You don’t have to be a sabermetrician to figure out that this weekend’s Jackson State-Mississippi Valley State series doesn’t favor the host Delta Devils. JSU, which sits atop the SWAC East at 12-3, leads the league in batting. Valley ranks last. JSU leads the league in ERA. Valley ranks last (with a 9.40!). And yet, the Delta Devils have managed to scare up six wins in 12 conference games, including one against the Tigers in Jackson last month. So maybe the stuff on paper won’t mean that much when the two old rivals hit Magnolia Field in Itta Bena, where they’re slated for single games today, Saturday and Sunday. Still, it’s hard to get away from the numbers. JSU trots out a lineup that features the SWAC’s leading hitter, Raul Hernandez (.398), and several others over .300. (Valley has one.) The Tigers’ Jesus Santana is one of the top sluggers in the conference with eight homers and 33 RBIs. (Valley has three homers total.) JSU’s Kevin Perez tops the SWAC in wins with seven and Jose Tirado in saves with nine. (Valley has eight wins all told.) What the Delta Devils could use is another Aaron Barkley or two. (Or three.) The sophomore catcher from California is the team’s lone .300 hitter (at .303) and also carries a 1.59 ERA with a win and two saves in nine relief appearances. Go get ’em.
Four Magnolia State four-year schools sit at the head of the class, sporting Superior marks, as the college season barrels into April. Ole Miss, ranked third in the country by Baseball America, tops the SEC West at 6-3 and is 25-4 overall. Jackson State leads the SWAC East at 9-3 (17-10 overall). Delta State leads the NCAA Division II Gulf South Conference at 14-3 (24-6), and William Carey is tied for first in the NAIA Southern States Athletic Conference at 10-2 (25-10). Both are nationally ranked. The Crusaders are knotted with NAIA No. 1 Faulkner (33-3, 10-2), which comes to Hattiesburg this weekend. In the Satisfactory category we have nationally ranked Southern Miss (6-2, second in C-USA), Mississippi Valley State (6-6 SWAC), Mississippi College (11-6 GSC), Blue Mountain (7-5, fifth in SSAC), Millsaps (8-7, fourth in the D-III Southern Athletic Association) and unclassified independent MUW (14-9 in its inaugural campaign). That leaves the Needs Improvement group. Alcorn State is 3-9 and last in the SWAC East. Belhaven (7-18 overall) is 4-11 against D-III American Southwest Conference competition, and NAIA Tougaloo (12-15) is 0-6 in Gulf Coast Athletic Conference play. And then there’s Mississippi State, a team that was ranked in preseason but is now 14-15 overall, 2-7 and last in the SEC West. Ready or not, the Bulldogs get Ole Miss this weekend in Starkville. … In the MACJC, Pearl River Community College swept Itawamba CC last Friday to move to 8-0 in the league, alone in first place. ICC was ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA Division II poll last week. It’ll be interesting to see just how high PRCC, ranked 18th last week, jumps in the new poll that comes out today.
Presumably the dust has finally settled at Rat McGowan Field in Lorman, where Alcorn State and Jackson State played a three-game SWAC series which may have set a new standard for wacky. JSU won all three games, 17-10, 9-2 and 13-8. Alcorn committed a jaw-dropping 10 errors in Friday’s Game 1, and yet somehow led in the ninth inning. JSU’s Stephen Vidal tied it at 10-all with a two-run homer, and the Tigers proceeded to score seven times in the 10th, aided by three of the Braves’ miscues. There was some pitching in Game 2 on Saturday as JSU’s Kevin Perez (5-1) threw a seven-hitter. Dezmond Chumley and Wesley Reyes got three hits apiece in a 14-hit attack for the Tigers, who again benefitted from Alcorn’s shabby defense (three errors, five unearned runs). In Game 3 on Sunday, the Braves forged an early 8-4 lead, but the Tigers roared back with nine runs (four unearned) over the final four frames. Alcorn pitchers walked 12 batters (29 for the series) and JSU stole six bases on the day. Wacky, indeed. Chumley, a junior from Texas, had a great series, with seven hits, seven runs, seven RBIs and two homers. JSU is 17-6 overall and alone in first place in the SWAC East at 9-3. Alcorn (6-17) sank further into the cellar at 1-8. The rivals meet again in late April at Braddy Field in Jackson. We can’t possibly know what to expect.
There are several big series on tap this weekend in college baseball (see Ole Miss at Texas A&M in the SEC; Southern Miss at Florida Atlantic in C-USA; Jackson State at Alcorn State in the SWAC; first-place Millsaps at Birmingham-Southern in SAA play; and first-place Blue Mountain at NAIA No. 1 Faulkner (Ala.) in the SSAC). If the recent past is prologue, we could be in for a wild weekend. To wit: On Thursday night, Ole Miss rallied for three eighth-inning runs to upend Texas A&M 5-4 in a battle of nationally ranked SEC foes in their series opener at College Station. Rebels ace Ryan Rolison wobbled, but relievers Will Ethridge (three innings, six strikeouts) and Parker Caracci (two innings, five K’s) picked him up. … On Wednesday, Mississippi Valley State beat Delta State for just the 16th time in 103 meetings, getting a 10th-inning, tie-breaking double from Aaron Barkley – who also pitched two shutout innings – at Itta Bena. Division I Valley is 5-16, D-II No. 1-ranked Delta State 19-4. In Jackson, Tougaloo spanked Alcorn State 9-1 as Lige Mims threw a complete game and drove in two runs. The NAIA Bulldogs, who visit MUW on Saturday, are 12-11; D-I Alcorn, which might have been looking ahead to its series with JSU, is 6-14. In the juco ranks, unranked Hinds Community College went to Ellisville and handed third-ranked Jones County Junior College its first home defeats of the season. Staton Todd (homer, double) and Andrew Beasley fueled the 6-5 Game 1 win with their bats, and the Eagles (14-3, 3-1 MACJC) rode the arms of Caleb Morgan and Josh Banes to a 4-1 victory in Game 2. Jones slipped to 15-5 (10-2 at home) and 2-2 MACJC. Meanwhile, East Central, ranked 13th, moved to 4-0 in the league with a sweep of Southwest behind the hitting of Wyatt Ball, who cycled over the two games. Pearl River, at 2-0, is the only other team still unbeaten in league play.
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.