The bull’s-eye will be on Meridian Community College at the start of the juco season in Mississippi. The Eagles, who open Monday against Spring Hill JV in Mobile, are ranked No. 4 in the nation by the NJCAA and No. 9 by Collegiate Baseball. Dillon Sudduth’s Eagles finished 39-13 in 2018 and reached the Division II Region 23 Tournament final. Gone from that club are Milton Smith Jr., Davis Bradshaw and Trace Jordan, but a strong pitching staff led by David Dunn and Luke Wallner (both 6-game winners in 2018) fuels the cause for optimism this year. Houston Parker and Keegan Westbrook are among a small group of returning position players. … Defending state champion Pearl River CC, which opens Sunday at home against nationally ranked Jefferson College, is ranked eighth by the NJCAA and 13th by CB. PRCC features a pair of aces: Shemar Page, a 10-game winner in 2018, and Miles Smith, who won six times. Former Wildcats star Braxton Lee, who made his big league debut last spring, will throw out the ceremonial first pitch for PRCC’s opener. … Mississippi Gulf Coast CC is ranked 14th by the NJCAA. “Somebody thinks we’re pretty good, so we’ve got a lot to live up to,” Bulldogs coach Rodney Batts said in a school release. It helps that his team returns slugger Brandon Parker, the NJCAA D-II player of the year in 2018. Gulf Coast launches on Saturday at home against Jefferson College. … Jones County JC, ranked 15th in the Collegiate Baseball poll, hosts Coastal Alabama-East on Tuesday. The Bobcats’ sparkplug is Trace Henry, a .399 hitter who stole 39 bases and scored 60 runs in 2018. … Itawamba CC, which was ranked second in the nation early in 2018, isn’t currently ranked but shouldn’t be overlooked. The Indians return lefty Houston Harding, a nine-game winner and a Mississippi State signee, and top slugger LaBryant Siddell, who hit .348 with six homers. … Another player to watch in the MACJC is Southwest CC’s Michael Buck, a 6-foot-5, 220-pound sophomore who hit .387 with six homers last year. He is a Delta State signee.
Time to box up the 2018 college season. Put away the bats and balls for a few weeks and make a few acknowledgements:
If there were an award for Team of the Year, it would have to go to Mississippi State, which didn’t win as many games as Ole Miss or Southern Miss (or Delta State, for that matter) but made a captivating postseason run for the ages that ended one win short of the College World Series finals. The banana-powered Bulldogs finished 39-29 and should be nationally ranked across the board when the final polls come out. Gary Henderson did a great job as an interim coach, taking over in an adverse situation, and not retaining him seems a curious and possibly regrettable move in Starkville.
There are many other kudos to hand out. Ole Miss went 48-17, won the SEC Tournament and hosted an NCAA regional. USM (44-18) swept both C-USA titles and also went to a regional. Jackson State finished 34-18. Delta State went 42-11 and made an NCAA Division II regional, as did Mississippi College, which ended the year 36-17, one of its best seasons ever. William Carey went 36-25 and hosted an NAIA regional. Blue Mountain finished 29-23, Division III Millsaps went 25-19 and MUW, in its inaugural season, came home at 21-15 after participating in the USCAA Small College World Series. Alcorn State (13-39), Mississippi Valley State (11-35), Belhaven (12-27) and Tougaloo (19-23) were the only four-year schools to post losing records.
Among the jucos, MACJC champion Pearl River (No. 4), Meridian (14), Jones County (15) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (18) were ranked in the final NJCAA Division II poll.
Game of the year? If you limited it to games between state schools, it’d be hard to top the State-UM game at Pearl’s Trustmark Park on April 24, which the Bulldogs won on Luke Alexander’s two-run double in the bottom of the ninth before a crowd of 8,500-plus. Runner-up: MC beating Delta State 7-4 in an elimination game in the D-II South Regional at Lakeland, Fla. The Choctaws’ Billy Cameron drove in the go-ahead run with a two-run single in the seventh. Worth mentioning: Jackson State-Alcorn in Lorman on March 25. The Tigers rallied from 8-4 down in the sixth inning to win 13-8 and ended the game with a triple play.
No position player in the state had a better year than DSU’s Zack Shannon. He hit .406 with a record 31 homers and 93 RBIs and has picked up all kinds of national honors. USM’s Nick Sandlin, who also garnered national awards and beat out Shannon (and others) for the state’s Ferriss Trophy, was certainly the state’s pitcher of the year, going 10-0, 1.06 ERA in 15 starts. Gulf Coast CC’s Brandon Parker won a juco national player of the year award and both Shannon and Sandlin were semifinalists for the biggest of individual prizes, the Golden Spikes Award, a testament to the quality of ball played in the Magnolia State.
Three state schools (DSU, Carey and Hinds CC) made it to the World Series level in 2017. Only one did so this season, but it was hardly a down year.
