Give J.T. Wright some credit for good timing. The senior DH, who did not hit a home run during the regular season, hit a clutch one in the ninth inning today that boosted William Carey to a 3-2 win against Bethel in the first game of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament at Montgomery, Ala. Wright’s homer broke a 2-2 tie and Dylan Spiers got a game-ending double play in the bottom of the ninth for the fourth-seeded Crusaders (33-21). Starter Hunter Speer worked eight strong innings and was the winning pitcher. Christian Smith, named first-team All-SSAC on Tuesday after hitting .337 with 49 steals, went 2-for-3 and scored a run for Carey, which already has earned an invitation to the NAIA national tournament. The Crusaders, who reached the NAIA World Series last year, will host an Opening Round tournament starting May 14. In today’s second game at Montgomery, Blue Mountain (28-21), the sixth seed, faced 3-seed Middle Georgia State. No. 1-ranked Faulkner is the tourney’s top seed. … BMC’s Caleb Leach also was named first-team All-SSAC. He batted .382 this season.
Blue Mountain and William Carey are creating a nice little rivalry in NAIA land. They’ll play the rubber game of a three-game Southern States Athletic Conference series today at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg as they jockey for seeding positions in the upcoming league tournament. Carey won Game 1 8-2 on Friday behind the pitching of Hunter Speer (8-2), who threw a seven-inning three-hitter, and three RBIs from RBI leader David Pementel, who has 43. BMC bounced back with a 5-1 win in Game 2 as Josh Letson (6-4), Mason Woolridge and David Torres combined on a six-hitter over nine. Five different Toppers drove in a run. Both teams are trying to get their house in order as the regular season wanes. Carey (now 29-18, 13-7 SSAC) entered the series having dropped seven of 10 games in April; its ranking in the NAIA poll sank to No. 19 this week. BMC (now 26-18, 9-11) came in with a three-game win streak but had dropped five in a row prior to that. The SSAC Tournament is just around the corner, slated for May 2-5 at Montgomery, Ala., and it’s a bear. Four of the nine teams in the league were nationally ranked this week, including No. 1 Faulkner. Bobby Halford’s Crusaders marched all the way to the NAIA World Series in 2017 and had high hopes again entering 2018. They began the year ranked sixth by Collegiate Baseball. BMC, still a young program under Curt Fowler, made the league tournament for the first time last season.
Schools from California, Florida and Texas naturally dominate Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s Preseason Top 30 High School poll, but Mississippi did manage to get a little love. Hattiesburg High, led by the highly touted Joe Gray, checked in at No. 11. Joe Hartfield’s Tigers went 26-11 last year and lost in the MHSAA South State playoffs to Pearl River Central. Gray, an Ole Miss signee who’ll probably go high in the MLB draft, batted .477 with seven homers and 19 steals. An ample supporting cast includes Dexter Jordan, who hit .398 with four homers and went 6-3 with a 3.08 ERA on the mound, and Kam Wells (4-0, 1.16). … Gray, Houston High catcher Luke Hancock and Brandon High pitcher/shortstop J.T. Ginn made CB’s All-America team. P.S. Keep an eye on Blue Mountain College, which got the Magnolia State season started by taking two of three at LSU-Shreveport last week. The Toppers won the opener of a Thursday (moved from Friday) doubleheader 8-2 behind the strong pitching of Jonas White and home runs from Hayden Tapper and Austin Looker. In Friday’s rubber game, Caleb Leach drove in five runs in a 13-10 BMC win. LSU-S won 39 games and made the NAIA postseason in 2017.
