The New Albany-based Cotton States League has expanded from six to eight teams for 2020 and is scheduled to begin its season on June 5. The wood-bat college summer league celebrated its 10th anniversary in 2019, with the Tippah County Tribe winning the championship. Returning for the Tribe are pitcher Braden Quesinberry, a Harding (Ark.) University alum who went 6-1 with a 1.41 ERA; J.T. McGee (Northern Kentucky), a .350 hitter with two homers and 13 RBIs; and Brandon Hale (Southeastern Louisiana), a .327 hitter. New to the Tribe roster is catcher Matthew Priest, a redshirt freshman at Mississippi College in 2020. More than 120 players from roughly 30 different schools participated last year, per the league’s website. Most of the players have a Mississippi connection. Many of the state’s junior colleges are represented, as are a number of four-year schools from various divisions. Mississippi State commit Blayze Berry is on the HillCountry Generals’ roster. The XPlorers’ roster lists Kyle Crigger from Louisiana Tech, Chris Swanberg from Memphis and Austin King from Alabama State. Another Memphis player, Ian Bibiloni, is with the North Delta Dealers along with Mississippi College’s Markarius “Woogie” Lee. Delta State’s Trace White is on the Tallahatchie Rascals team. Belhaven’s Nathan Herron (one of the CSBL’s top hitters in 2019) and Jared Heun are with the Golden Triangle Jets, as is UAB’s Hunter Hill. Blue Mountain’s Easton Williams is with the Tupelo Thunder, and Millsaps’ Sam Suggs is on the Mudcats’ roster. P.S. The Cape Cod League, widely considered the best of the college summer loops, cancelled its season, as did the New England Collegiate Baseball League and the Valley League. The popular Coastal Plain League delayed its start to July 1, and the Prospect League and Alaska League also have announced a tentative July 1 start. The Texas Collegiate League plans to open on July 3. The National Baseball Congress World Series, the big late summer amateur event in Wichita, hasn’t made a decision on hosting the event.
Sometime in distant future — maybe in a galaxy far, far away — fans will look back at the 2020 college season and wonder what the heck happened here. It might be tagged with an asterisk, as in *season cancelled. It was all so sudden. Promising starts were stopped in their tracks. Dreams were dashed. The COVID-19 crisis did what only one opposing team had done to the Ole Miss Rebels in 2020. It beat them. UM was 16-1 when the season was halted. Tyler Keenan looked like an SEC Triple Crown threat, batting .403 with seven homers and 33 RBIs. Gunnar Hoglund was an emerging ace at 3-0, 1.16 ERA. Mississippi State, with a couple of potential first-round draft picks (Justin Foscue, Jordan Westburg) in the lineup, was 12-4. As with Ole Miss, we’re left to wonder how the Bulldogs’ season would have played out. A rebuilding Southern Miss club, with new stars stepping up, was also 12-4. Jackson State was 9-7, featured three .400 hitters, including Jaylyn Williams at .434, and was sure to be a force in the SWAC. Mississippi Valley State was 0-14 – and will have to live with that indignity for all time. Chad Ragland was crushing it for Delta State, batting .449 for a team that was off to a 13-10 start under new coach Rodney Batts. Chauncey Callier was having a huge season for 11-9 Mississippi College, hitting .357 with six homers. Justin Milam had swatted five homers with 19 RBIs for Belhaven, 8-8 in Kyle Palmer’s first year as coach. Fritz Walker III had four homers and 18 RBIs for 7-11 Millsaps. Five Mississippi jucos were ranked in the top 15 of the NJCAA Division II poll on the eve of conference play. Things were just heating up when the plug was pulled. Done in mid-March. Seems so unfair. All we are left with are some numbers and woulda, coulda debates.
It’s a Welcome to the Big Time moment for Mississippi State junior left-hander Houston Harding. For sure, Harding pitched in some big games for Itawamba Community College over the previous two years – winning 19 times and setting a record for career strikeouts – but he’s up against a different animal tonight at Biloxi’s MGM Park. Texas Tech is 16-1 and ranked as high as No. 2 in the country. Harding has pitched just once this season for the 10-4 Bulldogs, a four-inning outing vs. Alcorn State on Feb. 26. He allowed three earned runs and punched out seven batters. Tech is hitting .338 as a team. Its most dangerous hitter might be Nate Rombach at .345 with six homers and 27 RBIs. The Red Raiders will start lefty Mason Montgomery (3-0, 1.93 ERA) in Game 1 of the two-game series and right-hander Hunter Dobbins (2-0, 1.29) in Wednesday’s contest. The 10th-ranked Bulldogs, who have struggled to push across runs at times, are batting .255, led by Justin Foscue at .340 with two homers and 15 RBIs. There’s nothing make-or-break about this series, but it should be a good barometer on where State is as a team heading into the SEC opener against Arkansas this weekend.
