Delta State’s history book is filled with tales of great individual performances, and the Statesmen will make room for another after capturing the Gulf South Conference Tournament championship on Tuesday. Hunter Riggins, a sophomore from Hernando, threw a two-hit shutout against third-ranked West Florida and retired the last 17 batters in a 6-0 win that gave the Statesmen their 15th GSC title. Riggins, named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, tossed seven shutout innings against Valdosta State in the tournament opener at Oxford, Ala. Riggins is 10-3 with a 2.13 ERA in 14 starts. Used out of the bullpen as a freshman, Riggins posted a 3.09 ERA and six saves, then quickly emerged as a staff ace this season, winning his first six starts. David Herrington and Darek Sargent, who combined for 23 hits and 10 RBIs in the six tourney games, also made the all-tournament team. C.J. Estave, who drove in eight runs, certainly rated consideration. The Statesmen, 39-12 under Mike Kinnison, now move on to NCAA Division II regional play and begin the chase for a second national championship.
Power, in particular the power of Zack Shannon, was a big part of Delta State’s game in 2018, when the team bashed its way to 42 wins and another regional appearance. Minus Shannon – and fellow sluggers Clay Casey and Brian Lane – the 2019 Statesmen figured to be a different kind of club, more reliant on pitching and defense. That has played out. The current team doesn’t have a lot of thunder in the lineup but has a brilliant 2.18 staff ERA — and is ranked as high as No. 2 in NCAA Division II. Still, as the Statesmen showed on Sunday, an occasional burst of power can come in handy. DSU got three home runs from Hayden White and a fourth from Jake Barlow in a much-needed 16-6 win over nationally ranked West Florida, which had won the first two games in the Gulf South Conference series at Ferriss Field. White, a former Madison-Ridgeland Academy and Copiah-Lincoln Community College star, had just one homer before Sunday. Barlow, the team’s best hitter (.371), has a team-best seven bombs; no one else has more than two. Last year, the Statesmen averaged 1.3 homers a game (twice this year’s average), led by Shannon’s state college-record 31, Casey’s 18 and Lane’s nine. This year, the team’s energy is in the arms of Hunter Riggins (6-2, 1.55 ERA), Dalton Minton (5-1, 2.65), Melvin Frazier (4-2, 2.74) and others. DSU is 20-7 now, 12-5 in the GSC, second only to UWF (13-2) with ample time to catch up.
The renewed rivalry between Mississippi College and Delta State might be as strong and compelling as it has ever been as the 2019 campaign gets under way. MC and DSU were ranked 1-2 in the Gulf South Conference’s preseason poll. MC, the GSC Tournament champ in 2018, is ranked No. 7 in NCAA Division II by Perfect Game and No. 18 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Delta State, which finished first in the GSC regular season standings, is No. 10 in Collegiate Baseball’s poll. DSU took two of three from the Choctaws in the 2018 regular season but lost to them in the conference tournament. Both went to the D-II South Regional, where the Statesmen won their first-round meeting and the Choctaws won an elimination game four days later. The rivalry will simmer all season, as the two don’t meet until the end of the schedule – on April 27-28 at Frierson Field in Clinton. MC returns the GSC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, senior first baseman Blaine Crim, who hit .383 with 13 homers in 2018. Billy Cameron, a senior third baseman, batted .354 with six homers last year. Both were named preseason All-GSC. Catcher Josh Russell is the lone returning starter for DSU, though there are a handful of other experienced position players back. Seniors Dalton Minton and Seth Hoguesen, both left-handers, should front the rotation, and Melvin Frazier, another lefty, is an experienced bullpen piece. And Statesmen coach Mike Kinnison is high on his crop of newcomers. P.S. Both teams opened with wins on Friday. MC beat Harding 12-6 as Cameron drove in three runs. DSU snuffed East Central University of Oklahoma 9-1 behind Hunter Riggins’ pitching and three RBIs from Darek Sargent.
