Jackson State will look to the past on Saturday when it hosts a homecoming celebration of Bob Braddy’s 1977 and 1978 SWAC championship teams. The Tigers are having a pretty good present, too, which may portend a bright future. The resurgent Tigers take a 10-game winning streak into the weekend series against Mississippi Valley State at Braddy Field. Led by a trio of hot hitters, JSU has climbed to 22-18 overall and 9-6 in the league. Valley (6-18, 5-9) limps in on a nine-game losing skid. Jaylon Williams, Equon Smith and Raul Hernandez are all hitting .367 or higher for the Tigers, Williams and Hernandez supplying power with four homers each and Smith lending speed with 32 steals. Kevin Perez has been the most consistent pitcher for JSU coach Omar Johnson with a 4-2 record and 2.64 ERA. The Delta Devils are led by Fredrick Spencer, a .321 hitter who pitched a shutout against Tougaloo on March 27 for the team’s last victory. … Also on the weekend docket: Blue Mountain College hosts William Carey in a compelling matchup of Southern States Athletic Conference rivals. BMC is 24-20-1 and third in the league at 13-8. Carey has battled to reach 17-23, 11-10 (sixth). Player to watch: BMC’s Hayden Tapper, from Nesbit, is the reigning SSAC player of the week after hitting .455 with two home runs and six RBIs, including a walk-off vs. Brewton-Parker. And two more: BMC’s Jose Torres tops the SSAC in steals with 24, while Carey’s Jonathan Turner is batting .351. … Mississippi College rode a nine-game winning spree into the NCBWA Division II Top 25 this week, checking in at No. 17. Alas, the Choctaws lost at Southern Arkansas (in 13 innings) on Tuesday. They’ll take a 25-13 overall record and 17-5 Gulf South Conference mark (tied for first place) into a series at West Alabama this weekend. After a three-hit game on Tuesday, Blaine Crim is raking at .355 with nine homers and 45 RBIs. Looming on the MC schedule: nationally ranked Delta State, next weekend at Frierson Field in Clinton. … Fueled by a five-hit, six-RBI game from Justin Milam, Belhaven whipped Millsaps 12-6 on Wednesday to complete a sweep of the three-game Maloney Trophy Series. Belhaven (10-27) will end its season and bid farewell to retiring coach Hill Denson this weekend in a three-game series (today-Friday) vs. McMurry at Smith-Wills Stadium. Millsaps, in the throes of an 8-29 campaign, finishes its regular season this weekend at Twenty Field in Jackson against Oglethorpe. The Majors will be the 8-seed in the Southern Athletic Association Tournament next week.
When Toronto traded Kevin Pillar to San Francisco, it opened the door for ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford to return to the Blue Jays’ big league roster. He started in center field and went 0-for-3 Tuesday in a loss to Baltimore. … You might have heard that Bryce Harper went 3-for-5 with a homer in his return to Washington, but in other news: Southern Miss product Brian Dozier got his first hit as a member of the Nationals in their loss to Philadelphia. Dozier is 1-for-13. … Former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe hit his first homer of 2019, then hit another in San Diego’s loss to Arizona. … Mississippi Braves alum Dustin Peterson, now with the Detroit Tigers, got his first big league hit. An RBI double. In the ninth. In a tie game. Against Aroldis Chapman. In Yankee Stadium. “I will never forget it. That’s for sure,” Peterson told mlb.com after the Tigers beat New York 3-1. … The Double-A Mississippi Braves introduced a roster on Tuesday that includes nine of Atlanta’s top 30 prospects (per MLP Pipeline). Five of them are pitchers, led by No. 3 Ian Anderson, who’s slated to start Thursday’s season opener at Tennessee. “It’s going to be exciting with the young staff we have here,” the 20-year-old right-hander said at Tuesday’s media day at Trustmark Park. “I’ll try to set the tone on Thursday.” M-Braves manager Chris Maloney said he likes “the vibe” he’s getting from this club. … The Double-A Biloxi Shuckers tuned up for their Thursday opener by bashing William Carey University 15-1 at MGM Park. Six Shuckers pitchers held Carey hitters, using wood bats, to one hit. The NAIA Crusaders (10-19) will try to return to normalcy today when they host West Alabama in Hattiesburg. … Go figure: Ole Miss, 20-9 and rising in the polls, lost to fledgling Division I North Alabama 10-6 in Oxford. The Rebels went deep into their bullpen to call on seven pitchers, who yielded 14 hits to the Lions, now 6-21. … The new NJCAA Division II poll came out Tuesday and seven Mississippi schools were in the Top 20. No. 4 Pearl River Community College celebrated by sweeping a doubleheader from No. 18 Mississippi Gulf Coast, knocking the Bulldogs out of first place in the league. Itawamba is ranked sixth, Jones County seventh, Meridian eighth, Hinds 13th and Northwest 16th. But what do the polls really mean in the MACJC jungle? Suddenly scuffling Jones got swept by East Central on Tuesday, and Hinds took a pair from Meridian.