Mississippi State’s resilience will be tested this weekend as the team absorbs the impact of losing ace J.T. Ginn for the season and slugging first baseman Tanner Allen for an extended period. Ginn reportedly had Tommy John surgery, which typically involves a year of recovery. A first-round MLB draft pick out of Brandon High in 2018, he is eligible to be drafted again this summer. Allen, State’s leading hitter in 2019, has a broken hand. The Bulldogs, scuffling at 7-4, host Quinnipiac this weekend. … In other news: Nationally ranked Ole Miss, surging at 11-1, hosts Princeton (0-4) this weekend; it’s the first ever meeting between the two. … Delta State (10-8) has lost five straight – its longest skid since 1979 – heading into a Gulf South series against Auburn-Montgomery (6-10, 5-4) at Ferriss Field. DSU is 4-5 in league play after being swept at West Florida last weekend. … William Carey swept SSAC player (R.J. Stinson) and pitcher (Sloan Dieter) of the week honors after winning a league series against nationally ranked Faulkner and hopes to ride that momentum in an SSAC series this weekend against visiting Brewton-Parker. … Belhaven, 6-7 with four straight wins (including a 12-11 conquest of rival Millsaps), hosts Hardin-Simmons in an American Southwest series this weekend. BU is 3-3 in the league. … Pearl River Community College’s Leif Moore earned NJCAA Division II pitcher of the week honors after tossing six no-hit innings with 16 strikeouts vs. Nunez (La.) last week. Moore, from Biloxi’s St. Martin High, is 2-0, 0.00 ERA for the 10-2 Wildcats, ranked No. 2. Hinds (10-0) is ranked third, Northwest (12-1) seventh, Itawamba (9-3) ninth and Northeast (12-2) 12th. … Nationally ranked DeSoto Central High went 2-0 in the Perfect Game Showdown at Hoover, Ala., on Thursday and is 8-1 on the year. Blaze Jordan, generally regarded as the state’s top player, is batting .467 with four doubles and four triples. Cade Smith is 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 16 1/3 innings. … Columbia Academy’s Slade Wilks, another of the state’s best, hit four homers in his team’s first four games. … Travis Demeritte, who slugged 32 homers in two seasons with the Mississippi Braves, hit two homers off Gerrit Cole on Thursday in Grapefruit League play. Demeritte, vying for an outfield job with Detroit, also hit two bombs in a game on Monday. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier is 4-for-13 in five games in his bid to win the second base job with San Diego this spring. … Harrison Central alum Bobby Bradley, hoping to make Cleveland’s club, is 7-for-19 with two homers and five RBIs in Cactus League play. … MSU product Mitch Moreland, pulled from Boston’s game on Sunday with what was described as a minor hamstring problem, has not played since.
Trent Giambrone: The ex-Delta State star, now in the Chicago Cubs’ system, had a hit and an RBI in Cactus League play on Sunday and is now 8-for-14 this spring. Over the last three springs, he is batting .352 with four homers, 18 RBIs and 11 runs in 32 games. He is in camp as a non-roster invitee.
Wesley Reyes: The Jackson State senior went 2-for-3 with a key home run and four RBIs as the Tigers beat Alcorn State 10-6 on Sunday to complete a SWAC sweep. Reyes is batting .394.
Tyler Keenan: The Ole Miss preseason All-America pick banged out four hits and drove in two runs as the Rebels beat Indiana to complete a 3-0 run through a tournament in Greenville, N.C. Keenan went 7-for-13 with two homers and four RBIs for the weekend.
Matt Guidry: The Southern Miss senior went 3-for-4 with two homers, four RBIs and four runs in a 13-1 win against Valparaiso in a tourney game in Lake Charles, La., on Saturday. The Oak Grove High product is batting .359 with two homers and 11 RBIs on the season.
Tanner Allen: The Mississippi State junior had a double and triple, three RBIs and two runs on Saturday in the only game the Bulldogs won in their trip to Long Beach State.
Sloan Dieter: The William Carey two-way standout threw six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts and drove in three runs in the Crusaders’ 10-0 win over NAIA No. 6 Faulkner on Friday. The senior is 3-1 with a 1.26 ERA and is hitting .250 with two homers and 14 RBIs.
Ken Scott: The Mississippi College junior, from Meridian via East Central Community College, hit two home runs and drove in four as the Choctaws won the rubber game Sunday of a Gulf South series vs. Union.
Hunter White: The Belhaven senior, from Mantachie by way of Northwest Mississippi CC, went 2-for-3 with three RBIs to pace the Blazers to 15-5 win Saturday and a sweep of an American Southwest Conference series at Mary Hardin-Baylor. He is batting .433.