After winning Gulf South Conference Tournament MVP honors and leading Mississippi College to an NCAA Division II regional, Blaine Crim did not head for the beaches of Mobile, Ala., his hometown. He headed to the Great Lakes Summer Collegiate League, where he has continued to shine. Crim, a rising senior first baseman, is batting .395 with seven homers and 46 RBIs for the Southern Ohio Copperheads. He also started and won a game as a pitcher. Crim hit .383 with 13 homers and 66 RBIs for the 2018 Choctaws, who went 36-17 and won the GSC Tournament title. He was an academic All-American as well as an All-South Region and second-team All-GSC pick. … Matt Wallner, currently playing in the Cape Cod League, is the most celebrated returnee at Southern Miss, but don’t overlook Gabe Montenegro, the 5-foot-7 Guatemala native who earned freshman All-America honors in 2018. Montenegro backed up his strong season with a good showing in the Valley Baseball League. In 22 games, he hit .311 with 14 runs, 10 RBIs and five steals. As USM’s leadoff batter, he hit .295 with 49 runs and 38 RBIs in 59 games. … Mississippi State’s Peyton Plumlee, who missed the 2018 season under NCAA suspension, went 4-0 with a 2.32 ERA in the Perfect Game Collegiate Baseball League. Plumlee, who transferred to State from Northwest Mississippi Community College, posted a 4.01 ERA for the Bulldogs in 2017. … Finishing with five straight wins, the Tupelo Thunder claimed the regular season title in the Cotton States League with a 15-5 record. The North Delta Dealers dropped their last two games to finish 14-6 in the wood-bat college summer league. Both earned berths in the playoff semifinals, set for Saturday in New Albany. Trey Jolly, a onetime Mississippi State player, leads the Thunder with a .529 average and 16 RBIs, and Northeast Mississippi CC alum Anthony Lipsey is at .354. On the mound, Kyle Raburn is 3-1 with a 2.93 ERA. John Wesley Ray, a former Ole Miss and Delta State player, was a two-way standout for the Dealers, batting .328 with 16 RBIs and posting a 5-1, 2.06 pitching ledger. Northwest CC product Reed Logsdon is 4-1, 2.40.
Several stars emerged on Tuesday for Mississippi College, which upended Delta State 9-8 in 11 innings to reach the Gulf South Conference Tournament title game in Cleveland. To name a few: Ryan Lane threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the win; Blaine Crim went 3-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs; and Kyle Smith had four hits and four runs, including the game-winner on a DSU error. MC (32-15) plays Lee University today for the championship. … At Trustmark Park in Pearl, four Mississippi Braves collected three or more hits in a 10-3 win against Mobile. Connor Lien got four knocks, including his first homer of the year, and Alay Lago went 3-for-5 with four RBIs for the Double-A M-Braves. … In Erie, Pa., former Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull tossed six shutout innings to record his first Double-A win as the Sea Wolves, a Detroit farm club, beat Harrisburg 3-0. Turnbull is 1-3 with a 4.80 ERA. Mississippi State alum Jake Robson had a hit and an RBI for Erie. … And in Chicago, Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson equaled a career-high with four hits and added two RBIs as Pittsburgh beat the White Sox 10-6. Dickerson, in his first year with the Pirates, is batting .400 over his last seven games and .333 (third in the National League) with five homers and 26 RBIs for the season.
Figures to be a lot of buzz at Ferriss Field in Cleveland tonight when Delta State and Mississippi College meet with a berth in the Gulf South Conference Tournament championship game on the line. The old rivals are both 2-0 in pool play. The winner advances to Wednesday’s title game. Top-seeded DSU (40-8) is 16-4 at home this season, but 4-seed MC (31-15) took one from the Statesmen in a three-game set last month. Clay Casey went 2-for-3 with his 16th home run of the year in DSU’s 7-5 win against North Alabama on Monday, while Billy Cameron and Blaine Crim combined for eight hits and seven RBIs in the Choctaws’ 11-1 win over West Alabama. … Southern Miss’ remarkable Nick Sandlin earned a fourth national player of the week award from Collegiate Baseball on Monday. He threw a six-hit shutout against UAB last week, improving to 7-0 with an 0.88 ERA. The Golden Eagles (35-12) have cracked the top 10 – at No. 9 – in d1baseball.com’s weekly rankings. Baseball America has USM 13th for the second straight week. (Ole Miss is sixth and fifth in those two polls.) … DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley, one of Atlanta’s top prospects, went 1-for-5 in his Triple-A debut on Monday, rapping a single in his first at-bat for Gwinnett. Riley was hitting .333 with six homers and 20 RBIs for the Double-A Mississippi Braves when he was promoted. The top position player prospect left on the M-Braves’ roster is catcher Alex Jackson, rated No. 14 by MLB Pipeline. Jackson is batting .221 with a homer and seven RBIs. … It’s time again, boys and girls, for Red Sox-Yankees. Tonight, at Yankee Stadium (6:05 p.m., MLB Network), former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz pitches for Boston against New York’s emergent ace Luis Severino. Pomeranz is 1-1 with a 6.14 ERA but pitched well in his last start. The left-hander has a 3.12 career ERA at Yankee Stadium. Neither Aaron Judge nor Giancarlo Stanton has homered off Pomeranz – but Gary Sanchez has taken him deep three times. Mississippi State alum Mitch Moreland, who figures to be in Boston’s lineup, is 4-for-12 career vs. Severino.
