At Oxford-University Stadium, Ole Miss plays Georgia in a three-game SEC set Friday-Sunday. At Dudy Noble Field in Starkville, Mississippi State gets Arkansas. At Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, it’s Southern Miss and Middle Tennessee State in C-USA. At Braddy Field in Jackson, Jackson State hosts Alabama State in a SWAC East showdown. Here’s some quick takes on the big weekend upcoming for the state’s Big 4 Division I schools: Even after last weekend’s breakdowns at Vanderbilt, Ole Miss has to feel pretty good about the bullpen troika of Will Ethridge (16 appearances, 4.10 ERA, two saves), Parker Caracci (15, 1.73, six) and Dallas Woolfolk (14, 2.77, six). … Jake Mangum is having another standout year at State (.345, 31 runs, 12 steals), but the Bulldogs’ overall lack of punch (SEC-lows of 189 runs and 18 homers) is wasting some very good pitching. … The meat of USM’s order is pretty imposing: Luke Reynolds (.370, seven homers, 36 RBIs), Matt Wallner (.362, 10, 45) and Hunter Slater (.329, seven, 32). The 3-4-5 hitters combined for seven hits and six RBIs vs. Southeastern Louisiana on Tuesday. … JSU’s Raul Hernandez is making a strong bid for SWAC player of the year, batting a league-best .406 with six homers, 14 doubles and 36 RBIs. The junior from Puerto Rico is first in the league in total bases (90) and second in slugging (.629). P.S. Division II Delta State also faces a big series this weekend, going on the road to play North Alabama in a battle of the top two teams in the Gulf South Conference standings. As crazy as Zack Shannon’s individual numbers (.453, 25 homers, 76 RBIs) are, the team’s offensive output is equally as jaw-dropping: 21 games with 10 or more runs, including slow-pitch softball sounding totals of 26, 25, 21, 19, 16 (twice), 15 and 13 (thrice).
Tuesday was a test of resilience for three college programs that endured serious disappointment over the weekend. Ole Miss, William Carey and Millsaps all showed a little something. The No. 4-ranked Rebels, coming off an SEC series loss to scuffling Mississippi State, bounced back with an 11-3 win against No. 12 Southern Miss before a crowd of 5,772 at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Chase Cockrell and Thomas Dillard drove in three runs each and Houston Roth improved to 5-0 for the Rebels (28-6), who’ll take a 7-5 conference record to Vanderbilt this weekend. Carey, ranked 11th in the latest NAIA poll, was swept at home by top-ranked Faulkner in a big Southern States Athletic Conference series last weekend. The Crusaders rebounded Tuesday with a 7-1 win in the opener of a doubleheader at LSU-Alexandria behind the bat of Marcus Buckley and the arm of Lake Robertson. WCU lost Game 2 7-4. The Crusaders (26-14, 10-5 SSAC) travel to Loyola (La.) for their next league series this weekend. Millsaps, hoping to make a late push in the Southern Athletic Association standings, was swept at home by Sewanee over the weekend, falling to 8-10 in the conference. Fueled by the hitting of Christian Cooper and six innings of stellar relief from Chris Guerin, the Majors responded Tuesday with a 6-4 victory at East Texas Baptist. NCAA Division III Millsaps (20-16) finishes SAA play at Centre this weekend. P.S. On the day he was named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List, Delta State’s Zack Shannon smacked his nation-leading 23rd home run in an 8-3 win vs. Harding. Shannon is batting .445 with 70 RBIs for DSU, 29-6 and ranked as high as fifth in Division II.
