Two of the best leadoff hitters in the SEC will be at Trustmark Park in Pearl for tonight’s Governor’s Cup. Unfortunately, fans may see only one of them in the game, the 40th renewal of this classic clash that began as the Mayor’s Trophy at Smith-Wills Stadium in 1980. Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum, the school’s all-time hits leader, is expected to be atop the Bulldogs’ lineup, as usual, but Ole Miss’ Ryan Olenek sat out the Rebels’ weekend series at Auburn because of a lingering hip injury. Perhaps he’ll be back in the 1-hole for tonight’s game, which doesn’t count in the SEC standings but means an awful lot to everyone involved. Both Mangum and Olenek were first-team All-SEC picks and Ferriss Trophy finalists in 2018. Both were drafted last June – Mangum for the second time — but opted to return for their senior season. And both have been catalysts for outstanding clubs in 2019. Mangum is batting .383 with 47 runs, 32 RBIs and 19 steals in 41 games for the 32-9 Bulldogs. Olenek is batting .370 with 32 runs, 26 RBIs and six bags in 36 games for the 27-14 Rebels. He emerged as a potent leadoff man in the high-scoring sweep of Florida on April 5-6, going 7-for-11 in the three games. The Mangum-Olenek matchup would be a compelling sidebar, though this game seldom lacks for storylines. MSU leads the Trophy/Cup series 21-18, having won three straight before standing-room-only crowds at the TeePee.
Dominant may not be a strong enough word to describe Will Freeman’s performance on Tuesday in Ellisville. The Jones County Junior College sophomore struck out 18 batters in a seven-inning, 2-0 win over Pearl River Community College. The Alabama signee is 6-1 with a 3.32 ERA and 74 strikeouts in 57 innings. In the day’s second game, Jones’ Tyler Spring and Bryce Fagan combined on a three-hitter in a 4-1 win. This twinbill was a showdown for first place in the MACJC standings, which third-ranked Jones, 33-7 and winner of 14 straight, now leads at 18-4. Fourth-ranked PRCC is 17-5, 32-8. … It’s a midweek, neutral-site game that doesn’t count in the SEC standings, but you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone among the 8,500-plus in Pearl on Tuesday night who would dismiss the Governor’s Cup as just another game. Mississippi State’s dramatic walk-off win against Ole Miss was the Bulldogs’ third straight victory in the Cup series and eighth in the last nine games overall vs. the Rebels. Worth noting: Jake Mangum, the Jackson Prep product who had a two-run double for the Bulldogs and scored the game-winning run, is 22-for-51 (.431) against UM in his career. … Delta State, ranked as high as No. 3 in NCAA Division II, put up 20 runs in a win against Ouachita Baptist on Tuesday in Cleveland and is averaging 10 runs a game. How does DSU, 36-7, ever lose? … A hitter making his big league debut couldn’t pick a much better venue than Cincinnati’s Great American Ball Park, a masher’s paradise. Ronald Acuna, the former Mississippi Braves star and Atlanta’s top prospect, is expected to be in the Braves’ lineup tonight at what some jokingly call “the Great American Small Park.” Acuna passed through Trustmark Park in Pearl last season en route to being named Baseball America’s minor league player of the year. The Reds’ scheduled starter is left-hander Brandon Finnegan. … Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier saw his 17-game hitting streak end as Minnesota suffered its fifth straight loss, 8-3, on Tuesday night against the New York Yankees. “Couldn’t care less about the streak,” Dozier told mlb.com. “The beautiful thing about it is, we play tomorrow.” Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, seeking his first win as a Twin, will get the start today at Yankee Stadium. … They’ve set a date in Laurel. Opening day for the city’s National Urban Professional Baseball League team is May 25. Tickets are on sale. The team will be called the Josh Gibson All-Stars in honor of the Hall of Famer from the Negro Leagues and will play at Wooten Legion Field. Tryouts are ongoing. (Visit nupbl.com for more information.) A number of Mississippians are expected to be on the Laurel team roster.
The Governor’s Cup is a big deal. There will be a big crowd tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Mississippi State’s surprising sweep of Ole Miss in Oxford last month will be a big topic of conversation. Fans will ooh and ahh as rival sluggers Brent Rooker and Colby Bortles take big swings for the fences. But in the grand scheme, tonight’s non-conference clash doesn’t mean a whole lot. There are much bigger things just ahead for both schools. For State, that would be Auburn. For UM, Arkansas. State, enjoying a remarkable first year under Andy Cannizaro, has the best record in the SEC at 13-5, including those three one-run wins over Alabama last week. The Bulldogs (28-14) have jumped into the top 10 in some of the polls. But State’s seat atop the league is about to be threatened: Here comes Auburn for an SEC series that starts Friday in Starkville. The Tigers, coached by former Bulldogs assistant Butch Thompson, are 30-12, 12-6 SEC and also highly ranked. It’s a series that will garner national attention. Ole Miss, meanwhile, will be at Arkansas this weekend (Thursday-Saturday) to face a nationally ranked Razorbacks team (32-10, 12-6) that is 24-3 at Baum Stadium. Mike Bianco’s Rebels (25-15) are just 9-9 in the SEC and fighting to stay in the picture for an NCAA regional bid. The winner of tonight’s game at the TeePee gets a fine feather in its cap, but both teams will move on with some urgency. P.S. Belated props to Cole Marsh, a freshman right-hander at Mississippi Delta Community College, and Bubba Stockstill, a sophomore lefty for East Mississippi CC. Marsh pitched a six-hit shutout against No. 1-ranked Jones County JC on Friday in Moorhead. The 3-0 loss was just the second of the season for JCJC (36-2, 18-2 MACJC), which is averaging nine runs a game. Delta is 24-14, 11-9. The 6-foot-7 Stockstill threw a six-inning no-hitter with 10 strikeouts against Pearl River CC in a 10-0 victory on Sunday in Scooba. He was named MACJC pitcher of the week.
