The conversion from closer to starter has been a smooth one for Southern Miss’ Nick Sandlin, who was named national pitcher of the week by Collegiate Baseball on Monday. The junior right-hander had a 14-strikeout game against Texas-San Antonio over the weekend and is 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA in his five starts. He had 10 wins and eight saves out of the pen in 2017, earning several All-America honors. … Thomas Dillard has been a welcome power source for surging Ole Miss (19-2), having already set a season-high with five home runs. The sophomore from Oxford, batting .333 this year, hit .206 with four homers in 48 games in 2017. … Mississippi State’s weekend rotation of Konnor Pilkington (1.55 ERA), Ethan Small (3.04) and Jacob Billingsley (3.52) has been excellent but is just 4-5 combined for the 10-10 Bulldogs. State, last in the SEC in scoring with 89 runs, could find a rhythm tonight when Alcorn State, staff ERA 7.24, comes to Starkville. … Jackson State leads the SWAC in hitting with a .302 average, and Raul Hernandez is second in the individual stats at .403. … Dalton Minton, a transfer from Northwest Mississippi Community College, has emerged as an ace at Delta State. The left-hander is 4-0, 3.90 and has the 19-2 team’s lone complete game. … Mississippi College leads the Division II Gulf South Conference in batting at .334, led by East Central CC transfer Billy Cameron at .397. … Blue Mountain (18-6) is in first place at 5-1 in the Southern States Athletic Conference standings. NAIA nationally ranked William Carey (19-8) is tied for third at 4-2. BMC travels to Columbus today to take on MUW, 10-7 in its inaugural season. … Millsaps (17-6) tops the D-III Southern Athletic Association standings at 7-2. Transfer Jimmy Johnstone is hitting .449 for the Majors.
Conference play starts this weekend for the state’s Big 3 Division I schools. Each is playing at home, and there should be an upbeat vibe for all three. Southern Miss is nationally ranked, sports a 12-4 record and just blasted Tulane 12-3 on Wednesday night in New Orleans. And there’s even more good news for Golden Eagles fans: Matt Wallner is heating up. The 2017 national freshman of the year homered against the Green Wave, just his second of the year but second in the last three games. Wallner, a .336 hitter with 19 bombs in 2017, is batting .298. USM opens Conference USA play against Texas-San Antonio in Hattiesburg. Ole Miss, which welcomes Tennessee to Oxford to launch SEC play, is on an even steeper roll. The Rebels, a top 10 team, bashed Georgia State 16-2 on Wednesday in Atlanta to move to 17-1. Who’s hot? Cole Zabowski, to pick just one. He went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs vs. the Panthers and is at .310 with three homers and 13 RBIs on the season. Mississippi State stumbled on Wednesday, losing to Southeastern Louisiana 11-5 in Biloxi. Jake Mangum continued to swing a hot bat, however, going 2-for-5. He is hitting .351 with 11 runs and seven steals. The Bulldogs take a 10-7 record into their SEC series against Vanderbilt in Starkville, but note they are 4-1 at renovated Dudy Noble Field, where the home-field edge is palpable. P.S. Jackson State, 5-1 in the SWAC, takes on Alabama State (4-2) this weekend in Montgomery in a key league series. JSU is 12-4 overall after a twinbill split at Morehead (Ky.) State. In a 4-0 win that was halted by snow on Tuesday and completed Wednesday, Jesus Santana hit his fourth homer of the year. Jarvis Warner has boosted his average to .364.
Mississippi’s college programs had a whole lot to celebrate over the weekend. Among the NCAA Division I teams, Mississippi State won all three of its games in the Shriner’s College Classic in Texas, Ole Miss took two of three at Long Beach State, Southern Miss won two of three in the Cox Diamond Invitational in Florida and Jackson State swept its first SWAC series at Alabama A&M. Delta State and Mississippi College scored Gulf South Conference sweeps in D-II. William Carey won its first SSAC series in NAIA, and D-III Millsaps took an SAA series from Rhodes, notching Jim Page’s 750th career win. D-III Belhaven snapped a six-game losing skid to pick up its first ASC win. And MUW took two games from Lane College to improve to 7-3. There were individual stars aplenty, and here’s a few:
Grae Kessinger, UM: 3-for-4, 2 RBIs, 2 runs in a 12-1 win at LBSU on Sunday.
