Playing ball in Myrtle Beach, S.C., comes with certain built-in distractions, but Magnolia State products Justin Steele and Trent Giambrone have found their focus in the popular vacation destination. Steele, a left-hander out of George County High, and Giambrone, a second baseman/outfielder from Delta State, were key figures in the Pelicans’ first-half championship in the Class A Carolina League. The Chicago Cubs’ high-A affiliate went 43-27 to claim the South Division title in a walk last month. Steele, who took a loss against Buies Creek on Thursday night, is 6-5 with a league-best 2.40 ERA in 16 starts. He has a 1.93 ERA over his last 10 outings. A fifth-round pick in 2013 and currently rated the Cubs’ No. 22 prospect by MLB Pipeline, Steele, 21, has made mechanical adjustments this year that appear to be paying off. Giambrone, a 25th-round selection just last year, hit .292 in rookie ball in his debut season and was jumped to high-A to start 2017. The 5-foot-8 Giambrone, 23, is batting .262 with nine homers, 26 RBIs and 49 runs for the Pelicans. He is batting .385 over his last 10 games. The next stop for Steele and Giambrone, probably in 2018, would be a very different kind of vacation destination. Kodak, Tenn., up in the Great Smoky Mountains, is the home of the Tennessee Smokies, the Cubs’ Double-A affiliate in the Southern League.
The college season ended on a sour note: Mississippi State’s 14-4 loss to LSU in the Super Regional at Baton Rouge. But all in all, it was – once again – a pretty sweet year for the Magnolia State. Two four-year schools played in the College World Series in their division. Three teams won conference championships. Four players won conference player of the year honors, and six earned All-America recognition. Led by C-USA player of the year Dylan Burdeaux, Southern Miss enjoyed one of its best seasons, winning 50 games and hosting an NCAA regional. State upstaged the Golden Eagles in Hattiesburg, beating them twice on a manic Monday to advance to the Super Regional. Brent Rooker – first-team All-American, SEC player of the year and Triple Crown champ, Ferriss Trophy winner, 35th overall pick in the MLB draft – drove the bus for the Bulldogs, who navigated a bumpy road to a 40-27 finish. Delta State, fueled by All-American Zack Shannon’s monster year, won both the regular season and tournament titles in the Gulf South Conference en route to the Division II College World Series and a 45-13 finish. All-America slugger James Land helped power William Carey to the NAIA World Series, where the Crusaders won three games before ending their year at 45-20. Blue Mountain had its best season in the program’s short history, going 32-25 and making the SSAC Tournament for the first time. Ole Miss, Jackson State and Belhaven also had winning seasons, though the Rebels and Tigers had to be disappointed in their finish. UM, nationally ranked early in the year, went 32-25, lost in the first round of the SEC Tournament and failed to make the NCAAs. Jackson State (38-17) had the best record in the SWAC in the regular season but crashed in the league tournament, its only real avenue to the NCAAs. Belhaven, still transitioning to D-III, came in at 26-14 and saw Terrell Hodges earn NCCAA All-America honors. Mississippi College, having completed its transition back to D-II, wound up at 20-28, but a strong finish enabled the Choctaws to earn a berth in the Gulf South Tournament. There wasn’t so much to cheer about at Alcorn State (12-33), Mississippi Valley State (7-34), Millsaps (19-23) and Tougaloo (10-42), though the Braves did pull off an upset of Grambling in the SWAC Tournament and the Majors beat the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in D-III during the year. And so the book closes … but only for a while. Fall ball is just a few months away.
Both Delta State and William Carey University play on in elimination games again today in their respective World Series brackets. DSU (45-12) plays Colorado Mesa (49-11) in the NCAA Division II College World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas, while Carey (45-19) gets Lewis-Clark State (38-13) in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. … The Statesmen, upset in their CWS opener last week, stayed alive on Monday with a 4-0 win against North Georgia as senior left-hander Tre Hobbs threw a dazzling two-hitter. DSU is ranked No. 1, Colorado Mesa No. 2. DSU won the national title in 2004; Colorado Mesa reached the title game in 2014. … Carey beat Missouri Baptist 12-3 on Tuesday in its second straight must-win game. The Crusaders (45-19), averaging eight runs a game through four series contests, got four-RBI efforts from Tyler Graves and Larson Barkurn in Tuesday’s win. Graves has three homers in Lewiston, Barkurn two — his only two of the year. Carey won an NAIA title back in 1969. Lewis-Clark, which is playing on its home field, has won 18 national titles.
