Just 62 days to get through until the first pitch is thrown in the 2019 college season. William Carey University, an NAIA member, will get it started on Jan. 31 with a home game against Missouri Baptist at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Delta State lifts the lid on its season on Feb. 1 at home against East Central University, and fellow NCAA Division II member Mississippi College starts on Feb. 2 at Harding in Arkansas. Division III Belhaven University opens Feb. 8 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson against LeTourneau, and D-III Millsaps welcomes LeTourneau to nearby Twenty Field on Feb. 9. The D-I start date is Feb. 15: Mississippi State launches the Chris Lemonis era at renovated Dudy Noble Field against Youngstown State, Ole Miss hosts Wright State and Southern Miss opens at home with Purdue. SWAC school schedules have not been posted.
We compile batting average, on-base percentage, earned run average, strikeouts per nine innings, fielding percentage and all those other stats, and they tell us something, if not quite everything, about a team. There is no stat for energy level, and that might be the most telling factor in the outcome of the Super Regional in Starkville that starts Friday. Mississippi State, which fairly cruised through its regional at Dudy Noble Field, should be fully charged. Visiting Arizona, on the other hand, who knows? The Wildcats have traveled some 12,000 miles since May 19, according to a story on the school’s web site. In their regional tournament, at Lafayette, La., they fell into the loser’s bracket and had to win three games in roughly a 27-hour span to advance. Their ace, Nathan Bannister, threw a reported 198 pitches over four days to help keep the ‘Cats alive. One has to wonder if there is enough juice left for Arizona to get past Dakota Hudson, Jake Mangum, Jack Kruger, Austin Sexton and friends in a three-game series in front of the rowdy Dudy Noble throng. The Wildcats (42-21 in a “rebuilding” year) do have some arms: Bannister (11-2, 2.63), lefty J.C. Cloney (6-4, 2.86), Bobby Dalbec (9-4, 3.28, seven saves). Ryan Aguilar provides some power (seven homers, 21 doubles), and Zack Gibbons is a .380 hitter. But the Bulldogs (44-16-1) appear to have more pitching and more hitting. And even if they don’t, surely they’ve got more energy.
The other Bulldogs in the Starkville Regional, the ones not wearing maroon, will have their fair share of fans around the state this weekend. Louisiana Tech, which came from out of nowhere this season to earn an NCAA Tournament at-large bid, is loaded with Mississippi connections. The third-seeded Bulldogs are coached by Greg Goff, a former Delta State player and assistant coach. Their pitching coach is Christian Ostrander, another ex-DSU player and coach who just last year was the head man at Jones County Junior College. There are seven Mississippi juco products on the LaTech roster, including former Clinton High and Hinds CC star Chase Lunceford, the team’s best hitter. Lunceford is batting .325 with 11 homers and 49 RBIs. Cody Daigle, an East Central CC alum, has 10 homers and 37 RBIs. Hinds CC product Casey Sutton is 7-1 with a 1.63 ERA. LaTech went 40-18 this year and reached the semifinal round of the C-USA Tournament in Hattiesburg last week. This is the school’s first NCAA appearance in 29 years. “We were picked 11th out of 12 teams in our league,” Goff said in a school release. “No one believed this would ever happen except for our guys.” LaTech, the 3-seed in the regional, plays Cal State Fullerton on Friday at Dudy Noble Field. Mississippi State, the No. 6 national seed, takes on Southeast Missouri State. P.S. Southern Miss’ opening round foe in the Tallahassee Regional is South Alabama, which counts five Mississippi jucos on its roster, including 2015 NJCAA Division II pitcher of the year Randy Bell. The right-hander is 6-1, 2.38 for the Jaguars.
Opposing pitchers must be hard-pressed to find a soft spot in Delta State’s lineup. Every regular is hitting .300 or better, and collectively the Statesmen are batting .336 with 212 runs in 30 games. Will Robertson, a senior from Falkner who missed 2015 with an injury, has been hot from the jump and is batting .409. Trent Giambroni and Ben Pickard have seven home runs each. DSU also throws out a pair of aces: Left-handers Tre Hobbs and Dalton Moats are a combined 12-3 with a 3.02 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 107 innings. The sum of these parts is also impressive. The Statesmen, unranked in preseason, are now ranked in two NCAA Division II polls, No. 14 in one, 24 in the other. They’ll take a 20-10 overall record and a 13-5 Gulf South Conference mark into this weekend’s series against Christian Brothers at refurbished Ferriss Field. … Cleveland isn’t the only hot spot in the state this weekend. In Hattiesburg, at Wheeler Field, William Carey plays host to NAIA No. 3 Faulkner in a Southern States Athletic Conference series. The Crusaders are 23-11 and coming off what amounted to a batting practice session against Tougaloo on Wednesday. WCU won 18-3 and 16-0; Tyler Richardson had a day, going 4-for-8 with nine RBIs. Things will be a little tougher against Faulkner, which is 29-7, 11-1 SSAC and was ranked No. 1 last week before losses to Georgia-Gwinnett and Bethel. Carey, 7-4 in the league, is 18-5 overall at home. Faulkner is 4-3 on the road. … Of course, the hottest spot in the state this weekend is Starkville. Tonight’s pitching matchup is a dandy: Mississippi State’s Dakota Hudson vs. Ole Miss’ Brady Bramlett in the opener of the three-game series at Dudy Noble Field. Strong arms and good hitters abound on these two nationally ranked rivals. State (18-7-1, 4-2 SEC) is hitting .317 as a team, third in the league. Ole Miss (20-5, 2-4) has a 2.73 staff ERA, fourth in the league. The Bulldogs roll out the likes of Jacob Robson and Jack Kruger and Austin Sexton, each of whom has sparkling stats. The Rebels feature Tate Blackman and J.B. Woodman and Wyatt Short, among other stars. But many times the hero in a big series is someone you might not expect. Here’s a couple of candidates: Nathaniel Lowe arrived at State as a touted slugger, coming off a 17-home run season as an NJCAA All-America in 2015. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Lowe is hitting .306 and is third on the team with 22 RBIs, but he has just one long ball. Who better to break out against than Ole Miss? The Rebels, meanwhile, have been waiting for Errol Robinson to break out. A highly rated draft prospect who made some preseason All-America teams, the junior shortstop is batting just .213 with four extra-base hits in 24 games. He batted .297 in 2015, with 31 runs and 30 RBIs in 58 games. Robinson had a big hit in a win against State last year; perhaps he can summon another.