The conversion from closer to starter has been a smooth one for Southern Miss’ Nick Sandlin, who was named national pitcher of the week by Collegiate Baseball on Monday. The junior right-hander had a 14-strikeout game against Texas-San Antonio over the weekend and is 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA in his five starts. He had 10 wins and eight saves out of the pen in 2017, earning several All-America honors. … Thomas Dillard has been a welcome power source for surging Ole Miss (19-2), having already set a season-high with five home runs. The sophomore from Oxford, batting .333 this year, hit .206 with four homers in 48 games in 2017. … Mississippi State’s weekend rotation of Konnor Pilkington (1.55 ERA), Ethan Small (3.04) and Jacob Billingsley (3.52) has been excellent but is just 4-5 combined for the 10-10 Bulldogs. State, last in the SEC in scoring with 89 runs, could find a rhythm tonight when Alcorn State, staff ERA 7.24, comes to Starkville. … Jackson State leads the SWAC in hitting with a .302 average, and Raul Hernandez is second in the individual stats at .403. … Dalton Minton, a transfer from Northwest Mississippi Community College, has emerged as an ace at Delta State. The left-hander is 4-0, 3.90 and has the 19-2 team’s lone complete game. … Mississippi College leads the Division II Gulf South Conference in batting at .334, led by East Central CC transfer Billy Cameron at .397. … Blue Mountain (18-6) is in first place at 5-1 in the Southern States Athletic Conference standings. NAIA nationally ranked William Carey (19-8) is tied for third at 4-2. BMC travels to Columbus today to take on MUW, 10-7 in its inaugural season. … Millsaps (17-6) tops the D-III Southern Athletic Association standings at 7-2. Transfer Jimmy Johnstone is hitting .449 for the Majors.
Conference play starts this weekend for the state’s Big 3 Division I schools. Each is playing at home, and there should be an upbeat vibe for all three. Southern Miss is nationally ranked, sports a 12-4 record and just blasted Tulane 12-3 on Wednesday night in New Orleans. And there’s even more good news for Golden Eagles fans: Matt Wallner is heating up. The 2017 national freshman of the year homered against the Green Wave, just his second of the year but second in the last three games. Wallner, a .336 hitter with 19 bombs in 2017, is batting .298. USM opens Conference USA play against Texas-San Antonio in Hattiesburg. Ole Miss, which welcomes Tennessee to Oxford to launch SEC play, is on an even steeper roll. The Rebels, a top 10 team, bashed Georgia State 16-2 on Wednesday in Atlanta to move to 17-1. Who’s hot? Cole Zabowski, to pick just one. He went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs vs. the Panthers and is at .310 with three homers and 13 RBIs on the season. Mississippi State stumbled on Wednesday, losing to Southeastern Louisiana 11-5 in Biloxi. Jake Mangum continued to swing a hot bat, however, going 2-for-5. He is hitting .351 with 11 runs and seven steals. The Bulldogs take a 10-7 record into their SEC series against Vanderbilt in Starkville, but note they are 4-1 at renovated Dudy Noble Field, where the home-field edge is palpable. P.S. Jackson State, 5-1 in the SWAC, takes on Alabama State (4-2) this weekend in Montgomery in a key league series. JSU is 12-4 overall after a twinbill split at Morehead (Ky.) State. In a 4-0 win that was halted by snow on Tuesday and completed Wednesday, Jesus Santana hit his fourth homer of the year. Jarvis Warner has boosted his average to .364.
MGM Park in Biloxi would be a nice place to post up today. The home of the Southern League’s Shuckers is hosting a college doubleheader: Mississippi College-William Carey University at 1 p.m., Mississippi State-Southeastern Louisiana at 6:35. The Bulldogs are 10-6, having recovered – apparently – from their 0-3 start at Southern Miss and the dismissal of their head coach for off-field issues. This will be their final tuneup for SEC play, which starts Friday against Vanderbilt in Starkville. Unsung Southeastern Louisiana, which always seems to have a good team, is 11-6. The Lions’ roster includes several Mississippians, notably Trey Shaffer, last year’s state Gatorade Player of the Year at Biloxi High, and ex-Hinds Community College star Kyle Schimpf. No less intriguing is the MC-Carey game, which could evolve into an annual rivalry. Both are nationally ranked, MC (15-3) in NCAA Division II, Carey (18-5) in NAIA. The resurgent Choctaws claimed two walk-off wins last weekend, one on a homer by Blaine Crim. Crim, at .351, is one of six regulars batting .350 or better, topped by Billy Cameron, a former Mendenhall High and East Central CC standout, at .464. He has four homers and 17 RBIs. This will be just the fourth game away from home for Carey, which went to the NAIA World Series in 2017. Christian Smith, from Carriere, has been the Crusaders’ sparkplug, batting .329 with 21 runs and 20 steals, leading a team that has 55 bags. David Pimentel adds pop with three homers and 16 RBIs.
