The college season in Mississippi ended with such cruel irony. Mississippi State, which won so many big games in comeback fashion, was eliminated from the College World Series by a bottom-of-the-ninth rally by Louisville. Having allowed time for the hangover to pass, we can now look back on the 2019 season as one with more than its share of thrills. State, under first-year coach Chris Lemonis, won 52 games, went 37-5 at the “New Dude” (renovated Dudy Noble Field), made its 38th NCAA Tournament appearance, hosted a regional and a Super Regional and made its 11th CWS trip. The Bulldogs earn top-of-the-class honors in the state, but quite a few others belong on the honor roll. Ole Miss made its 23rd NCAA appearance and fell one win shy of the CWS, losing at Arkansas in the Super Regional to end the year at 41-27. Southern Miss went on a late-season roll, winning the Conference USA Tournament and earning its 16th NCAA bid. The Golden Eagles fell in the Baton Rouge Regional to LSU and finished 40-21. Jackson State went 31-24, notching a 13th straight winning season under Omar Johnson. Delta State won another Gulf South Conference title and reached the Super Regional round of the Division II Tournament, falling out at Tampa. The Statesmen went 42-14 in what turned out to be the legendary Mike Kinnison’s last year as coach. Mississippi College also put up a second straight winning season (28-17) under fourth-year coach Jeremy Haworth and just missed a second straight D-II regional invite. Blue Mountain went 26-25-1 in the NAIA ranks, and Mississippi University for Women went 18-13 as a non-scholarship independent and made the USCAA postseason tournament. That’s eight four-year schools with winning seasons. William Carey (24-26), Millsaps (10-33) and Belhaven (11-29) endured rare down years, while Alcorn State (14-31), Mississippi Valley State (8-27) and Tougaloo (5-29) continue to seek the right formula for their programs. Fall ball will be here in a blink.
Let this flow over you: In 23 years as the Delta State head coach, Mike Kinnison won an NCAA Division II national championship, six regional titles, eight Gulf South Conference championships (including 2019), nine GSC coach of the year awards and 981 games with a .756 career winning percentage. A no-nonsense kind of guy with a keen eye for finding players who fit at DSU, Kinnison coached dozens of All-Americans and three national players of the year. The Benton native played for Boo Ferriss and coached under Bill Marchant, two other Statesmen coaching legends, and was elected to the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 2010. Kinnison announced today that he is relinquishing his coaching duties to focus full-time on the athletic director role he assumed earlier this year. The search is on for the next coach. How would you like to follow that act? First Hill Denson retires at Belhaven, now Kinnison steps aside at DSU. The college baseball scene in Mississippi will look very different in 2020.
The all-time series is rather lopsided between Delta State and Mississippi College. The Statesmen lead 122-44-2. More telling about the rivalry is the recent history: 5-5 over the last 10 games, 3-3 in 2018. And MC won the two biggest games last year, eliminating DSU in both the Gulf South Conference Tournament and NCAA Division II South Regional. The schedule brings them together again in Clinton on Saturday (doubleheader) and Sunday to conclude the regular season. Buckle up. MC, ranked No. 4 in the South Region, is 19-5 in the GSC and first in the standings. DSU, No. 3 in the South Region, is 18-8 and third. Delta State’s pitching (see Dalton Minton, Hunter Riggins, Melvin Frazier, et al.) has been outstanding; the Statesmen lead the league (by a wide margin) in ERA with a 2.50. Can MC’s hurlers (Chris Crosby, Garrett Hollinghead, Ryan Lane, et al.) keep pace? … Blue Mountain College and William Carey University get their final tuneups this weekend for next week’s Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, with BMC playing a three-game set at Bethel (Tenn.) and Carey hosting Loyola of New Orleans. The Toppers are 25-21-1 and 14-9 in the SSAC, third behind NAIA powerhouses Faulkner and Middle Georgia State. The Crusaders are 20-24 and 12-11, seventh in the league. … A tough year for Millsaps College will likely end this weekend in Conway, Ark., where the Majors will play in one of the Southern Athletic Association’s two four-team tournaments that decide the championship series teams. The Majors (9-31) are the 8-seed overall and face No. 1 Hendrix in Friday’s opening round. Rhodes and Centre, the 4- and 5-seeds, are also in this bracket. Hendrix (28-12) swept the Majors three straight by a cumulative score of 28-5 during the season. Pitching (7.28 ERA) has been Millsaps’ biggest issue, though the defense (102 errors) has been shaky, as well. But, upsets do happen in postseason baseball. Teams go on improbable runs. Millsaps has done it before. … MUW’s second season ended on Tuesday with a pair of losses to Stillman in Columbus. The Owls are 16-11 and may get an invitation to the USCAA championships as they did in 2018. MUW, a non-scholarship program, went 3-1 vs. Rust, 2-0 vs. Tougaloo and 1-3 vs. Blue Mountain. … Belhaven University hired Kyle Palmer, formerly director of baseball operations at California Baptist University in Riverside, as the retired Hill Denson’s replacement for 2020. The Texas Lutheran graduate will be a first-time head coach. BU, completing its transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III, is expected to be eligible for the American Southwest Conference championship next season.
The great home run race in Mississippi last season involved just one player. Delta State’s Zack Shannon chased and ultimately broke the record for homers in a single season by a state collegian in any division. Shannon’s 31 bombs eclipsed the previous record of 29 shared by ex-Mississippi State stars Rafael Palmeiro and Bruce Castoria. No one is threatening Shannon’s record in 2019, but there is quite a battle for the state long ball lead. State’s Justin Foscue and Mississippi College’s Blaine Crim have hit 11, and Ole Miss’ Tyler Keenan and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner have 10. At nine are UM’s Thomas Dillard and Cole Zabowski, with State’s Dustin Skelton and Delta State’s Jake Barlow sitting on eight. Foscue hit his 11th against Arkansas on Friday; it was his only hit in the series in which the Bulldogs were swept. Crim, having a monster year, homered in both of MC’s wins at West Alabama; he drove in seven runs in the Friday game. Wallner, starting to heat up for USM, hit three homers over the weekend as the Golden Eagles swept Charlotte; with 45 career bombs, Wallner is tied with Fred Cooley for fourth on USM’s all-time list. UM’s Keenan hit his 10th in the Rebels’ lone win in a three-game set at Auburn. Zabowski also went yard in that game. Barlow leads a Delta State team that has 30 homers, one fewer than Shannon hit in 2018. P.S. Ex-State standout Mitch Moreland leads Mississippians in the majors in home runs with seven. Interestingly enough, McComb native Jarrod Dyson, whose outstanding tool is speed, has the same number – three – as Brian Dozier, the Southern Miss product and a more noted slugger.
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.