Jimmy Johnstone: The Millsaps senior was 3-for-3 with an RBI and three runs as the Majors beat Southwestern University 17-3 on Sunday. He is hitting .357.
Will Garriga: The Blue Mountain senior from Hurley belted a walk-off double in the 12th inning as the Toppers took down Martin Methodist in the first game of a Saturday twinbill.
From the Didn’t See That Coming Dept., we have this score from Starkville: Texas Southern 8, Mississippi State 4. Anything can happen on a given day in baseball, but still, when a winless SWAC team takes down a consensus top 10 SEC club on its home field, that’s going to send reverberations far and wide. “This is the second-biggest win in the history of the university,” TSU coach Michael Robertson said in a school release. The only thing bigger, Robertson said, would be a 2004 NCAA regional win against defending national champion Rice. Bulldogs shortstop Jordan Westburg had this take: “This is a really big wake-up call. It should hurt. It should hurt for everybody on the team … .” TSU, now 1-9, took a 7-3 lead with a four-run fourth. K.C. Hunt and David Dunlavey, State’s first two pitchers, allowed those seven runs (only four earned) on six hits, four walks, three wild pitches and a hit batsman. The Bulldogs made two critical errors. They stranded 11 runners, scoring just once after the second inning. “We’re not competing right now in a lot of different ways,” State coach Chris Lemonis said in a school release. State (5-2), which lost to Oregon State on Sunday, returns to Dudy Noble Field today to face another SWAC school, Alcorn State, which battled Ole Miss tooth-and-nail last week before losing on an Anthony Servideo walk-off bomb. … Meanwhile, in Oxford on Tuesday, Ole Miss and Southern Miss put on a show befitting a rivalry game. The nationally ranked Rebels won 4-3, getting a clutch go-ahead homer from Hayden Leatherwood in the seventh inning and some gritty relief pitching from Braden Forsyth, who struck out two batters with the go-ahead run on base in the ninth. Leatherwood hit 22 homers the previous two years at Northwest Mississippi Community College. For USM, Will McGillis, a product of Hattiesburg’s Presbyterian Christian School, went 3-for-5 with a go-ahead homer in the top of the seventh.
While there has been no shortage of hitting heroics around the state in the young college season, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more impactful batter than Mississippi College’s Chauncey Callier. The senior outfielder from Alabama is 11-for-30 (.367) with four home runs, eight RBIs and seven runs through nine games. The Choctaws are 6-3 and 3-0 in the Gulf South Conference coming off a weekend sweep of West Alabama. Callier hit .270 with eight homers in 2019 and was a second-team All-GSC selection. Ole Miss’ Anthony Servideo splashed numbers all over the box scores during the Rebels’ series win against top-ranked Louisville; the junior shortstop from Florida was 5-for-10 with three walks, an HBP, a homer, three RBIs and three runs. Jackson State is 1-3 but don’t fault Jaylyn Williams; the senior from Greenville went 9-for-16 with four RBIs and three runs in the opening weekend. Mississippi State, 3-0 out of the gate, got five hits, two walks, three RBIs and four runs from junior outfielder Rowdey Jordan, and sophomore Charlie Fischer – another Minnesota import in Hattiesburg – banged out seven hits, walked twice, drove in four runs and scored two for Southern Miss in its weekend sweep. At Delta State (6-3, 1-2 GSC), Jared Cramer, a senior catcher out of DeSoto Central High, is off to a sizzling start at .448 with two homers, six RBIs and 11 runs. Other hot hitters of note: William Carey’s Jordan Szush (.359, eight RBIs, seven runs); Blue Mountain’s Anthony Lipsey (.387, eight RBIs, six runs); Millsaps’ Jimmy Johnstone (.350, four RBIs, two runs); and Belhaven’s Logan Walters (4-for-10, four doubles, six RBIs, two runs).