The focus in the MACJC today should be on Meridian – with a glance toward Clarksdale. At Meridian Community College’s Scaggs Field, Jones County Junior College, first in the league at 22-4, takes on the third-place Eagles (19-7) in a doubleheader. The NJCAA Division II No. 2 Bobcats, who’ve won 18 in a row (18!), need one win to claim the regular season title. At Coahoma CC’s Smith Sportsplex, second-place Pearl River (21-5) plays CCC (11-15) needing a sweep and help from Meridian to usurp Jones for the crown. Jones beat PRCC twice last week. The Jones-Meridian matchup is particularly intriguing. Luther Woullard is having a big year with the bat — .420, five homers, 45 RBIs — for the Bobcats, but it’s their pitching that truly commands your attention. The staff ERA is 2.99, and they average more than 10 strikeouts a game. Cooper Brune is 11-0 with a 2.78, and Will Freeman, who had the 18-punchout game last week, is 6-1, 3.20 with two saves. Meridian, ranked 20th in the D-II poll, has relied more on its offense, in particular Trace Jordan (.381, 15 homers, 60 RBIs) and Davis Bradshaw (.448, eight homers). Hunter Stanley (8-1, 4.73) is the ace of a staff that has a 4.69 collective ERA. … Northwest finished at 20-8 in the MACJC, winning 18 of its final 21 games. P.S. The start of the Gulf South Conference Tournament (see previous posts) in Cleveland was pushed back a day because of inclement weather. Both Mississippi College and Delta State are in action today.
Cracking a national poll for the first time in eight years, which Mississippi College did on March 8, is kind of a big deal. MC was 13-2 at the time. Coach Jeremy Haworth wondered during an interview how the players would handle that measure of success going forward. Not a problem, as it turned out. The schedule got tougher but the Choctaws never buckled. They went 16-13, 13-9 in a challenging league, the rest of the way and clinched a Gulf South Conference Tournament berth for the second straight year. As the No. 4 seed, they meet fifth-seeded North Alabama today in Cleveland in the first round of pool play. Four Choctaws – Grant Barber, Billy Cameron, Blaine Crim and Kyle Smith – made the All-GSC second team, and ace pitcher Zack Ingram arguably should have. Crim had a stellar campaign, leading the team in the Triple Crown categories (.372, 10 homers, 52 RBIs). Cameron, a transfer from East Central Community College, hit .354 with five homers. Smith stole 18 bases and hit .339; Barber contributed 30 RBIs while batting .327. Ingram was 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA. MC is ranked ninth in the NCAA Division II South Region poll, positioned for a possible invitation to a regional. How will the Choctaws handle it?
Zack Ingram, a sophomore right-hander at Mississippi College, was named both the Gulf South Conference and NCAA Division II South Region pitcher of the week this week. He is 4-0 with a 3.16 ERA this season, and he threw a no-hitter for the Choctaws in 2017. Ingram is the well-credentialed ace of a pitching staff that will be challenged, to say the least, when MC visits Delta State for a GSC series this weekend in Cleveland. They’ll play a doubleheader Saturday and a single game Sunday at Ferriss Field. Highly ranked DSU, which already has clinched the GSC regular season title, is 36-7 (21-4), led by an offense that is batting .340, slugging .522 and tallying 10 runs a game. Clay Casey is the reigning GSC player of the week and is batting .362 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs. He’s not even the Statesmen’s best hitter. That’s Golden Spikes Award candidate Zack Shannon (.439, school-record 27 homers, 80 RBIs). Oh, and Emil Ellis is hitting .395. MC is 28-13 (17-8 GSC) and enjoying one of its best years in a while. Chris Crosby (5-3, 3.73), Hunter Mullis (5-3, 4.39) and Brandon Kennedy (3.34) are other high-performing members of the pitching staff. The Choctaws can hit a little, too, with seven regulars at .300 or better, led by Blaine Crim at .370. DSU leads this old rivalry 119-41-2, but the series stands 6-3 since MC returned to the GSC. And Ingram beat the Statesmen – with much the same lineup — last year, so there’s a blueprint.
In his third year at Mississippi College, Jeremy Haworth appears to have things trending in the right direction. The Choctaws are 8-1 as they head into their first Gulf South Conference series of the season, a single game today and a doubleheader on Saturday at West Georgia. It’s the team’s best start in eight years. Haworth’s first MC team, still in transition to NCAA Division II, went 17-30 (7-25 GSC) and his second started 2-17 (0-9). While there was no word of buzzards circling Frierson Field, surely there was some anxiety in Clinton. But suddenly – things turned around. The Choctaws ripped off 18 wins in their next 26 games, finished 15-17 in the league and qualified for the conference tournament. That momentum seemingly has carried into 2018. They rallied to beat nationally ranked Lindenwood (Mo.) 12-11 in their opener, took that series 2-1 and haven’t lost since. Chris Crosby, a transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, has been the ace, posting a 2-0 mark with a 1.26 ERA in three starts. Another juco transfer, Billy Cameron from East Central CC, is batting .455 with two home runs and seven RBIs in six games. Grant Barber, a first-team All-GSC selection in 2017, is at .359 with 14 RBIs and 13 runs. Returnees Hunter Sykes (.452, eight doubles) and Kyle Smith (.432, 16 runs) also have been swinging hot bats. West Georgia will give MC an early gauge on its progress. The Wolves, ranked No. 9 in D-II, are 10-1 – they lost for the first time on Wednesday — and are averaging more than 11 runs a game.