In his third year at Mississippi College, Jeremy Haworth appears to have things trending in the right direction. The Choctaws are 8-1 as they head into their first Gulf South Conference series of the season, a single game today and a doubleheader on Saturday at West Georgia. It’s the team’s best start in eight years. Haworth’s first MC team, still in transition to NCAA Division II, went 17-30 (7-25 GSC) and his second started 2-17 (0-9). While there was no word of buzzards circling Frierson Field, surely there was some anxiety in Clinton. But suddenly – things turned around. The Choctaws ripped off 18 wins in their next 26 games, finished 15-17 in the league and qualified for the conference tournament. That momentum seemingly has carried into 2018. They rallied to beat nationally ranked Lindenwood (Mo.) 12-11 in their opener, took that series 2-1 and haven’t lost since. Chris Crosby, a transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, has been the ace, posting a 2-0 mark with a 1.26 ERA in three starts. Another juco transfer, Billy Cameron from East Central CC, is batting .455 with two home runs and seven RBIs in six games. Grant Barber, a first-team All-GSC selection in 2017, is at .359 with 14 RBIs and 13 runs. Returnees Hunter Sykes (.452, eight doubles) and Kyle Smith (.432, 16 runs) also have been swinging hot bats. West Georgia will give MC an early gauge on its progress. The Wolves, ranked No. 9 in D-II, are 10-1 – they lost for the first time on Wednesday — and are averaging more than 11 runs a game.
You know these names: Wallner, Rolison, Pilkington. They’re the stars at the state’s Big 3 Division I schools, the centers of preseason attention. Here are some names from outside the spotlight, lesser-heralded players who could have significant impact this season, which begins Friday. At Southern Miss, there’s Luke Reynolds, a transfer from Mississippi State, which the Golden Eagles meet in the opener in Hattiesburg. Forest native Reynolds is expected to replace Taylor Braley at third base for USM. Reynolds batted .304 at State in 2015. He left the program in 2016 without playing in a game but still had to sit out last season. He did play summer ball, batting .306 with four homers in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. In 2014, Reynolds was the star on the Hinds Community College team that made it to the NJCAA Division II title game. He hit .376 that year. … At Ole Miss, which opens against Winthrop in Oxford, there’s Tim Rowe. The Hernando native, a senior outfielder/DH who batted .254 with three homers and 20 RBIs in 2017, has some power in his bat, something the Rebels need with top sluggers Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman having moved on to pro ball. Two years ago at Itawamba Community College, Rowe hit .418 with eight homers and 48 RBIs. … At State, there’s Ethan Small, a sophomore left-hander who missed 2017 after Tommy John surgery. Konnor Pilkington sits atop the Bulldogs’ rotation and Riley Self and Spencer Price man the back end of the bullpen. Small is one of the other pieces – and he could be poised for a breakout campaign if he can harness his nasty stuff. A two-time prep All-America pick in Tennessee, he pitched sparingly as a freshman in 2016 but is penciled in as the No. 2 starter now. P.S. Alcorn State again starts its season in the Andre Dawson Classic (formerly the MLB Urban Invitational) in New Orleans. The Braves’ first game is against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday. Mississippi Valley State hosts South Dakota State in Itta Bena. Jackson State opens on Feb. 20 at the University of New Orleans.
A little history will be made today. Mississippi University for Women is slated for its inaugural baseball game at the University of Dallas. The Owls, coached by Matt Wolfenbarger, have a 36-player roster comprised mostly of freshmen with a few junior college transfers sprinkled in. MUW, which has applied for NCAA Division III membership, will play four games at Dallas, a D-III school in the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference, then return for a seven-game homestand at Columbus High starting Feb. 16. … Belhaven University also opens today at Centenary in Shreveport, La. This will be the 18th season at BU for Hill Denson, the former Southern Miss coach who was formally inducted into the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame last month. The Blazers, still in transition to Division III status, went 26-14 in 2017. They had two players make the American Southwest Conference preseason watch list: Will Costinett (.311, 11 homers in 2017) and Austin Douglas (3-1, 3.86 ERA). … Incidentally, Belhaven will host MUW at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson on April 11. P.S. Jones County Junior College, ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA’s Division II preseason poll and No. 2 by Collegiate Baseball, opens the season on Saturday against Southwest Tennessee CC in Ellisville.
The hitting hero of a busy weekend for the state’s small colleges was Brian Lane, a senior at Delta State. Lane went 6-for-12 with a home run and nine RBIs as the Statesmen rebounded from a season-opening loss with big wins on Saturday and Sunday in Florida. Shut out by Lynn on Friday, DSU – ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II – erupted for 31 runs against Nova Southeastern and Palm Beach Atlantic. … Playing at home in Hattiesburg, William Carey, ranked sixth in NAIA, won its first three games behind a pitching staff that yielded only three earned runs. Cole Edgens threw a three-hit shutout against Georgetown College on Saturday. … Mississippi College opened with a doubleheader split against Lindenwood on Saturday; the rubber game was rescheduled for today at Frierson Field in Clinton. Kyle Smith sparked the Choctaws with five hits and four RBIs in the two games. … Millsaps got 20 hits in its two games at Huntingdon in Alabama but scored just four runs and lost twice. … Tougaloo went 0-3 at Talladega, though two of the losses were one-run defeats. … Blue Mountain took three of four from visiting William Woods to improve to 5-2. Miciah Heard is off to a hot start (10-for-25, six RBIs) for the Toppers. Jonas White is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts.
The start of William Carey’s season will have a very different feel than a year ago. The Crusaders, ranked sixth in the NAIA preseason poll, open Friday against Georgetown College at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. They’ll also play Ave Maria University later that day. Those are the first of 18 straight home games. Carey didn’t get to play a game at home in 2017 until the end of February – 16 games into the season – because of tornado damage on its campus. No matter, Bobby Halford’s resilient crew went 45-20 last year and made it to the NAIA World Series for the first time since 1978. Right-hander Cole Edgens (10-1, 4.13 ERA last year), outfielder Christian Smith (.322, 18 stolen bases) and shortstop Wes Brown lead a small group of returnees. … Also opening on Friday – on the road — are Delta State, the No. 1-ranked NCAA Division II team by Collegiate Baseball; D-III Millsaps; and NAIA Tougaloo. DSU returns decorated slugger Zack Shannon – plus just about every other lineup regular – and 10-game winner Seth Birdsong from a CWS participant. The Statesmen open at Lynn (Fla.) University. Millsaps, coming off a rare losing (19-23) year, plays at Huntingdon in Alabama, and Tougaloo visits Talladega. … D-II Mississippi College will host Lindenwood, a Missouri school, for a doubleheader on Saturday in Clinton. P.S. USA Baseball has announced the 16-team field for the 2018 National High School Invitational, and Hattiesburg High and star outfielder Joe Gray are in it. The seventh edition of the tournament will be held at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., from March 28-31.
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.