After what its coach called “a season for the ages” in 2017, Blue Mountain College opens the 2018 campaign on Friday with a trip to LSU-Shreveport. BMC, under coach Curt Fowler, went 32-25 last year and qualified for the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament for the first time in its four years in the NAIA league. The Toppers started their program in 2011. Two second-team All-SSAC performers are back: right-hander Dustin Allen (8-4, 3.55 ERA) and top hitter Caleb Leach (.362, six homers, 38 RBIs). Miciah Heard, a .352 hitter who swiped 33 bases, also returns. After Friday’s doubleheader, BMC will play LSU-S again on Saturday. LSU-S is a perennial NAIA postseason contender and is coming off a 39-21 season. P.S. Ole Miss (16), Southern Miss (21) and Mississippi State (23) are ranked in Baseball America’s preseason Top 25, which was released earlier this week. The NCAA Division I start date is Feb. 16, with USM and State clashing in Hattiesburg that day.
One month from today, Blue Mountain College, an NAIA member, will get the ball rolling. The Toppers will be the first Mississippi college team to hit the field for a game in 2018, opening at LSU-Shreveport on Jan. 26. The major college season begins on Feb. 16, and for Mississippi State and Southern Miss, it won’t be a soft opening. The old rivals will meet that day in the first game of a three-game series in Hattiesburg. Taylor Park is where State ended USM’s 2017 season in a wild regional final that won’t soon be forgotten. What better way to start 2018? … State was the last of the Big 3 to close the book on fall ball, playing its Fall World Series on Nov. 17-19 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. Though he’s certainly not expected to fill Brent Rooker’s shoes, junior shortstop Hunter Stovall was named the MVP. He went 5-for-8 with two runs and a steal in the three-game set. Stovall batted .288 for the Bulldogs in 2017 and played well in the Cape Cod League over the summer. … Ole Miss finished its fall campaign in late October with the Pizza Bowl, a game notable mainly for the fact the two squads combined for 20 runs over 11 innings. A precursor perhaps for 2018, which will start on Feb. 16 with a home game against Winthrop? The Rebels surely hope so. They were last in the SEC in hitting and 12th in runs in 2017. A Thomas Dillard grand slam in the 11th was the big blow in the Pizza Bowl. Cooper Johnson had a four-hit game, and Wil Golsan doubled, tripled and homered. … Alcorn State again starts its season in the MLB Urban Invitational in New Orleans. The Braves’ first game is against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Feb. 16. … Jackson State will open at the University of New Orleans on Feb. 20, then return home for a marquee game against Mississippi State at Braddy Field. Champing at the bit for the Tigers is Lamar Briggs, who had a standout summer for the DC Grays in the Cal Ripken League, batting .400 with two homers, 24 RBIs, 22 runs and eight steals in 38 games. He made first team all-league. … William Carey and Tougaloo, also NAIA schools; NCAA Division III Millsaps; and Division II Delta State open on Ground Hog Day, Feb. 2. Carey is at home against Ave Maria University, Tougaloo on the road vs. Talladega, Millsaps at Huntingdon, and Delta State at Lynn. … D-II Mississippi College will host Lindenwood for a doubleheader on Feb. 3. … MUW launches its inaugural season on Feb. 9 at the University of Dallas. D-III Belhaven starts the season at Centenary on Feb. 9.