Three intra-state clashes on Tuesday produced plenty of crooked numbers but no March Madness-style upsets. In Starkville, Mississippi State, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation, dispatched Mississippi Valley State 18-5 thanks in part to an eight-run inning. At Braddy Field in Jackson, Jackson State throttled NAIA Tougaloo 13-7, riding an eight-run inning and seven unearned runs. And at Blue Mountain, the NAIA Toppers took two games from fledgling Division III MUW, outscoring the Owls 21-6. As for individual numbers of note: Jordan Westburg went 3-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs for State, now 23-3. For JSU (11-16), Chris Prentiss went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs. BMC (16-17) was led by Trey Hathaway, who drove in six runs in the two games. … Valley (5-9) and Tougaloo (5-18) hook up today in Itta Bena in what could be another wild midweek affair. … Ole Miss (18-8) went up to Memphis on Tuesday and whipped the Tigers 9-6 at AutoZone Park, and Southern Miss (16-6) went down to Metairie, La., and won its eighth straight game, beating Nicholls State by the relatively boring score of 5-0 at Zephyr Field. … Jackson State, which takes a trip to Louisiana-Monroe today, is gearing up for a SWAC series at home this weekend against what the Tigers’ website playfully calls “That School in Lorman.” Alcorn State, which lost a non-league game Tuesday at Grambling 8-7 (giving up seven runs in one inning), is 6-17 and got plastered last weekend by Valley, which outscored the Braves 38-9 in a three-game sweep.
It was a great day for baseball in Oxford on Wednesday. The game itself didn’t hold up its end. Ole Miss beat Arkansas-Pine Bluff 25-0. The Rebels hit six home runs, four in one inning. UAPB didn’t muster a hit. It was the most runs in a game for the Rebels in 16 years, and their first no-hitter since 1966. Ole Miss’ Tyler Keenan was 5-for-6 with two homers and seven RBIs. UAPB had four baserunners. Obviously, this is a good Ole Miss team. The Rebels, who beat UAPB 12-2 on Tuesday, are 16-6 and have been nationally ranked much of the season. UAPB, which has yet to play a home game, is in the throes of an unusually bad season: 2-18, 1-8 in the SWAC. The Golden Lions went 20-25 last year, their fifth 20-win season in six years. They were 12-10 in the SWAC and have won three division titles since 2014. Sometimes these midweek games just go haywire. Pitching runs short. The Lions, after using four pitchers on Tuesday, went through seven on Wednesday, four of whom couldn’t get more than two outs. Hard to imagine that either team truly enjoyed Wednesday’s game — or that either will make too much of it. They have to turn the page. It’s back to conference play this weekend.