As much as baseball aficionados love to throw around statistics, there’s only one that really matters. Runs. Score more than the other guy and you’ll never lose. Delta State has done a pretty good job of that and has a 13-1 record to show for it. The Statesmen, currently ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II, have scored 128 runs (9.1 per game, which is tough to beat) to their opponents’ 71. Zack Shannon, the highly decorated senior slugger, has impressive Triple Crown numbers: .431 average, eight homers, 23 RBIs. He also leads the team in runs with 20. He is one of seven DSU players with double-digit runs. They get on and they get in. DSU’s D-II rival Mississippi College also gets around the bases at a good clip: 124 runs in 15 games. The Choctaws are 13-2. They have eight double-figure scorers, led by Kyle Smith with 19. William Carey has scored enough (114 runs to its opponents’ 74) to post a 16-4 record. Ranked No. 8 in NAIA, the Crusaders are led by Christian Smith, who has 20 runs – plus a .354 average and 20 steals. Interesting note: Tyler Reid, a .220 hitter for WCU, has reached base safely 18 times (11 hits, six walks, one HBP) and has scored 17 runs. That’s efficiency. D-III Millsaps, averaging 7.2 runs per game in an 11-5 start, has three players with 16 runs: Chase Callaway, Andy Page and Connor Woodall. The Majors’ top hitter, Brennan Ducote (.431, four homers, 22 RBIs) has scored 14 times. Among the D-I schools, nationally ranked Ole Miss, off to a 12-1 start, has scored 93 times (a healthy 7.2 runs per game), led by Thomas Dillard with 13. The red-hot Grae Kessinger (.353) has tallied 12 runs. Scoring alone isn’t enough, of course. You’ve also got to hold down the other team. Southern Miss, also nationally ranked, has been a prolific scoring club, averaging 9.6 runs a game even after Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Alabama. Newcomer Luke Reynolds, batting .426 with four homers and 18 RBIs, leads the team with 19 runs. But the Golden Eagles have lost four times (against eight wins) and in three of those losses, they’ve allowed nine or more runs, losing by scores of 10-9, 13-10 and 9-6.
Mississippi’s college programs had a whole lot to celebrate over the weekend. Among the NCAA Division I teams, Mississippi State won all three of its games in the Shriner’s College Classic in Texas, Ole Miss took two of three at Long Beach State, Southern Miss won two of three in the Cox Diamond Invitational in Florida and Jackson State swept its first SWAC series at Alabama A&M. Delta State and Mississippi College scored Gulf South Conference sweeps in D-II. William Carey won its first SSAC series in NAIA, and D-III Millsaps took an SAA series from Rhodes, notching Jim Page’s 750th career win. D-III Belhaven snapped a six-game losing skid to pick up its first ASC win. And MUW took two games from Lane College to improve to 7-3. There were individual stars aplenty, and here’s a few:
Grae Kessinger, UM: 3-for-4, 2 RBIs, 2 runs in a 12-1 win at LBSU on Sunday.
Daniel Keating, USM: 2-for-3, 3 RBIs, 3 runs in a 20-4 win vs. Nicholls State on Sunday.
Jacob Billingsley, MSU: 6 shutout innings in a 4-1 win over Sam Houston State on Sunday.
Mark Watson, JSU: 5-hit shutout, 7 K’s in an 11-0 victory vs. Alabama A&M on Sunday.
Zack Shannon, DSU: 2 homers, 6 RBIs in a 10-4 win against Auburn-Montgomery on Saturday.
Billy Cameron, MC: 4-for-5, homer, 2 RBIs in a 9-5 win at Shorter on Sunday.
Tyler Reid, Carey: 3-for-5, 4 runs, RBI in a 10-4 victory against Bethel on Saturday.
Cavan Breland, Millsaps: 4-for-6, 3 RBIs, 3 runs in a doubleheader sweep vs. Rhodes on Saturday.
Justin Acevedo, Belhaven: 2-for-5, 3 RBIs in an 11-2 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor on Saturday.
Damain Benefield, MUW: 3-for-4, homer, 3 RBIs in a 9-1 win over Lane on Sunday.
13 – Hits for Grae Kessinger, who is batting .464 for unbeaten Ole Miss, 7-0 after a weekend sweep of Tulane.
71 – Runs in seven games for Southern Miss (5-2), which scored 39 in three games vs. UT-Martin over the weekend. Luke Reynolds leads with 13.
7 – RBIs for Josh Hatcher, a freshman who also leads Mississippi State (3-4) in homers with three and runs with seven.
7 – Home runs by Zack Shannon of Delta State, 11-1 after a sweep at Valdosta State over the weekend.
3 – Home runs for Jesus Santana, batting .368 with eight RBIs for Jackson State (3-2).
10 – RBIs by Hunter Wilson of Alcorn State (4-4).
3 – Wins in three starts for Chris Crosby of Mississippi College, 10-2 after taking two of three at West Georgia over the weekend.
14 – Stolen bases for Christian Smith, batting .380 for William Carey (12-3).
14 – Steals by Miciah Heard of Blue Mountain (12-4).
13 – RBIs by Brennan Ducote, a .500 hitter for Millsaps (8-3).
3 – Homers for Will Costinett, who also has seven RBIs for Belhaven (2-6).
5 – Consecutive wins for MUW, now 5-3 in its inaugural season after a twinbill sweep of Rust last Friday.
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.