Daniel Keating, USM: 2-for-3, 3 RBIs, 3 runs in a 20-4 win vs. Nicholls State on Sunday.
Jacob Billingsley, MSU: 6 shutout innings in a 4-1 win over Sam Houston State on Sunday.
Mark Watson, JSU: 5-hit shutout, 7 K’s in an 11-0 victory vs. Alabama A&M on Sunday.
Zack Shannon, DSU: 2 homers, 6 RBIs in a 10-4 win against Auburn-Montgomery on Saturday.
Billy Cameron, MC: 4-for-5, homer, 2 RBIs in a 9-5 win at Shorter on Sunday.
Tyler Reid, Carey: 3-for-5, 4 runs, RBI in a 10-4 victory against Bethel on Saturday.
Cavan Breland, Millsaps: 4-for-6, 3 RBIs, 3 runs in a doubleheader sweep vs. Rhodes on Saturday.
Justin Acevedo, Belhaven: 2-for-5, 3 RBIs in an 11-2 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor on Saturday.
Damain Benefield, MUW: 3-for-4, homer, 3 RBIs in a 9-1 win over Lane on Sunday.
13 – Hits for Grae Kessinger, who is batting .464 for unbeaten Ole Miss, 7-0 after a weekend sweep of Tulane.
71 – Runs in seven games for Southern Miss (5-2), which scored 39 in three games vs. UT-Martin over the weekend. Luke Reynolds leads with 13.
7 – RBIs for Josh Hatcher, a freshman who also leads Mississippi State (3-4) in homers with three and runs with seven.
7 – Home runs by Zack Shannon of Delta State, 11-1 after a sweep at Valdosta State over the weekend.
3 – Home runs for Jesus Santana, batting .368 with eight RBIs for Jackson State (3-2).
10 – RBIs by Hunter Wilson of Alcorn State (4-4).
3 – Wins in three starts for Chris Crosby of Mississippi College, 10-2 after taking two of three at West Georgia over the weekend.
14 – Stolen bases for Christian Smith, batting .380 for William Carey (12-3).
14 – Steals by Miciah Heard of Blue Mountain (12-4).
13 – RBIs by Brennan Ducote, a .500 hitter for Millsaps (8-3).
3 – Homers for Will Costinett, who also has seven RBIs for Belhaven (2-6).
5 – Consecutive wins for MUW, now 5-3 in its inaugural season after a twinbill sweep of Rust last Friday.
On Aug. 28, 1981, Kelvin Moore made his MLB debut for Oakland and went 1-for-4 in a loss to Bobby Ojeda and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Moore’s first game in the big leagues was also the first in The Show for any Jackson State alumnus, a milestone worthy of note during Black History Month. Moore – one of those rare players who threw lefty but batted from the right side — played in 76 games over three seasons for the A’s and hit eight home runs. His debut seemed to open a door for JSU, an historically black school with a modest enrollment. Between 1981 and 1996, eight JSU products reached the major leagues, according to baseball-reference.com, and several had significant careers. The colorful and controversial Oil Can Boyd followed Moore in 1982; he went on to pitch 10 years in the majors. Then came Curtis Ford, Dave Clark (a first-round draft pick), Marvin Freeman, Howard Farmer, Wes Chamberlain and Mike Farmer. Dewon Day, who pitched in 13 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2007, is the only other Tigers alum to make it, an unfortunate sign of the times in MLB, which has seen a decline in the numbers of African-American players in recent years. All nine of the JSU big leaguers were coached by Bob Braddy, a recent inductee into both the College Baseball and Mississippi Sports Halls of Fame. Among SWAC schools, only Southern University, with 16, has produced more big leaguers than JSU. (Day played for both schools.) … The Tigers, now coached by Omar Johnson and coming off a 38-17 season, open their 2018 campaign tonight at the University of New Orleans and will then host Mississippi State at Braddy Field on Wednesday. Among the current Tigers, third baseman Jesus Santana and outfielder Lamar Briggs may have pro potential.
