Feb. 10. That’s a date worth circling. Jones County Junior College, ranked No. 2 in Collegiate Baseball’s NJCAA Division II poll, will make its 2018 debut on that date against Southwest Tennessee CC in Ellisville. It’s truly a testament to the tradition established by the Bobcats – the 2016 national champs – that they are so highly ranked. The 2018 team will look very different from the 2017 version, which started the year ranked No. 1, went 46-4, won the state championship and saw its brilliant season end in heartbreaking fashion at home in the Region 23 Tournament. (Hinds CC won the region title and advanced to the juco World Series.) Gone from the Bobcats roster are hitting stalwarts Tanner Huddleston, Erick Hoard, Fred Franklin and Shelton Wallace and ace starters Ben Stiglets, Mason Strickland and Logan Robbins. Luther Woullard (.326, six homers), a New Orleans signee, is the top returning hitter, and Alabama-bound Will Freeman (1.80 ERA, five saves) is hailed by coach Chris Kirtland as the MACJC’s “most dominant” pitcher. Freshmen will play significant roles. Ones to watch: outfielders Luke McKenzie (Columbia Academy) and Trace Henry (Mooreville) and right-hander Payton Harris (Oak Grove). While you’re circling dates, go ahead and do May 15. That’s the first day of the Region 23 Tournament. It’s a good bet that JCJC will be in it.
’Tis the season for the Rule 5 draft, which went down today without much hoopla. Former Jones County Junior College standout Lane Ratliff and Ole Miss alumnus Will Allen were picked in the minor league phase and will be changing organizations for the 2018 season. Ratliff, a left-hander, was taken by Arizona out of the Seattle system. A 2014 draftee by the Mariners, he spent most of 2017 in the Class A Midwest League. His career ERA is 5.98, but someone saw something they liked. First baseman/catcher Allen, a 2014 draftee by Detroit, was plucked by Miami. He played in the Class A Florida State League last season, batting .245 with nine homers and 40 RBIs at age 25. Allen had a big senior year in Oxford in 2014, hitting .339 with seven homers and 64 RBIs. P.S. Ryan Rolison’s ranking improved a notch in Baseball America’s latest list of the Top 100 college draft prospects for 2018. The Ole Miss left-hander is up to No. 6 after standing seventh in the magazine’s October ranking. Rolison went 6-3 with a 3.06 ERA for the Rebels in 2017 and pitched well in the Cape Cod League over the summer. Mississippi State’s ace lefty, Konnor Pilkington, slipped to No. 19 from 17th. Pilkington was 8-5, 3.08 last season. Rebels closer Dallas Woolfolk and State outfielder Jake Mangum are also in the top 100.
The MLB draft is just around the corner. Well, no, that’s not true. It’s about eight months away. But speculation on the draft is never out of season, certainly not at Baseball America. Ole Miss left-hander Ryan Rolison, coming off a strong showing in the Cape Cod League this summer, is ranked seventh in the magazine’s new list of the Top 50 draft prospects in the college ranks. In a mock draft posted by BA on Monday, Rolison, a draft-eligible sophomore, was pegged to go 11th overall to Baltimore. Mississippi State’s ace lefty, Konnor Pilkington, who pitched well for Team USA this summer, is No. 17 in the Top 50, and Bulldogs outfielder Jake Mangum checks in at 44. Former Jackson Prep star Mangum was picked in the 30th round this year by the New York Yankees as a draft-eligible sophomore. … In the high school Top 50, Brandon High’s J.T. Ginn and Hattiesburg’s Joe Gray are ranked Nos. 24 and 28. Ginn is committed to State, Gray to Ole Miss. Odds are they’ll be in pro ball next summer. … There weren’t any juco players in BA’s college Top 50, but one to watch leading up to next summer’s draft is Jones County JC’s Will Freeman, a right-hander who was the top-rated prospect in the Prospect League this summer.
