Starkville’s Dudy Noble Field is a hot spot in the state this weekend — weather permitting, as always — with Mississippi State hosting SEC foe Florida as part of Super Bulldog Weekend. At Braddy Field in Jackson, Jackson State faces a SWAC showdown with Alabama A&M. Down in Hattiesburg at Taylor Park, Southern Miss has a big C-USA series against Florida Atlantic. Up in Cleveland, Ferriss Field will fill up for Delta State’s Gulf South Conference battle with Shorter. Mississippi Valley State will host Belhaven in Itta Bena today and then travel to Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium on Saturday for a twinbill against the Blazers. And on Sunday at Smith-Wills, perhaps the most compelling matchup of the weekend will see NJCAA Division II No. 1-ranked Hinds Community College take on No. 16 Northwest Mississippi CC. The doubleheader begins at 2 p.m. Hinds dropped a pair to Southwest at Smith-Wills on Thursday, falling into a tie atop the MACJC standings with Northwest at 16-4. Hinds (29-4 overall) has gotten prolific production from Jonathan Washam (.402 entering the Southwest set), Madison’s Matt Jones (.394, 34 runs), Cleveland’s Marshall Boggs (.349) and Clinton’s Chase Lunceford (.353, five home runs). Randy Bell (7-0, 2.36 ERA) of Woodville and Houston Case (6-1) of Brookhaven are the top winners on the mound for the Eagles, and Madison’s Austin Sanders has nine saves. Northwest (25-8) has won 12 straight games, including a sweep of Northeast on Tuesday in which the Rangers scored 21 runs on 29 hits. Clay Casey, the former DeSoto Central star, has swung a mighty bat, with a .358 average, eight homers, 28 RBIs and 30 runs. Ole Miss transfer Dalton Dulin leads the Rangers with a .382 average and has a school-record 36 stolen bases. Coldwater’s LeeMarcus Boyd is batting .320 with 30 runs. Myrtle’s Colt Smith is Northwest’s ace, having posted a 6-0 record with a 0.54 ERA, and Tupelo’s J.G. Lipscomb is 4-1, 1.48.
1 — Career wins for Aaron Stevens, the new Mississippi Valley State coach who notched his first on Saturday, an 8-7 defeat of Illinois-Chicago in the Delta Devils’ second game of the year.
2 — Career wins for Earl Sanders, the new Tougaloo coach whose Bulldogs swept Rust on Friday after dropping their first seven games.
2 — Wins shy of 1,000 career for William Carey coach Bobby Halford, whose Crusaders have won six straight after an 0-5 start. They play a doubleheader today against Saint Joseph in Hattiesburg.
3 — Hits in each of Southern Miss’ first three games, all wins, by Dylan Burdeaux, who is batting .692.
4 — RBIs apiece by Jackson State’s Tilur Smith, Dylan Parker and Jovany Felipe in the Tigers’ 20-10 win over UT-Martin on Saturday.
5 — RBIs apiece by Millsaps’ William Chenowith and Isaac Glenn in a 16-3 victory over Schreiner on Saturday.
7 — Home runs by Belhaven hitters in 12 games, matching the Blazers’ total from all of 2014.
8 — Strikeouts, in six innings of work, by Ole Miss’ Brady Bramlett, in a 16-2, series-clinching victory over William and Mary on Saturday.
9 — Hits in four games, all wins, by Mississippi State’s Seth Heck, who is batting .563.
12 — Hitting streak for Belhaven’s Adam Kowalczyk, a junior transfer from Delaware Tech.
14 — Runs, in eight games, scored by Mississippi College’s Colton Johnson, a freshman from West Jones High.
Though it has notched another 30-win season and currently holds third place in the Conference USA standings, Southern Miss has not had a good year with the bats. The team is hitting .244 and no individual is batting above .280. But the Golden Eagles and their fans have to be encouraged by the recent performance of Connor Barron, the one-time prized recruit who has scuffled for most of his three seasons in Hattiesburg. Barron is riding a career-best eight-game hit streak. The center fielder/leadoff batter has lifted his average to .259, second on the club to Matt Durst’s .279. Barron has four homers, nine doubles, 19 RBIs and 28 runs. During his injury-hampered freshman and sophomore seasons, Barron batted .250 and .198; he had no homers and 19 RBIs total. This was not what was expected of a player drafted in the third round (by the Florida Marlins) in 2011. This was not what was expected of a player who batted .490 with eight homers as a senior at powerhouse Sumrall High. But maybe things have turned for Barron, and it would be good timing. USM finishes regular season play with a three-game C-USA series at Charlotte starting Thursday, then hosts the C-USA Tournament next week. Its postseason fate likely will be determined there. P.S. In what could be the event’s pivotal game, Belhaven (41-19) meets top-seed Oklahoma Wesleyan (53-6) today at 2:30 in the winners bracket of the NAIA regional at Smith-Wills Stadium. … Of the five finalists for the Ferriss Trophy, you could build a good case for BU’s Tyler Akins, who is batting .340 and has 17 saves. Akins is joined by Ole Miss’ Auston Bousfield and Chris Ellis and Mississippi State’s Ross Mitchell and Jacob Lindgren as finalists for the award that goes to the state’s best college player.
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.