Four Magnolia State four-year schools sit at the head of the class, sporting Superior marks, as the college season barrels into April. Ole Miss, ranked third in the country by Baseball America, tops the SEC West at 6-3 and is 25-4 overall. Jackson State leads the SWAC East at 9-3 (17-10 overall). Delta State leads the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference at 14-3 (24-6), and William Carey is tied for first in the NAIA Southern States Athletic Conference at 10-2 (25-10). Both are nationally ranked. The Crusaders are knotted with NAIA No. 1 Faulkner (33-3, 10-2), which comes to Hattiesburg this weekend. In the Satisfactory category we have nationally ranked Southern Miss (6-2, second in C-USA), Mississippi Valley State (6-6 SWAC), Mississippi College (11-6 GSC), Blue Mountain (7-5, fifth in SSAC), Millsaps (8-7, fourth in the D-III Southern Athletic Association) and unclassified independent MUW (14-9 in its inaugural campaign). That leaves the Needs Improvement group. Alcorn State is 3-9 and last in the SWAC East. Belhaven (7-18 overall) is 4-11 against D-III American Southwest Conference competition, and NAIA Tougaloo (12-15) is 0-6 in Gulf Coast Athletic Conference play. And then there’s Mississippi State, a team that was ranked in preseason but is now 14-15 overall, 2-7 and last in the SEC West. Ready or not, the Bulldogs get Ole Miss this weekend in Starkville. … In the MACJC, Pearl River Community College swept Itawamba CC last Friday to move to 8-0 in the league, alone in first place. ICC was ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA Division II poll last week. It’ll be interesting to see just how high PRCC, ranked 18th last week, jumps in the new poll that comes out today.
Delta State’s 26-4 win at Southern Arkansas on Tuesday grabs your attention. Zack Shannon and Clay Casey smashed two home runs each for the Statesmen, 21-6 and ranked as high as No. 6 in NCAA Division II. Shannon’s numbers are just ridiculous: 21 homers, .462 average, 58 RBIs. … In Oxford, Thomas Dillard’s seventh bomb of the year helped Ole Miss rally past Southern Miss 7-6 in a matchup of nationally ranked D-I teams. After USM KO’d Rebels starter Jordan Fowler in the first inning, the UM bullpen yielded just one earned run thereafter. UM is 23-3, USM 17-6. … Mississippi State appears to be in some trouble. The Bulldogs fell to 13-13 after a 7-4 loss at Nicholls State, which entered the game with an 8-15 record. … Nationally ranked juco foes East Central Community College and Jones County JC split a big doubleheader in Ellisville. Wyatt Ball and Ken Scott drove in three runs each in the Warriors’ 12-6 win in Game 1, and the Bobcats’ Tyler Spring and Will Hicks threw a combo two-hitter in the second game, a 1-0 victory. Jones managed only one hit, an RBI single in the second inning by Stephen Matthews. The loss was the first in league play for ECCC, now 7-1. … Elsewhere in the MACJC, Pearl River moved to 6-0 with a sweep of Gulf Coast in Poplarville. … On today’s docket, William Carey, 21-9, ranked 11th in NAIA and coming off a huge road sweep at Martin Methodist, hosts D-II West Alabama at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Christian Smith continues to fuel the Crusaders’ attack, with a .330 average, 31 runs and 27 steals. … In the big leagues, former State star Chris Stratton, in his final tuneup for the regular season, threw five shutout innings for San Francisco against Oakland at AT&T Park. Stratton had a 3.29 ERA this spring.
Here’s a number to know for today: 125. Old rivals Ole Miss and Southern Miss meet tonight in Oxford, for the 125th time. They played for the first time on April 10, 1916, in Oxford. Ole Miss beat Mississippi Normal College, which we now know as USM, by a 10-3 count, according to the UM media guide. (It’s not true that David Kellum and John Cox broadcast that game.) Here are few other numbers to know about the two teams:
74 – Wins for Ole Miss in the series, including two last year, one in Pearl, the other in Hattiesburg.
4 – UM’s rank in four different national polls. USM is ranked as high as 14th.
30 – Homers by the Rebels (22-3).
26 – Homers by the Eagles (17-5), seven in their previous three games.
32 – Stolen bases for the Rebels.