Good week to be a hitter from a Mississippi college. Three – count ’em, three – won conference player of the week honors at three different levels. Hats off to Mississippi State’s Elijah MacNamee, Mississippi College’s Grant Barber and William Carey’s Sloan Dieter. MacNamee, who claimed the SEC award, went 9-for-17 (.529) with two homers (one a grand slam) and eight RBIs in four games last week, including a 2-1 weekend at Florida. MacNamee, a senior outfielder, is batting .380 with three homers and 22 RBIs for the 18-2 Bulldogs. Barber was named the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference POW after a week that saw him bat .615 with four doubles, five runs and three RBIs, including a walk-off that capped a Choctaws sweep of Lee University. Barber, a junior second baseman, tops MC in batting at .369. (His teammate Blaine Crim could easily have won the GSC award; he hit .429 with two homers and nine RBIs last week.) Dieter, who won the NAIA Southern States Athletic Conference award, batted .636 with eight RBIs as Carey took two of three from Mobile. Senior first baseman Dieter, who also won the SSAC top player honor the week before last, is batting .375 with four bombs and 17 RBIs for the Crusaders. Worth noting: Southern Miss’ Hunter Slater didn’t get a C-USA award but certainly had an honors-worthy weekend in the Golden Eagles’ sweep of Louisiana Tech, batting .462 with two homers, six RBIs and five runs, and SWAC voters somehow passed over Alcorn State’s Travaris Cole. All he did was hit .389 with three homers, seven RBIs and four runs in a SWAC weekend series against Prairie View A&M. The NJCAA names its players of the week on Wednesday, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see an MACJC hitter earn the Division II award.
The Magnolia State’s NCAA Division I schools should get some good barometer readings this weekend. Mississippi State, 16-1 and ranked in everybody’s top 10, gets its first true road test of the season when it opens SEC play at nationally ranked Florida (14-5). Nationally ranked Ole Miss (12-5) starts league play with a home series against Alabama, 16-2 but unranked. Southern Miss, wobbling a bit at 8-6, begins defense of its C-USA regular season title at Louisiana Tech (11-5), which features a bunch of Mississippi connections, including coach Lane Burroughs, a former USM assistant. And at Magnolia Field in Itta Bena, Jackson State and Mississippi Valley State, both still feeling their way, will lock up in a big SWAC series. JSU is 5-13 (1-2 SWAC) against a schedule that has included Boston College, Mississippi State, UNO and Miami (Fla.). Weather issues have limited Valley to six games; the Delta Devils are 1-5 (0-1 SWAC), including an 8-1 loss at Memphis on Tuesday, and have not played a home game. Equon Smith leads JSU hitters with a .348 average and has scored 15 runs. Raul Hernandez is at .309 with two homers and 16 RBIs. Wesley Reyes (.208) and Dezmond Chumley (.190), preseason All-SWAC picks, have yet to click. Morgan Lomax is hitting .409 for Valley, and Billy Leflore checks in at .381. Neither club has pitched particularly well, and that’ll probably be the key to the series. JSU has a 5.89 ERA, though Kevin Perez (2-1, 3.38) and Garth Cahill (2.18 in nine appearances) have been solid. Valley is at 9.56, having only once held an opponent to fewer than eight runs. Aaron Barkley has the lone win and a 1.50 ERA in six innings of work.
They met in Columbus on Tuesday, in a doubleheader at Columbus High’s field, and the box score listed the attendance as 0. Surely – hopefully? – there were a few fans watching, ’cause Blue Mountain College and Mississippi University for Women put on what had to be an entertaining show. The W – in its second season as a non-scholarship program – climbed out of a five-run hole to win the opener 6-5, and BMC overcame a late deficit to win Game 2 5-4. Heath Ford, from West Point, sparked the Owls in their win, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Latalo Newson, from Senatobia, homered, doubled and drove in two runs to fuel the NAIA Toppers in the second game. “Overall, playing two one-run, competitive games against a really good Blue Mountain team shows us that we’re heading in the right direction,” said MUW coach Matt Wolfenbarger, whose club is now 8-3, including two wins over Rust College, another NAIA school. BMC, in its 10th season, is also on the rise. Curt Fowler’s team (11-14-1) has posted back-to-back winning seasons. Last weekend, the Toppers beat Southern States Athletic Conference power Faulkner, No. 3 in NAIA, for the first time. They visit nationally ranked SSAC foe Middle Georgia State this weekend. Someone will be watching.
