18 Jun

bear tracks

Though he is not the main attraction on a star-studded LSU team, Kade Scivicque, a two-time All-Stater at Southwest Mississippi Community College, has been much more than an extra on the big stage in Omaha. LSU’s senior catcher, the team’s leading hitter at .352, is 4-for-8 with two RBIs and a couple of runs in the Tigers’ two games in the College World Series. He drove in a run and scored two in Tuesday’s do-or-die, 5-3 win against Cal State Fullerton. LSU faces TCU in another elimination game tonight. Scivicque, who has six homers and 47 RBIs and is also regarded as a strong defensive catcher, was first-team All-SEC this year, along with fellow Tigers Alex Bregman, Conner Hale, Andrew Stevenson and Alex Lange. Scivicque was a second-team All-America choice by Baseball America and was drafted in the fourth round by the Detroit Tigers. He played for Southwest’s Bears in 2012 and ’13, batting over .300 with nine career homers. … Also on the LSU roster is Hunter Devall, a Centreville Academy product who has a 4.20 ERA in 17 appearances. He allowed three runs in 2/3 of an inning in a 10-3 loss to TCU on Sunday. P.S. Former Harrison Central High star Bobby Bradley, the reigning Midwest League player of the week, is batting .264 with 11 home runs and 35 RBIs in just 40 games at Class A Lake County in the Cleveland system. The lefty-hitting first baseman, only 19, is coming off a 9-for-22, four-homer week and is on pace for 30 bombs. … Mississippi State alum Adam Frazier, who, like Bradley, missed some time with an injury, is hitting .352 with 10 RBIs and 17 runs in 28 games at Double-A Altoona in the Pittsburgh organization. Frazier, a lefty-hitting shortstop, has a .412 average over his last 10 games.

15 Jun

caught short?

A quick check of Atlanta’s top 30 prospects on mlb.com reveals two catchers. Jose Briceno, No. 20, is hitting .156 at Class A Carolina. Tanner Murphy, No. 26, is batting .178 at low Class A Rome. Chris O’Dowd, a fringe prospect acquired in the off-season from Colorado, was hitting .304 for the Double-A Mississippi Braves when he was slapped last week with an 80-game drug suspension. Why is any of this relevant? Well, the Atlanta Braves sent “catcher of the future” Christian Bethancourt down to Triple-A Gwinnett. Relegated to backing up 38-year-old A.J. Pierzynski, Bethancourt, 23, was batting .208 with one home run and had five passed balls and three errors in his 27 games. Bethancourt, who has a rifle arm, seemed to have a breakthrough with the M-Braves in 2013, when he hit .277 with 12 homers and made the Southern League postseason All-Star team. He was a consensus top five prospect in the system after a solid season at Gwinnett in 2014. Atlanta essentially handed him the starting job this spring — and he fumbled it away in short order. Can he ever recover it? Is Atlanta shopping for a catcher? The Braves drafted five last week, two from four-year colleges and a second-rounder from a California high school. Maybe there’s a “catcher of the future” in that bunch. P.S. LSU lost its College World Series opener to TCU 10-3 on Sunday, but former Southwest Mississippi Community College star Kade Scivicque held up his end with a 2-for-4, one-RBI day. Scivicque, the Tigers’ catcher and cleanup batter, is hitting .350 with six homers and 46 RBIs on the season. LSU plays an elimination game on Tuesday. … Arkansas, facing elimination in the CWS tonight against Miami, has two Mississippi juco products on its roster, pitcher Jackson Lowery of Meridian CC and outfielder Krisjon Wilkerson of Pearl River CC. Neither appeared in Saturday’s 5-3 loss to Virginia.

18 Jun

sure, it’s doable

So, Ole Miss has to win three straight games to reach the College World Series championship round. Sounds like a piece of cake. After all, this club has posted eight streaks of three or more wins this season en route to its 47 victories. The Rebels won two straight do-or-die games against Louisiana-Lafayette in their Super Regional to get to the CWS. But the three straight wins the Rebels need now will have to come against TCU and Virginia, who happen to be the only two national seeds who made it to Omaha. UVA already has beaten Ole Miss, holding the Rebels to one hit in a 2-1 game on Sunday. The Rebels didn’t hit much more against Texas Tech in their second game, managing five in the 2-1 win. (One of the runs was unearned.) But they say all it takes is one big hit to get an offense going, and maybe the Rebels got that Tuesday from John Gatlin, who delivered the walk-off pinch single in the bottom of the ninth. Of course, up next, on Thursday, is TCU, which entered the CWS with a 2.19 ERA, best in the nation. Then UM must beat UVA, also rich in pitching, twice. So, sure, three in a row is doable for the Rebels, but it ain’t gonna be easy.