There’s a lot on the line this weekend when Mississippi College hosts old rival Delta State to finish the regular season at Frierson Field in Clinton. MC (19-23) is 14-15 and in seventh place in the Gulf South Conference standings. The top eight teams make the GSC Tournament. DSU (35-10), ranked No. 1 in the South Region and as high as third overall in NCAA Division II, is first (23-7) in the league and trying to nail down the top seed in the tournament. The top seed hosts. After a terrible start, MC has won 17 of its last 23, including a clutch series win at Lee University last weekend. Led by Casey Echols (.347), the Choctaws have seven regulars batting .307 or better. But MC’s pitching (6.07 ERA) will need to step up. DSU is the GSC’s best offensive club, batting .323 with 44 homers. Zack Shannon has been amazing: .461, 13 homers, 71 RBIs. And the pitching quartet of Seth Birdsong, Corey Beard, Tre Hobbs and closer Zach Osbon makes taking a series from the Statesmen a tall order. DSU leads the all-time series 106-29-1. The teams play one game today and doubleheader on Saturday. … Millsaps begins Southern Athletic Association postseason play against Hendrix at Memphis today. Millsaps (17-22) is the sixth overall seed and is playing in the four-team bracket hosted by Rhodes, the No. 2 seed. Andy Page (.397), Lee Ogletree (.303, five homers, 34 RBIs) and Jacob Mardick (8-2, 2.59) have had all-conference type seasons for the Majors. … Blue Mountain finishes an SSAC series against Brewton-Parker at home today after sweeping a twinbill on Thursday. With Caleb Leach (.368, five homers, 35 RBIs) and Dustin Allen (8-3, 3.04) leading the way, the Toppers (30-23, 11-12) already had clinched a spot in next week’s conference tourney at Montgomery, Ala. William Carey (17-7 SSAC) also will be there. The NAIA nationally ranked Crusaders (34-15) are finishing up a non-conference series against Stillman College in Hattiesburg today. James Land hit his 15th bomb in a 16-6 win on Thursday. … Tougaloo finished its regular season 10-42, including a pair of home losses to Miles on Wednesday. Earl Sanders’ Bulldogs lost 18 of their last 19 and went 0-6 against GCAC competition. … Belhaven (26-14) is awaiting word on a bid to the NCCAA Tournament; regionals begin the week of May 15.
It started on March 12 in an unlikely place against an unlikely opponent. Mississippi College limped into Union University’s Fesmire Field in Jackson, Tenn., with a 2-17 record and seven straight losses. The host Bulldogs were 17-3, leading the Gulf South Conference with a 7-2 record and freshly ranked 24th in NCAA Division II. But just when it seemed as if “Taps” had become the anthem for their season, the Choctaws changed the tune. In the opener of a twinbill played on a chilly Sunday, MC’s Hunter Lacefield, a Northwest Mississippi Community College transfer, and Zack Ingram, a true freshman, combined to hold Union to three hits. Clutch knocks by Hunter Wilson and Casey Echols put the Choctaws up 4-2 in the fifth inning, and they rolled on to win 7-2. Union’s Game 2 starter was Teddy Christie, who sported a 5-0 record. Cue up the “Rocky” music. MC beat Christie 5-4. The Choctaws capitalized on four Union errors and the stout pitching of Hunter Mullis and Tommy Taborda. MC has lost only one game since; the 12-inning win against nationally ranked Southern Arkansas on Wednesday was the team’s ninth straight. At 10-10 in the GSC, they’ve climbed to seventh (of 12) in the standings. They’re fourth in the league in hitting, and the staff ERA, so bad early on, is trending in the right direction, a hair above 4.00 over the last nine games. North Alabama, 13-8 in the league, comes to Frierson Field this weekend for a series that could be very big for the Choctaws in their charge to make the GSC Tournament. Is that “Reveille” playing in the background? P.S. William Carey has dominated its series against Blue Mountain, beating the Toppers 15 times in 16 meetings. They meet again this weekend in an SSAC series at the new BMC SportsPlex, and it could get interesting. Nationally ranked Carey is 25-10, 11-4 in the league. BMC is 25-15, 6-6. James Land and Tyler Graves carry the big bats for the Crusaders, and the Toppers’ Caleb Leach has emerged as one of the SSAC’s best hitters. Three of the conference’s top base stealers also will be on hand: Carey’s Tyler James and Adrian Brown and BMC’s Miciah Heard. … As part of Hinds Community College’s centennial celebration, the school is hosting a tribute to the baseball program tonight in Raymond. Hinds was the first Mississippi school to reach the Juco World Series back in 1989, the year the program was merged with Utica’s. The 2014 Eagles were one win away from claiming the NJCAA Division II national title, which also would have been a first for the state. Jones County JC pulled off that feat last summer.
