Seven state schools, including the Big 3 NCAA Division I schools, are ranked in Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s preseason polls, which came out this week. There might be a tendency to take such news for granted – aren’t there a bunch of Mississippi schools ranked every year? – but we really should not do that. Let’s put this in perspective. Mississippi ranks among the least populous states – 34th in 2018, according to World Atlas – and is smaller, population-wise, than any other Deep South state. It produces good players: 16 Mississippi high school products appeared in big league games in 2018. Per capita, that figure is among the best in the nation. But there isn’t a large volume of talent. And there are 30 senior and junior colleges playing baseball in the state. College coaches here can’t just roll out the balls and bats and win games. Over the years, they’ve mined and refined the state’s talent to build winning programs and grow tremendous fan support. They’ve developed tradition and created brands that are attractive to out-of-state talent. Twenty-two state college alumni, including 11 who played high school ball in other states, appeared in big league games in 2018. Each of the state’s Big 3 had a player in the World Series this year: Mitch Moreland (Mississippi State) and Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss) with Boston and Brian Dozier (Southern Miss) with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s pretty impressive stuff for what Willie Morris used to call “poor old whupped-down Mis’ippi.” So when these polls come out, sprinkled with Mississippi schools, don’t just shrug. Smile and be proud. … Collegiate Baseball pegged Ole Miss, SEC Tournament champ in 2018, at No. 11 in NCAA Division I. Mississippi State, which went to the College World Series last summer, is No. 27 and Southern Miss, 2018 C-USA champion, is No. 30. Delta State, coming off yet another NCAA regional appearance, is No. 10 in Division II, while Mississippi College, the Gulf South Conference Tournament champ in 2018, got votes in the D-II poll. Meridian Community College, runner-up in the Region 23 Tournament last season, is No. 9 in the NJCAA D-II poll, with defending state champion Pearl River checking in at 13th and Jones County 15th. … MSU’s Jake Mangum and USM’s Matt Wallner made CB’s first-team All-America list, while UM’s Parker Caracci and Ryan Olenek were second- and third-team picks.
Schools from California, Florida and Texas naturally dominate Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s Preseason Top 30 High School poll, but Mississippi did manage to get a little love. Hattiesburg High, led by the highly touted Joe Gray, checked in at No. 11. Joe Hartfield’s Tigers went 26-11 last year and lost in the MHSAA South State playoffs to Pearl River Central. Gray, an Ole Miss signee who’ll probably go high in the MLB draft, batted .477 with seven homers and 19 steals. An ample supporting cast includes Dexter Jordan, who hit .398 with four homers and went 6-3 with a 3.08 ERA on the mound, and Kam Wells (4-0, 1.16). … Gray, Houston High catcher Luke Hancock and Brandon High pitcher/shortstop J.T. Ginn made CB’s All-America team. P.S. Keep an eye on Blue Mountain College, which got the Magnolia State season started by taking two of three at LSU-Shreveport last week. The Toppers won the opener of a Thursday (moved from Friday) doubleheader 8-2 behind the strong pitching of Jonas White and home runs from Hayden Tapper and Austin Looker. In Friday’s rubber game, Caleb Leach drove in five runs in a 13-10 BMC win. LSU-S won 39 games and made the NAIA postseason in 2017.
Delta State won’t sneak up on anybody in 2018. The Statesmen, overlooked in most of the 2017 preseason polls before making a run to the NCAA Division II World Series, will start the new season ranked No. 1 by Collegiate Baseball. Mike Kinnison will need to plug a couple of holes in his pitching staff, but DSU’s lineup returns virtually intact from last year’s 45-13 club. Expectations should be running high all over the Magnolia State, according to Collegiate Baseball’s editors. Each of the Big 3 Division I schools is ranked in the magazine’s Top 40: Mississippi State is 13th, Southern Miss 25th and Ole Miss 38th. William Carey, which went to the NAIA World Series last year, will open at No. 6 in 2018, and Jones County Junior College is pegged No. 2 in the NJCAA Division II poll. East Central CC checks in at 17th.