19 – Steals for the Eagles.
2.54 – UM’s staff ERA.
3.40 – USM’s ERA.
17 – Errors by the Rebels.
20 – Errors by the Eagles.
177 – Runs scored by the Rebels, 7.1 per game.
194 – Runs for the Eagles, 8.8 per game.
3.83 – Strikeouts-to-walks ratio for UM pitchers, best in the nation.
41 – Runs scored by USM in the first two innings; their opponents have six.
14 – Days until the teams meet again, April 10, at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
Presumably the dust has finally settled at Rat McGowan Field in Lorman, where Alcorn State and Jackson State played a three-game SWAC series which may have set a new standard for wacky. JSU won all three games, 17-10, 9-2 and 13-8. Alcorn committed a jaw-dropping 10 errors in Friday’s Game 1, and yet somehow led in the ninth inning. JSU’s Stephen Vidal tied it at 10-all with a two-run homer, and the Tigers proceeded to score seven times in the 10th, aided by three of the Braves’ miscues. There was some pitching in Game 2 on Saturday as JSU’s Kevin Perez (5-1) threw a seven-hitter. Dezmond Chumley and Wesley Reyes got three hits apiece in a 14-hit attack for the Tigers, who again benefitted from Alcorn’s shabby defense (three errors, five unearned runs). In Game 3 on Sunday, the Braves forged an early 8-4 lead, but the Tigers roared back with nine runs (four unearned) over the final four frames. Alcorn pitchers walked 12 batters (29 for the series) and JSU stole six bases on the day. Wacky, indeed. Chumley, a junior from Texas, had a great series, with seven hits, seven runs, seven RBIs and two homers. JSU is 17-6 overall and alone in first place in the SWAC East at 9-3. Alcorn (6-17) sank further into the cellar at 1-8. The rivals meet again in late April at Braddy Field in Jackson. We can’t possibly know what to expect.
There are several big series on tap this weekend in college baseball (see Ole Miss at Texas A&M in the SEC; Southern Miss at Florida Atlantic in C-USA; Jackson State at Alcorn State in the SWAC; first-place Millsaps at Birmingham-Southern in SAA play; and first-place Blue Mountain at NAIA No. 1 Faulkner (Ala.) in the SSAC). If the recent past is prologue, we could be in for a wild weekend. To wit: On Thursday night, Ole Miss rallied for three eighth-inning runs to upend Texas A&M 5-4 in a battle of nationally ranked SEC foes in their series opener at College Station. Rebels ace Ryan Rolison wobbled, but relievers Will Ethridge (three innings, six strikeouts) and Parker Caracci (two innings, five K’s) picked him up. … On Wednesday, Mississippi Valley State beat Delta State for just the 16th time in 103 meetings, getting a 10th-inning, tie-breaking double from Aaron Barkley – who also pitched two shutout innings – at Itta Bena. Division I Valley is 5-16, D-II No. 1-ranked Delta State 19-4. In Jackson, Tougaloo spanked Alcorn State 9-1 as Lige Mims threw a complete game and drove in two runs. The NAIA Bulldogs, who visit MUW on Saturday, are 12-11; D-I Alcorn, which might have been looking ahead to its series with JSU, is 6-14. In the juco ranks, unranked Hinds Community College went to Ellisville and handed third-ranked Jones County Junior College its first home defeats of the season. Staton Todd (homer, double) and Andrew Beasley fueled the 6-5 Game 1 win with their bats, and the Eagles (14-3, 3-1 MACJC) rode the arms of Caleb Morgan and Josh Banes to a 4-1 victory in Game 2. Jones slipped to 15-5 (10-2 at home) and 2-2 MACJC. Meanwhile, East Central, ranked 13th, moved to 4-0 in the league with a sweep of Southwest behind the hitting of Wyatt Ball, who cycled over the two games. Pearl River, at 2-0, is the only other team still unbeaten in league play.