Only one small college player has won the Ferriss Trophy over its 13 years: Belhaven University’s Craig Westcott in 2009. The 2017 coronation is a long ways off, but there are a couple of NAIA players whose hitting exploits this season bear notice. James Land, a senior first baseman at William Carey, belted three home runs at Mississippi College on Tuesday, running his season total to 11. He leads the Southern States Athletic Conference in slugging at .807 and ranks near the top in homers, batting average (.404) and RBIs (38). Land, a former Harrison Central and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, was named the SSAC’s player of the week last week (after batting .591 with 11 RBIs in five games). The reigning SSAC player of the week is Caleb Leach of Blue Mountain. A junior infielder/outfielder from Florida, Leach batted .600 with a pair of homers, five RBIs and eight runs last week and is at .397, five homers and 27 RBIs for the year. He leads the Toppers in slugging (.612) and runs (33). It should help the cases for Land and Leach that both Carey and BMC are having strong years. The nationally ranked Crusaders are 23-9, 9-3 SSAC, and the Toppers are 23-15, 6-6, easily the best start in their short history.
Taylor Braley: The former Oak Grove High star pitched seven innings and doubled in the game’s first run to boost Southern Miss past Mississippi State 7-5 on Tuesday before a crowd of 5,198 at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
Kenny Wright: The junior out of Winston Academy threw a four-hitter for Millsaps in a 10-0 win against Belhaven that clinched the Maloney Trophy Series at Smith-Wills Stadium.
Blake Key: The Meridian native went 5-for-6, including Blue Mountain’s first-ever cycle in Game 2, drove in seven runs and scored six as the Toppers swept visiting Rust 17-7 and 19-1.
Cornelius Copeland: Drove in four runs and scored four more to spark Jackson State to a 17-2 win over LeMoyne-Owen, completing a doubleheader sweep at Braddy Field.
Zach Osbon: Held Henderson State to one run over the last three innings as Delta State rallied from a nine-run deficit to beat the Reddies 15-13 at Ferriss Field.
Colby Bortles: Knocked in Ole Miss’ lone run – in the ninth inning – in a 2-1 loss in 11 innings against Memphis at AutoZone Park.
Adam Frazier: The former Mississippi State standout, batting .442 this spring, scored the first and last runs of the game as Pittsburgh walked off with a 5-4 win against Tampa Bay in Grapefruit League action.
Fred Franklin and Logan Robbins: The reigning MACJC hitter and pitcher of the week will lead NJCAA Division II No. 1 Jones County Junior College (20-0) against 19th-ranked Hinds CC in a doubleheader today in Raymond.
Keep an eye on William Carey University, which jumped 11 spots in the NAIA poll last week and then validated the ranking by taking a series at Middle Georgia State, another Top 25 team. The 12th-ranked Crusaders crushed their hosts 13-3 in Friday’s series opener at Cochran, Ga., then bounced back from a tough loss in Game 1 of Saturday’s twinbill to take the rubber match 5-4. Tyler Odom and Tyler Graves hit homers for the Crusaders (17-5, 5-1 SSAC) in that game, Braden Smith notched his fourth win with six strong innings and Lane Fazende picked up the save. Carey, which has played only seven home games, in part because of the January tornado damage on campus, is batting .305 as a team with 189 runs. Graves, from Petal, leads the way with a .417 average and 35 RBIs. Tyler James is hitting .364 with 30 runs and 20 steals, McComb’s Adrian Brown .361 with four homers, 30 runs and 16 steals and Gulfport’s James Land .342 with six bombs. Fazende, a Picayune product, has three wins, two saves and a 0.76 ERA out of the bullpen, while Brookhaven’s Braden Smith (4-1, 4.91), Devin Smith (4-0, 4.99) and Cole Edgens (3-0, 2.68) have been solid starters. The Southern States Athletic Conference is one of the best NAIA leagues in the country. It has four teams currently ranked, including No. 1 Faulkner (23-3), which finished as national runner-up in 2016. Carey and Faulkner will meet in late April. … Blue Mountain is 14-10 and 2-4 in SSAC, having taken a series from Martin Methodist in the first games at the new BMC Sportsplex. The Toppers won the rubber game on Saturday 1-0, getting stellar pitching from Josh Letson and Jonas White and a walk-off hit from Blake Key in the ninth inning.