The sound of pads popping, whistles blowing and bands playing can mean only one thing: Fall ball is just around the corner. Returning Ole Miss players were all over Baseball America’s rankings of the top prospects in various summer leagues. Ryan Rolison, who went 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in the Cape Cod League, made BA’s list of the top prospects in that highly regarded circuit. UM’s Parker Caracci was tabbed as the best prospect in the Ripken Collegiate League, where he posted seven wins and a 0.70 ERA. First baseman Cole Zabowski also made the Ripken top 10. Pitcher Houston Roth was on the publication’s list of top prospects in the Perfect Game Collegiate League, and Dallas Woolfolk was a rather obvious standout (four saves, 0.87 ERA) for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. … Mississippi State left-hander Konnor Pilkington, who could be the first Mississippian picked in the 2018 draft, also pitched well for Team USA, and Bulldogs catcher Dustin Skelton made BA’s Perfect Game prospect rankings. … Mississippi College outfielder Blaine Crim was ranked among the top prospects in the Great Lakes Collegiate League, and Will Freeman, a sophomore right-hander at Jones County Junior College, was rated No. 1 in the Prospect League. Alabama native Freeman was 3-1 with five saves and a 1.80 ERA as a freshman for state champion JCJC. … Mississippi State’s new freshman class includes three members of Baseball America’s Top 500 draft prospects from 2017: outfielder Jordan Anderson, pitcher Chad Bryant and outfielder Owen Lovell. Ole Miss has two of the Top 500: pitcher Jordan Fowler and first baseman Tim Elko. … Southern Miss welcomes back standout closer Nick Sandlin, who showed good stuff in the Cape Cod League, and Matt Wallner, who won several national freshman player of the year awards last season. … Delta State returns a bunch of players from its NCAA Division II College World Series team, including slugger Zack Shannon, who earned a boatload of conference, regional and national honors. … Mississippi University for Women will have a fall program for its first class of recruits. MUW, which has applied for NCAA Division III membership, will launch its inaugural season in 2018. Coach Matt Wolfenbarger is a former Coahoma Community College pitching coach and Delta Academy head coach. The Owls announced 35 commitments from prep and juco players for the coming season and will hold an open tryout on Saturday at Columbus High, where the W will practice and play. The 2018 schedule includes games against Rust, Tougaloo, Blue Mountain and Belhaven.
There were two huge stunners in the opening round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Ellisville and upsets of considerable weight in Hattiesburg and Pearl, as well, on Wednesday. To wit: NJCAA Division II No. 1 Jones County Junior College squandered a four-run lead and fell to Pearl River 5-4 in the regional, and Hinds upended second-ranked LSU-Eunice 6-2. John Moore and Lucas Scott got clutch hits for PRCC and Colby White did the clutch mound work. Jones lost for just the third time all season and first time at home. The Wildcats and Hinds will play in a winner’s bracket game today. Jones meets East Central in an elimination game. … William Carey University won twice to stay alive in the NAIA Opening Round tourney at Wheeler Field. In their second game of the day, the Crusaders rallied to beat top-seeded and ninth-ranked Southeastern (Fla.) University 6-4, forcing a winner-take-all game today for a berth in the NAIA World Series. Carey scored twice in the ninth to tie the score, then went ahead in the 10th on a Christian Smith two-run single. Closer Lane Fazende worked the last three innings to get the win. … West Lauderdale High entered the MHSAA state finals at Trustmark Park with a 31-2 record and is the only Mississippi school ranked by Baseball America at No. 10. But Corinth (29-8) jumped on the Knights for three runs in the first inning and Kyle Crigger made the lead stand up with a complete game effort in a 5-3 win in Game 1 of the best-of-3 Class 4A series. P.S. There also was an upset of note in the SWAC Tournament in New Orleans as Alcorn State, the 4-seed from the East, beat West No. 1 Grambling State 7-6 in 11 innings.