Here are a few names to know heading into the weekend: Cameron Baranek, Dominick Cammarata and Wes Degener. … Baranek is the leading hitter for Hope International, which is William Carey University’s first-round opponent on Friday in the NAIA World Series at Lewiston, Idaho. Baranek is batting .356 with 13 homers for a Royals team that is playing just its second season. The California-based Royals (35-16) can mash (66 homers) and dash (101 steals), but their pitching staff has a 4.48 ERA. … Cammarata is the hitting star for Pitt (N.C.) Community College, which is Hinds CC’s first-round foe on Saturday in the NJCAA Division II World Series in Enid, Okla. Cammarata has put up a .349 average, 17 homers and 69 RBIs for a Bulldogs team that is 41-7 with 16 straight wins. … Degener is the catalyst for Lindenwood (Mo.) University, which is Delta State’s first-round opponent on Saturday in the NCAA Division II World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas. Degener is hitting .399 with 21 steals and 54 runs for the Lions (39-18), who won the Central Region title in their first regional appearance. … But enough about those guys. Here are some picks to click for the home boys: Adrian Brown, Quinton Logan and Clay Casey. … Brown, Carey’s senior center fielder from McComb, does a lot of things in a loaded lineup that also features James Land and a band of Tylers (Graves, Odom, James). Brown is hitting .300 with four homers, 16 doubles, five triples, 44 RBIs, 60 runs and 36 steals. If the Crusaders make a run in Lewiston, Brown will be in the thick of things. … Logan, a sophomore from Natchez, is not Hinds CC’s best hitter – that’s Jackson Mitchell (.385, six homers) — and he’s not the Eagles’ ace – that’s Caleb Morgan (8-1, 2.23). Logan is a two-way threat for Hinds, posting a 1.19 ERA and seven saves and a .333 batting average with 11 doubles, 47 RBIs and 42 runs. Somehow, someway, he’ll be a factor in any success in Enid. … Casey, a transfer from Houston (by way of Northwest CC and DeSoto Central), has had a big year for Delta State that has been largely overshadowed by the ginormous year enjoyed by Zack Shannon. Casey is batting .346 (.673 slugging) with 17 bombs, 62 RBIs and 58 runs. If Shannon gets pitched around in Grand Prairie, Casey is certainly capable of picking up any slack.
Collegiate Baseball’s preseason Top 40 poll for NCAA Division II schools did not include Delta State. The Statesmen were in the Also Receiving Votes category. O ye of little faith. DSU is one of just eight teams still standing in Division II, off to the College World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas. The Statesmen, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation, are 44-11 with Gulf South Conference regular season and tournament titles and a South Region championship on their ledger. Tradition never slumps, as they like to say up in Cleveland, and the Green and White certainly has that. The 6-4 win over West Alabama on Monday at Ferriss Field gave the program its 12th regional title, its sixth in 21 years under coach Mike Kinnison, who is four wins shy of 900. One of those wins delivered a national championship in 2004. You want tradition? Kinnison was a second-team All-America shortstop at DSU under the great Boo Ferriss and led the 1978 team to the College World Series. Lowered expectations — in some circles, at least – for 2017 were based on the heavy personnel losses from last year’s team, which also made the regional. But Kinnison rebuilt the roster with some masterful recruiting, bringing in juco transfers like GSC and South Region player of the year Zack Shannon, Seth Birdsong, Jason Popovich, Emil Ellis, Justin Nussbaum and Brian Lane plus University of Houston transfer Clay Casey, a former DeSoto Central High star. Detractors might point out that, for all those CSW trips, DSU has won only the one national title. But, hey, it’s one of only two by any four-year school from the Magnolia State.
Hinds Community College, which has had a knack for getting on a roll this season, is on another. This latest one will carry the Eagles to the NJCAA Division II World Series. Hinds won its sixth straight postseason game on Saturday, beating No. 1-ranked Jones County JC 8-7 in Ellisville for the Region 23 championship. Freshman Will Pierce of Vicksburg knocked in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning of a classic title fight. Hinds, national runner-up in 2014, will make its sixth trip to the juco World Series. Sam Temple’s Eagles started this season 2-4 but then ripped off an eight-game win streak. After a few hiccups early in MACJC play, including two blowout losses to Jones, the Eagles won 13 of 15. They wobbled a bit at season’s end and finished 17-11 in the conference, drawing a best-of-3 playoff matchup against East Mississippi. They swept the Lions to make the Region 23 Tournament, where they faced No. 2-ranked LSU-Eunice in the first round. No worries. Hinds won 6-2, then bowled over Pearl River twice to reach the championship round against Jones. The defending national champion Bobcats had lost just three times all year and only once at home, to Pearl River in the first round of the regional. But the Bobcats could not slow Hinds’ roll. Next stop: Enid, Okla. P.S. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Delta State rode the brilliant pitching of Tre Hobbs and Zach Osbon to a 4-1 win over Nova Southeastern, clinching a berth in the NCAA Division II South Region championship round on Monday. Hobbs, a left-hander from Greenville and Mississippi Delta CC, hasn’t had a great senior year after a dominant junior season that saw him go 13-2 and earn all kinds of honors. But he answered the call on Saturday, allowing just four hits over eight innings. Osbon, a lockdown closer all year, fanned the side in the ninth for the save. DSU is 43-11 and knocking on the door of another D-II World Series trip, which would be the fifth under coach Mike Kinnison.
Brent Rooker will probably take home the Ferriss Trophy on Monday. He has received national attention while putting up monster numbers for a nationally ranked Mississippi State team that has battled through its share of adversity. Delta State’s Zack Shannon has big numbers, too, for a conference champion – and he would be the first Statesman to win the award named for former DSU coach Boo Ferriss. All three of the Southern Miss finalists have been outstanding for a nationally ranked conference title team: Taylor Braley, Dylan Burdeaux and freshman sensation Matt Wallner. There really isn’t a wrong choice here, but in some ways, there is more to like about Braley than any of the other finalists. The junior is the only true two-way player. A third baseman/DH, he is batting .330 with a .478 on-base percentage, 12 home runs and 50 RBIs. As a pitcher, he is 5-2 with a 3.48 ERA and 64 strikeouts over 11 starts. And the Oak Grove High alum is the only Mississippi native among the finalists. That ought to count for something.