up the whirlwind week on Saturday in Clinton, where Mississippi College plays American Southwest Conference foe East Texas Baptist in a twinbill. The Choctaws were 2-6 at the start of the week, though Mississippi Gulf Coast CC transfer Marty Stringfellow has contributed a .462 average. … If you had the means, it would be a heckuva road trip.
A showdown looms. Well, that might be a bit over the top, but Millsaps College and Belhaven University are both 1-0 in the Maloney Trophy Series headed into their makeup game on Monday at the Majors’ Twenty Field. Millsaps beat Mississippi College 5-2 on Tuesday, dropping the Choctaws to 0-2 in the round-robin series among the Jackson-area small colleges. MC, which got three hits from newcomer Marty Stringfellow, fell to 1-4 overall. The Majors, now 7-5, got three hits each from Isaac Glenn (.455) and Keith Shumaker (.388) and a sterling start from Smokey Ethridge (2-2). … Belhaven is 12-3 after a 5-1 win over Talladega on Tuesday. Ben Allison improved to 4-0 and lowered his ERA to 0.47 in 19 innings. Tyler Akins, the former Madison Central and Hinds Community College standout, drove in three runs and now has 13 on the season. BU plays Talladega again today at Smith-Wills Stadium. … Delta State (5-4) is on the road today against Arkansas-Monticello’s Boll Weevils, against whom the Statesmen hold a 76-5 series lead. Dex Herrington, a senior from Senatobia and reigning Gulf South Conference player of the week, is leading DSU in hitting at .394. … Tougaloo, which started 0-5, is now 5-7. … Blue Mountain, which won its opener, is now 1-9.
It’s probably a little early in the season for a defining moment, but Belhaven University might have had one — or even two — on Saturday at Smith-Wills Stadium. The Blazers dug out of early holes to beat William Carey in extra innings in both games of a doubleheader. Perhaps we should expect such games when longtime intrastate rivals and iconic coaches (Belhaven’s Hill Denson and Carey’s Bobby Halford) square off in an historic ballpark. The Blazers’ Reagan Rutledge delivered a two-out game-winning hit in the opener, a 6-5 win. In Game 2, Jo Jo Richards’ infield hit, combined with a Carey throwing error, scored Walt McCullough from second base for a 5-4 victory. BU, which had dropped the series opener (yet another one-run game) on Friday, improved to 11-3 and 2-1 in the Southern States Athletic Conference. Carey, ranked 24th in the NAIA preseason poll, is 7-8, 2-4. Jeremy Ferguson, a senior from Pontotoc, had a big series for the Crusaders, going 4-for-7 with six RBIs. The teams could meet again in the SCAC Tournament. If they do, memories of Feb. 22 will certainly be dancing in the heads of all involved.
Mississippi College opens its season today with an eye on reversing a troublesome trend. The Choctaws — who play Belhaven University at Smith-Wills Stadium — have seen their win total drop each year since 2010, when they won 39 games and reached the NCAA Division III West Regional final. The Choctaws were 17-22 in 2013. The Choctaws have a decent collection of arms — led by left-hander Brooks Fortenberry (4-2, 2.85) — back from a staff that posted a solid 3.70 ERA. Improvement in 2014 likely will depend on better hitting. “The big story last year was big hits in key situations,” coach Brian Owens said. “We didn’t get enough of them. We lost a bunch of one- and two-run games. It’s tough winning close games without getting clutch hits, and it starts to weigh on you. It even affects the way your pitchers work.” MC hit .262 with just four home runs last season. Owens is counting on returning outfielder Kyle Blount (.333, 23 runs, six steals) and newcomers like Marty Stringfellow and Caleb Morris, both touted juco transfers, to fortify what he thinks will be a better balanced lineup. The Choctaws face a Belhaven team today that already has played 10 games, winning eight. It’s the first game of the Maloney Trophy Series, which adds to the significance. But every game is big for the Choctaws. In transition from D-III to D-II, MC is still playing in the American Southwest Conference but is ineligible for the postseason. The Choctaws are hoping for a bid to a National Christian College Athletic Association regional, and Owens said it’ll take 26 wins to get said bid. P.S. Even when you consider that Stetson went 26-31 last year and finished fifth in its conference, Ole Miss’ season-opening three-game sweep at DeLand, Fla., was impressive. The Rebels outscored the Hatters 22-3, hitting .364 as a team. Auston Bousfield hit .583 with six runs and three steals; Will Allen hit .542 with two home runs and 10 RBIs; Austin Anderson batted .462 and scored five runs; and Preston Overbey put up a .455 average and two homers. Next up for the Rakin’ Rebels is Tennessee-Martin on Wednesday at Oxford-University Stadium.