In-state rivalry games do add a certain spice to the college season. Southern Miss and Mississippi State engaged in a compelling three-game series in Starkville last month, and Wednesday at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium, Millsaps College and Belhaven University battled it out in the first game of the Maloney Trophy Series. The Blazers, behind the arm of Kyle Whittington (two hits, 11 strikeouts in five innings) and the bat of Steven Liuzza (4-for-5, four RBIs), won 13-7, weathering a late Majors comeback. Freshmen Chris Hart (from Northwest Rankin High) and Brayden Stensaas (Pearl) drove in three runs each for Millsaps. BU improved to 6-7, while scuffling Millsaps fell to 3-12. Game 2 of the three-game series between the NCAA Division III rivals is March 19 at Millsaps’ Twenty Field. Also this month we get the first round of the SWAC home-and-homes, with Jackson State visiting Mississippi Valley State March 15-17, Alcorn State trekking to Valley March 22-24 and ASU visiting JSU March 29-31. On March 20, at MGM Park in Biloxi, D-II Mississippi College and NAIA William Carey will hook up. And looming in April are the Trustmark Park College Series games in Pearl: Ole Miss-USM on April 9 and the UM-State Governor’s Cup clash April 23. Those are always spicy.
When the first NJCAA Division II poll comes out on Tuesday, look for Jones County Junior College to jump in there somewhere. The Bobcats, unranked in the preseason poll, are 10-0 and beat top-ranked LSU-Eunice over the weekend. O’Neil Burgos is batting .385 with 10 RBIs and 12 runs for the Bobcats, and Lane Thomas is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA. JCJC is the lone unbeaten team in the MACJC ranks; Holmes is 9-1 and Itawamba 8-1. … Mississippi State, now 10-1, moved to No. 8 from ninth in today’s Baseball America NCAA D-I poll, with Ole Miss (8-2) rising from 13th to 12th. State moved from 12th to seventh in the new NCBWA poll, while UM stayed at No. 10. … Going the other way is Southern Miss, which lost twice to Gonzaga over the weekend – a big lead in Game 3 was washed out — to fall to 4-5. … Mississippi Valley State scored three runs in the eighth and another in the 10th – on a passed ball — to win at Alabama State 12-11 on Saturday for its first win of the season. … Blue Mountain’s Eli Jackson, a sophomore from New Albany, threw a one-hit (nine-inning) shutout at Martin Methodist on Friday, fanning 11 in the 1-0 victory, BMC’s SSAC opener. The teams split a Saturday twinbill. … Mississippi College endured a rough weekend, losing three at West Florida to fall to 10-7, 3-3 Gulf South, and William Carey got swept away at NAIA No. 4 Faulkner to drop to 4-10, 0-3 SSAC. … In MLB, former Ole Miss star Chris Ellis’ bid to stick with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick took another hit on Sunday when he yielded eight hits (two homers) and seven runs in two innings against Cleveland in Cactus League play. Ellis, also a former Mississippi Braves hurler, has a 20.25 ERA this spring. He was drafted out of St. Louis’ organization by Texas and then traded to the Royals. … UM alum Drew Pomeranz, now pitching for San Francisco, got knocked around (four runs in three innings) on Saturday by San Diego but did manage to retire Manny Machado on a pop-up in his first at-bat with the Padres. … Starkville native Julio Borbon, a onetime big leaguer who played college ball at Tennessee, announced his retirement over the weekend.
Mississippi Valley State finally got on the field Tuesday for its first game of the season after a couple of postponements. The Delta Devils lost 4-2 at Arkansas State, giving up a lead in the eighth inning. The bigger news from the Delta on Tuesday comes from Cleveland, where Delta State beat Arkansas Tech 9-2 to improve to 13-0 – matching its best-ever start – and also learned that it has jumped to No. 1 in the NCBWA’s NCAA Division II poll. The Statesmen returned just one regular position player from the outstanding 2018 team, but Mike Kinnison has kept the green machine humming, as he always seems to do. DSU is hitting .301 with 87 runs, led by David Herrington (.431), Darek Sargent (.340, 17 RBIs) and the remarkable Jake Barlow, who hit for the cycle on Sunday, belted a grand slam on Tuesday and is batting .412 with three homers and 15 RBIs. Not to be overlooked by any means is DSU’s pitching staff, which has a ridiculous 0.90 ERA. Hunter Riggins is 4-0 with an 0.33, Seth Hougesen 3-0, 0.73 and Melvin Frazier 3-0, 1.29. The Statesmen play Arkansas Tech again today at Ferriss Field, then head to Georgia for a weekend Gulf South series against Shorter.