8,480 – Listed capacity of Pearl’s Trustmark Park, which will be exceeded in tonight’s Ole Miss-Mississippi State game.
6:30 – Time of first pitch, changed to accommodate the SEC Network broadcast.
36 – Meetings in the Mayor’s Trophy/Governor’s Cup series, with each team winning 18 times.
246 – Wins for State in the all-time series.
205 – Wins for Ole Miss in the all-time series.
5 – Wins by State vs. Ole Miss in nine games at Trustmark Park.
3 – State’s ranking in the Baseball America poll (and two others).
9 – Ole Miss’ ranking in the BA poll.
0 – Career starts for Ole Miss freshman Ryan Cyr (1-0, 0.00 in 12 innings), who gets the ball tonight.
8 – Career starts for State junior Chad Smith, who is 3-3, 4.99 in 11 appearances overall.
7 – Home runs by Gavin Collins, State’s leader.
5 – Home runs by Colby Bortles and J.B. Woodman, Ole Miss’ leaders.
.397 – State’s team on-base percentage.
.362 – Ole Miss’ team OBP.
39 – First-inning runs scored by Ole Miss (to 15 by its opponents).
122 – Two-out RBIs by State hitters.
3.84 – State’s staff ERA.
3.07 – Ole Miss’ staff ERA.
Ole Miss 11, Mississippi State 1. The largest margin of victory in the 36-year history of the Mayor’s Trophy/Governor’s Cup series. No one saw that coming Tuesday night at Trustmark Park — but maybe we should have. The Rebels (24-22) certainly have perked up at the plate. They had scored five or more runs in seven of their previous 11 games, including outbursts of 10, 11 and 18. Their team batting average is up to .266 after pounding State pitching for 15 hits. They also drew seven walks. With all due respect to Ole Miss senior pitcher Scott Weathersby, who was great on Tuesday in his first career start, State has fallen and can’t get up. Since that long-forgotten 13-0 start, the Bulldogs (23-22) have scored two runs or fewer 12 times. They’ve also lost eight times when they’ve scored five runs or more. Go figure. State has a .272 team average and five players hitting .295 or better. But clutch hits seem to be evading the Bulldogs much too often. See Wes Rea’s strikeout and John Holland’s bounce out with the bases loaded in the third inning on Tuesday night; UM scored five in the bottom half and took command at 7-0. The Rebels, 10-11 in the SEC with three series remaining, head to Missouri this weekend with some real momentum. The Bulldogs (7-14) get LSU in Starkville. That could get ugly.
In April of 1984, a newcomer to Mississippi ventured out to Smith-Wills Stadium to watch a college baseball game. The newcomer had a hard time finding a parking place. The newcomer was stunned to see that the Jackson ballpark, which seats about 5,000, was practically full. For a college baseball game. Where the newcomer came from, no one would have believed this. That 1984 game matched Ole Miss and Mississippi State in the fifth renewal of what used to be known as the Mayor’s Trophy Game. It’s now called the Governor’s Cup and is played at Pearl’s Trustmark Park. The Mississippi Braves’ home stadium, which can accommodate 7,000-plus, will be packed when the Bulldogs and Rebels meet there Tuesday night. Both teams are nationally ranked, but that doesn’t matter. The fans would show up regardless. The tickets are pricey — $12 for general admission, $25 or more for a reserved seat — but that doesn’t matter, either. The fans will pay. Even lousy weather won’t keep them away. Ole Miss-State is that kind of rivalry. In a recent issue of Baseball America, a columnist built a case for Clemson-South Carolina as the best current college baseball rivalry. The columnist ought to make a trip out to the TeePee on Tuesday night. Like that newcomer to Mississippi back in 1984, he might be impressed. He might change his mind on that rivalry thing. P.S. The Rebels are coming off a series loss to LSU, though they outscored the visiting Tigers 8-7 in three tense games. State is coming off a series sweep at Missouri. Ole Miss took two of three from State in Starkville just over a week ago, outscoring the Bulldogs 23-11.