The best performance by a state college in 2016 was delivered by Jones County Junior College, which won its first national championship. Do the Bobcats have an encore in them? The editors of Collegiate Baseball magazine apparently think so. CB’s comprehensive 2017 preseason issue is out, and it’s got JCJC ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II. Chris Kirtland’s Bobcats lost a few key players from last season (most notably Mason Irby, now at Southern Miss) but return a strong core from a 54-win squad. Mason Strickland, Ben Stiglets and Logan Robbins were a combined 28-0 on the bump. Erick Hoard batted .409 with 19 homers, Tanner Huddleston .392 with 12 homers and Fred Franklin .378 with 22 steals. The Bobcats may be challenged for state supremacy by Meridian CC, ranked 18th in CB’s poll. … Ole Miss is ranked No. 22 in the NCAA Division I poll. The Rebels, 43-19 and a regional host in 2016, return the likes of Tate Blackman, Colby Bortles and Will Stokes, and Mike Bianco reeled in what CB ranked as the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. Mississippi State, which won the SEC regular season title and hosted a regional and Super Regional last year, is picked fifth in the SEC West. New coach Andy Cannizaro has some rebuilding to do, as does Southern Miss’ Scott Berry. USM, which won the Conference USA Tournament in 2016, is pegged for a third-place finish in the league. … In the SWAC, Jackson State is picked second, Alcorn State third and Mississippi Valley fifth in the five-team East Division. JSU’s Cornelius Copeland emerged last year as one of the league’s best players. … In NAIA, William Carey checks in at No. 23. The Crusaders won 40 games last year, made the postseason and welcome back top hitters Tyler Odom and Adrian Brown, slugger James Land and pitcher Devin Smith. Believe it or not, Carey opens Feb. 3.
A champion has been crowned in college baseball. And Ole Miss just missed being the subject of this coronation. Collegiate Baseball, in its Oct. 1 issue, anointed Arizona State as the recruiting champion of 2016. Ole Miss was rated No. 2. Mississippi State was 20th, and six other SEC schools finished among the top 25. They’ll still have to play the games and stuff next spring, but it’s a good start for the Rebels and Bulldogs, a little something to fuel their fall ball workouts. Collegiate Baseball uses a rating system to produce its list, taking into account the number of players who were drafted, high school All-Americans, junior college All-Americans, etc. Arizona State brought in eight MLB draftees among its 20 signees, a group that includes an NCAA Division I transfer and four jucos. Ole Miss, which may have to rely on some newcomers in 2017, signed 18 players, five of whom were drafted. Included in the Rebels’ class are 15 freshmen, led by the bunch from Oxford High and Madison Central’s Trace Tyre, and three jucos. One to watch: Timothy Rowe, a lefty-hitting outfielder from Itawamba CC who batted .418 with eight homers, 48 RBIs and 46 runs this past season.
If the Collegiate Baseball poll is out, then the season can’t be far behind. Mississippi State, coming off a 24-30 season but welcoming back 16 lettermen, is ranked 11th in the NCAA Division I poll released on Monday. The D-I start date is Feb. 19, with the Bulldogs opening in Starkville against Florida Atlantic. Neither Ole Miss nor Southern Miss, who had winning seasons in 2015, made CB’s “Fabulous 40.” There are four SEC schools in the top seven, with Florida opening at No. 1. For what it’s worth, State was ranked No. 20 in CB’s 2015 preseason poll. Ole Miss was unranked but made the NCAA Tournament field, the only one of the Big 3 to do so. … The college season in Mississippi actually starts on Feb. 5 – just 45 days away! — when Tougaloo College visits Mississippi College and William Carey University travels to Florida to play Ave Maria University. For MC, the game at Frierson Field in Clinton will mark the debut of coach Jeremy Haworth.