15 Jun

omaha arms race

If you believe that starting pitching is the primary key to winning in baseball — and many people do — then you’ve got to feel pretty good about Ole Miss’ chances in the College World Series. The Rebels have two excellent arms at the top of their rotation: Chris Ellis, who starts tonight against Virginia, and Christian Trent. Both were drafted — among the nine Rebels picked by MLB clubs — and their stats give indication as to why. Ellis is 10-2 with a 2.45 ERA, Trent 9-0, 2.21. Both won numerous big games in SEC play and beyond. The Rebels’ No. 3, should they need one in this double-elimination affair, is Sam Smith (5-4, 3.45), who was KO’d early in the Super Regional title game at Louisiana-Lafayette. (The bullpen came to the rescue.) A problem for Ole Miss is that two of the other three teams in its CWS bracket have better starting pitching, at least on paper. UVA, which spent part of the season ranked No. 1 in the nation, will throw All-American Nathan Kirby, a sophomore left-hander, at the Rebels in tonight’s game. He is 9-2 with a 1.73 — including an 18-strikeout no-hitter in April — though he did get roughed up a bit in his Super Regional start against Maryland. He fronts what might be the deepest rotation in Omaha. Then there’s TCU, which leads the country with a 2.19 staff ERA. The Horned Frogs’ top two starters are top-shelf arms: Brandon Finnegan and Preston Morrison. Morrison is slated to start today against Texas Tech, which means Ole Miss would face left-hander Finnegan (9-3, 2.12, 17th overall draft pick) should they meet in Round 2. Texas Tech isn’t known for its pitching, but the Red Raiders did post four shutouts in NCAA play en route to Omaha. They’ll start lefty Chris Sadberry against TCU, with Dylan Dusek, another solid lefty (8-0, 1.94), waiting in the wings.

10 Jun

the long and short of it

Now that the 2014 Ole Miss team has made history — reaching the College World Series for the first time in 42 years — the Rebels must hope history doesn’t repeat. Ole Miss’ 1972 trip to Omaha lasted just two games. The Rebels lost 8-6 to Southern Cal and 9-8 to Texas. That Ole Miss team was coached by Rebels legend Jake Gibbs, who just the year before was catching for the New York Yankees. The stars were shortstop Steve Dillard — future big leaguer (nice career) and future manager of the Jackson DiamondKats (forgettable season) — outfielder Paul Husband and pitcher Jim Pittman, who won 10 games for a 28-16 club. The ’72 Rebels won the SEC Championship Series 2-games-to-none against Vanderbilt. Next they won the NCAA District III playoffs, going 5-1 in the double-elimination affair and beating South Alabama twice for the right to go to Omaha. It was Ole Miss’ fourth CWS berth. Having waited so long for the fifth, maybe the Rebels will stay a little longer. P.S. A spinning managerial wheel put pitcher Tony Sipp in right field for Houston on Monday night. Left-hander Sipp, the former Moss Point High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, moved from the mound to the outfield (for one batter, who walked) and back again during the eighth inning at Arizona. It was the first MLB outfield appearance for the veteran Sipp, who was a standout outfielder in amateur ball, playing the position at Clemson as well as in high school and junior college. He faced six batters Monday and retired five of them, notching his fourth hold in the Astros’ 4-3 win and lowering his ERA to 2.70.

06 Jun

mission: possible?

While perusing Baseball America’s preview of the Super Regional in Lafayette, La., a quote from an anonymous coach came leaping off the screen: “This is the team (Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco) has been waiting on. … If they’re going to win a national championship, this is the year they could do it.” That’s high praise. And the Rebels are very good, 44-18 and ranked sixth in the country. But Ole Miss has had a lot of good teams — and a lot of disappointment — since making its last College World Series visit, way back in the year of Olga Korbut and Fred Sanford and Thomas Eagleton, of Black September and “Thick as a Brick” and “Jonathan Livingston Seagull.” Those references might not mean much to the current crop of Rebels, but they certainly know what a reference to 1972 means for UM baseball. Maybe this is the year they get over that hump. They have a legitimate ace in Chris Ellis (10-1, 2.16 ERA), who’ll start Game 1 against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. Will Allen and Sikes Orvis have a combined 20 homers and 109 RBIs, and each has a slugging percentage over .500. Braxton Lee is a .294 hitter with 30 steals. Auston Bousfield, the Ferriss Trophy winner, is batting .349 with six homers, 48 RBIs and 17 bags. All that stands between Ole Miss and Omaha is UL-Lafayette. Which happens to be 57-8, ranked No. 1 and playing at home. Maybe the Ragin’ Cajuns are vulnerable. They did lose their regional opener to Jackson State. But then they won four straight after that, including two do-or-die games against Mississippi State. They’ll throw Austin Robichaux (7-3, 2.83) on Saturday. They have a lineup that features four starters with nine or more homers and four with 14 or more steals. Caleb Adams is a big-time hitter with a .387 average and 11 bombs. ULL’s trademark is aggression on the bases, and that never goes into a slump. “That’s a dangerous club, man,” a coach told Baseball America. If there is a favorite in this best-of-3, it’s hard to see. P.S. Four Mississippi junior college players made NJCAA Division II All-America teams, though none played for national runner-up Hinds Community College. Jones County JC, which spent much of the year at No. 1, had lefty Westin Stringer and catcher Tyler Graves make the second and third teams. Missisisppi Gulf Coast DH James Land made second team, and Northwest infielder Jay King was a third-team pick.