Sports Illustrated’s ranking of the Top 100 players in the big leagues includes Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier (41), who “lacks the exposure he deserves” in Minnesota; ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart (87), who left Cincinnati for the Los Angeles Angels; and as-yet-unsigned UM product Lance Lynn (93). Former Mississippi Braves standout Freddie Freeman is No. 22. … Ole Miss product Matt Tracy, whose one MLB appearance came three years ago, reportedly has signed a minor league contract with Toronto. Tracy, 29, was drafted by the New York Yankees in 2011 and made a two-inning appearance for the Yanks on April 11, 2015. The left-hander, who has a 4.03 career ERA in 151 minor league games, pitched in Minnesota’s system last year (7.64 ERA in Triple-A). … MUW notched its first-ever win – and then added another – by sweeping Crowley’s Ridge, 5-4 and 11-1, on Thursday at Columbus. Johndavid Birdsong, who got a walk-off hit in Game 1, is 5-for-10 with three RBIs for the Owls (2-3). … Vicksburg native Dmitri Young and former Jackson State star Marvin Freeman, both ex-big leaguers, are among the dignitaries expected in New Orleans for this weekend’s Andre Dawson Classic, formerly known as the MLB Urban Invitational. Alcorn State is in the field. … MGM Park in Biloxi, home of the Shuckers, has an interesting doubleheader slated for March 14: William Carey vs. Mississippi College followed by Mississippi State vs. Southeastern Louisiana. … Luke Wallner, brother of USM star Matt Wallner, is a freshman pitcher on Meridian Community College’s roster. The 6-foot, 195-pound right-hander pitched at Forest Lake (Minn.) High last year. … Baseball America ranks Gulfport High No. 40 in its Top 50 preseason prep poll. The Admirals were 33-6 in 2017 and finished runner-up (to Tupelo) in the MHSAA Class 6A playoffs. Outfielder Joe Gray of Hattiesburg High made BA’s All-America first team.
You know these names: Wallner, Rolison, Pilkington. They’re the stars at the state’s Big 3 Division I schools, the centers of preseason attention. Here are some names from outside the spotlight, lesser-heralded players who could have significant impact this season, which begins Friday. At Southern Miss, there’s Luke Reynolds, a transfer from Mississippi State, which the Golden Eagles meet in the opener in Hattiesburg. Forest native Reynolds is expected to replace Taylor Braley at third base for USM. Reynolds batted .304 at State in 2015. He left the program in 2016 without playing in a game but still had to sit out last season. He did play summer ball, batting .306 with four homers in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. In 2014, Reynolds was the star on the Hinds Community College team that made it to the NJCAA Division II title game. He hit .376 that year. … At Ole Miss, which opens against Winthrop in Oxford, there’s Tim Rowe. The Hernando native, a senior outfielder/DH who batted .254 with three homers and 20 RBIs in 2017, has some power in his bat, something the Rebels need with top sluggers Colby Bortles and Tate Blackman having moved on to pro ball. Two years ago at Itawamba Community College, Rowe hit .418 with eight homers and 48 RBIs. … At State, there’s Ethan Small, a sophomore left-hander who missed 2017 after Tommy John surgery. Konnor Pilkington sits atop the Bulldogs’ rotation and Riley Self and Spencer Price man the back end of the bullpen. Small is one of the other pieces – and he could be poised for a breakout campaign if he can harness his nasty stuff. A two-time prep All-America pick in Tennessee, he pitched sparingly as a freshman in 2016 but is penciled in as the No. 2 starter now. P.S. Alcorn State again starts its season in the Andre Dawson Classic (formerly the MLB Urban Invitational) in New Orleans. The Braves’ first game is against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on Friday. Mississippi Valley State hosts South Dakota State in Itta Bena. Jackson State opens on Feb. 20 at the University of New Orleans.