Things to look for this weekend when – weather permitting! — the NCAA Division I schools launch their season: At Mississippi State, ranked in the top 10 in just about every preseason poll, J.T. Ginn is the acknowledged ace, coming off a season that saw the right-hander claim national freshman of the year honors. But almost every other significant contributor from the 2019 College World Series pitching staff is gone. It’ll be interesting to see how roles start to shake out in the opening series against Wright State at Dudy Noble Field. … At Ole Miss, there is a lot of buzz about top-ranked Louisville coming to Oxford for the opening series, but there might be just as much about Rebels freshmen Jerrion Ealy and John Rhys Plumlee. What will the roles be for the football players doing double duty this spring and how much impact will they have on the diamond? Both were highly touted baseball prospects in high school – some considered Ealy the best prep player in the state – and both play center field. … At Southern Miss, the playing surface at Taylor Park is now artificial (Field Turf), which will play a little differently than grass and dirt. The Golden Eagles will break in the new field against Murray State in a three-game set. Minus Matt Wallner and a couple of other mashers from last year’s C-USA Tournament champs, the lineup will also have a new look. “We’re probably going to be a little bit different team in the fact that we’re going to have to manufacture some runs. On-base percentage is going to be very crucial for us,” coach Scott Berry said at media day last month. P.S. In the SWAC, Jackson State is at home against Southern Illinois, Alcorn State opens with Prairie View in New Orleans in the Andre Dawson Tournament (formerly the Urban Invitational) and Mississippi Valley State travels to McNeese State. … Alcorn’s second game in New Orleans, against Southern University on Saturday, will be televised by MLB Network at 1 p.m. … On the Trustmark Park College Series docket: USM and State play in Pearl on March 4, USM and Ole Miss meet there on March 31 and the Ole Miss-State Governor’s Cup clash is set for April 21. … Mississippi State will play Texas Tech in a two-game series at MGM Park in Biloxi on March 10-11. The matchup features teams that have gone to the College World Series in each of the last two seasons. … The C-USA Tournament is slated for Biloxi’s MGM Park May 20-24 of this year, its fourth year at the Double-A Shuckers’ home. A scheduling glitch was resolved when Overtime Sports, which is currently managing the C-USA tourney, reportedly agreed to pay the Shuckers to move a Southern League game from May 20 to another date (May 17) as part of a doubleheader. There is some question as to whether the C-USA event will continue in Biloxi beyond 2020.
Millsaps College and Belhaven University, NCAA Division III programs in bounce-back mode, are slated to open the 2020 season today. The Majors, 10-33 in 2019, are hosting LeTourneau at Twenty Field on their Jackson campus, while the Blazers, 11-29 in Hill Denson’s final season as coach, play a pair of games (Randolph-Macon and Huntingdon) in a tournament in Montgomery, Ala. For BU, today’s games mark the debut of coach Kyle Palmer, previously director of baseball operations at California Baptist and an assistant at East Texas Baptist prior to that. The Blazers’ top player is Justin Milam, a former Madison Central and Northwest Mississippi Community College standout who hit .296 with five homers and 27 RBIs in 2019. At Millsaps, Jim Page enters his 32nd season with a 774-498-3 record but coming off what he calls “the toughest year we’ve ever had.” The bar for success is high at Millsaps, which has made eight D-III regional appearances under Page and in 2013 went to the College World Series. The Majors’ undoing in 2019 was a pitching staff that posted a 7.48 ERA, but Page said in a school-produced video that he is encouraged by what he saw in fall workouts. He wants his pitchers to throw strikes and trust the defense to make plays. “It’s going to come down to that,” he said. Lefty Taylor Sullivan was a bright spot in 2019, going 3-0 with a 4.11 ERA. With Mason Little (.331) on the shelf with an injury, the top returning hitter is Jimmy Johnstone, who batted .304.
Rodney Batts checked off wins Nos. 1 and 2 as Delta State coach over the weekend and, perhaps, relaxed a little bit. There are tough acts to follow, and then there’s the Delta State job. Batts took the reins from Mike Kinnison, recent American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame inductee who won 981 games and a national championship at the NCAA Division II school in Cleveland. No. 2 on the DSU wins list is Dave “Boo” Ferriss, another ABCA Hall of Famer who won 639 games and is immortalized by a bronze statue that stands in front of the DSU playing facility that bears his name. No. 3 on the DSU wins list is the coach whose eight-year tenure bridged the Ferriss and Kinnison eras: Bill Marchant, who won 283 games, including a school record 53 in 1996, and made two trips to the College World Series. Batts played for Marchant. Batts’ first DSU team entered the season ranked as high as 11th nationally and pegged to win the Gulf South Conference. Go get ’em. After splitting a Saturday doubleheader with East Central (Okla.) in Cleveland, the Statesmen took Sunday’s rubber game 8-6 as Wyatt Pratt went 4-for-5 with three runs and Kevin Granger homered. In other opening acts: Mississippi College took a series from Harding in Clinton, getting quality starts from Luke Files and David Dunn in Saturday’s twinbill sweep and some hot hitting from Caleb Reese, who was 5-for-9 with a homer, four RBIs and two runs in the series. … William Carey took a pair from Missouri Baptist in Hattiesburg on Saturday, outscoring the visitors 18-2. Sloan Dieter and Jay Simpson picked up wins with dominant starts, and Quartez Brown went 5-for-8 with four runs. … Blue Mountain is 0-4 after losing two doubleheaders to visiting William Wood.