They had the best record in the league. They put up wow-inducing numbers, both with their bats and their arms. They’re the top seed in this week’s tournament and, even though wild and crazy things can happen in double-elimination play, it’d be foolish to bet against them. So, who are we talking about? Could be Jackson State, Delta State or Jones County Junior College. The description fits all three. JSU, which went 20-4 in the SWAC East and 36-15-1 overall, starts conference tournament play Wednesday against Southern University, the fourth-place team from the West, at Barrow Stadium in New Orleans. The Tigers hit .322 as a team with 421 runs and 132 steals; they posted a 3.46 ERA, a .252 batting average against and seven complete games. Tigers to watch: Lamar Briggs (.379), Jesus Santana (nine homers, 62 RBIs), Bryce Brown (.368, 25 steals), C.J. Newsome (50 runs), Miguel Yrigoyen (nine wins, 2.93), Jose Tirado (seven saves). Delta State, regular season and tournament champion in the Gulf South Conference, will start NCAA Division II South Region play on Friday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. It’s a strong, seven-team field, including defending national champ Nova Southeastern and GSC powers West Alabama and Valdosta State. But DSU (41-11) looks up to the task. The Statesmen are hitting .320 with 432 runs and 60 homers; the staff ERA is 4.57 (fifth in the hitter-heavy GSC) with five shutouts and just 25 homers allowed. Statesmen to watch: Ferriss Trophy finalist Zack Shannon (.451, 18 homers, 84 RBIs, 60 runs), Clay Casey (.358, 17 homers), Seth Birdsong (9-1, 2.82), Zach Osbon (six saves, six wins, 1.35). And then there’s Jones County JC, ranked No. 1 in the country in NJCAA D-II. The Bobcats (44-2) open Region 23 Tournament play on Wednesday against Pearl River at Community Bank Park in Ellisville. JCJC batters hit .370 with 437 runs and 44 homers; its pitchers had a 2.64 ERA with 9.3 K’s per game. Bobcats to watch: Erick Hoard (.417, 12 homers, 53 RBIs), Shelton Wallace (.452, 62 RBIs), Fred Franklin (40 steals), Ben Stiglets (11-0, 1.60), Logan Robbins (11-0, 2.34, 83 K’s in 61 2/3 innings). P.S. William Carey won its opener in the NAIA Opening Round tournament and plays top-seeded Southeastern (Fla.) University today at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Carey knocked off Texas Wesleyan 4-3 with a four-run ninth sparked by big hits from Tyler Odom and Cody Christian.
While top-ranked Jones County Junior College and LSU-Eunice sit and watch, eight MACJC teams will duke it out this week for four spots in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament. Four teams tied for second in the MACJC regular season (behind runaway champ Jones) and they’ll be the host schools in the best-of-3 playoffs that start on Thursday. Second-seeded Northwest will host Copiah-Lincoln; No. 3 Hinds gets East Mississippi; No. 4 East Central welcomes Mississippi Delta; and No. 5 Itawamba hosts Pearl River. The four series winners advance to Ellisville next week for the region tournament. Worth noting: ICC’s Tyreque Reed leads NJCAA Division II in hitting at .504. The Indians are batting .338 as a team. … Jones tops the nation at .372, with East Central (.334) and Delta (.329) also ranking among the leaders. … Northwest’s J.G. Lipscomb rates third in the nation in saves with 10. The Rangers’ offensive spark has come from David Herrington, batting .435 with seven homers, 32 RBIs and 27 steals. … PRCC’s Simon Landry has 14 homers, second among state hitters to ICC’s Reed, who has 15. ECCC’s Cole Prestegard has 10. … Hinds’ Caleb Morgan is 6-1 with a 1.70 ERA, eighth-best in the nation. … Delta’s Cole Marsh is 9-1 with a 1.79, ranking 11th in the country. … Co-Lin is the only team still playing with a losing record (20-25). The Wolves are second in the state (behind Jones) in stolen bases with 108, which ranks 13th in the nation. Matthew Mordecai leads four players in double figures with 17.