Not so long ago, Mississippi State was a .500 team starved for runs and searching for answers. Today, State cracked the Top 25 in Baseball America’s new poll and, as the magazine’s editors suggest, may have “lifted itself off the NCAA bubble.” BA’s projected NCAA field last week didn’t have State among the 64 teams. The Bulldogs (31-24) swept No. 1-ranked Florida at Dudy Noble Field over the weekend, putting up 31 runs against a Gators team that, it should be noted, had already clinched the SEC title and a Top 8 national seed for the NCAA Tournament. Still, it has been an impressive late surge by State, which was 19-19 on April 18 after a loss to Memphis. While the Bulldogs’ NCAA regional fate may already be determined, it would certainly help their cause if they beat LSU in the SEC Tournament opener on Tuesday. State is not in the d1baseball.com Top 25, also released today. … Ole Miss (42-14) held steady at No. 4 in the BA poll and appears assured of hosting an NCAA regional. Southern Miss (39-15) finished the regular season with a flourish, scoring 35 runs in a sweep at Marshall, and is ranked 17th. The C-USA champions are the top seed headed into this week’s conference tournament in Biloxi and are a lock for the NCAAs. … Rain has made a mess of the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament, which started last Thursday in Lakeland, Fla. Delta State, which beat Mississippi College in the first round, is scheduled to play Tampa in a winner’s bracket game today. MC is slated for a loser’s bracket game today vs. Albany State. The D-II World Series starts Saturday in Cary, N.C. … Jackson State, the last Mississippi team standing in the SWAC Tournament, bowed out Saturday when Jose Tirado, the league’s relief pitcher of the year, yielded a game-tying run in the ninth and a game-winner in the 10th of a 10-9 loss to Texas Southern. … The last state juco team standing was Meridian Community College. The Eagles upset No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice in the NJCAA Region 23 championship round on Saturday but were eliminated by the Bengals on Sunday. MACJC champion Pearl River was eliminated by Meridian on Friday. … Rust College has transitioned from NCAA Division III to NAIA and formally becomes the eighth member of the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference this fall. The Bearcats will be the fourth GCAC school with a baseball team, joining in-state rival Tougaloo, Talladega and Edward Waters. Rust, coached by Aurby Burdine, went 0-2 against Tougaloo and 0-4 vs. Talladega in 2018. Founded in 1866 in Holly Springs, Rust is one of the nation’s oldest historically black colleges and universities.
Round 1 of the Battle Royale that is the junior college postseason begins today at four schools around the state. The best-of-3 playoffs feature Hinds at Jones County; Northeast at Meridian; Gulf Coast at Northwest; and Itawamba at East Central. Pearl River, which claimed the MACJC championship on the regular season’s final day, has clinched a spot in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament, along with region host – and No. 1-ranked – LSU-Eunice. The other eight schools are battling for four spots in that double-elimination event set to begin on May 16. Jones County, ranked third in the nation, lost its grip on the state title when it was swept by Meridian – 16-8 and 13-12 – last Sunday. The Bobcats (37-9) are led by Luther Woullard (.427, five homers, 52 RBIs) and pitchers Cooper Brune (11-1, 3.69 ERA) and Tyler Spring (8-1, 2.52). Other players of note in the postseason include: Hinds’ Andrew Beesley (.488, seven homers), Northeast’s Colt Chrestman (.431), Meridian’s Davis Bradshaw (.444, eight homers), Gulf Coast’s Brandon Parker (.422, 20 homers, 71 RBIs) and Josh Lewis (8-1, 2.11), Northwest’s Brant Blaylock (.381, 17 homers, 58 RBIs), Itawamba’s LaBryant Siddell (.381) and East Central’s Wyatt Ball (.366, seven homers). … PRCC (37-9) is ranked sixth in the new NJCAA D-II poll, and Meridian is 19th. Other than Northeast, every other MACJC school still playing was ranked at one time this season. Hinds is the defending region champion.
Big day for the junior colleges. The new NJCAA Division II poll comes out later today, and several MACJC schools are poised to move up. And there are games of note, in particular first-place East Central Community College at Jones County JC and Mississippi Gulf Coast at Pearl River. ECCC, currently ranked 13th, stayed unbeaten in league play (6-0) by sweeping Holmes on Saturday. No. 3 Jones (17-5, 4-2) beat Northwest twice on Saturday. PRCC, ranked 14th, is 4-0 in the league (18-4 overall) as it braces for the arrival of No. 18 Gulf Coast (20-4, 4-2) and national homer and RBI leader Brandon Parker (13 and 47). Itawamba (19-3, 5-1), off today, was ranked No. 5 in last week’s poll and is coming off an impressive sweep of No. 19 Meridian in Saturday’s biggest showdown. ICC’s Houston Harding, a freshman lefty from Walls, struck out 14 in picking up his fifth win in a 5-0 victory in Game 1, and Trey DeSantis, a freshman outfielder from Laurel, threw out a runner at the plate to seal a 4-3 win in Game 2. ICC next plays on Friday at Pearl River. Meridian (16-6, 3-3) welcomes Hinds today; unranked (at the moment) HCC is 17-3, 3-1 (including two wins over Jones).
Brooms were in fashion in the opening round of league play in the MACJC over the weekend. Six of the seven doubleheaders resulted in sweeps, including the only matchup between two nationally ranked teams. Itawamba Community College (16-2), ranked eighth in last week’s NJCAA Division II poll, beat No. 16 Mississippi Gulf Coast CC 7-4 and 11-9 in Fulton. Labryant Siddell, a freshman out of Tupelo High, went 4-for-6 in the twinbill with two homers and four RBIs. Kyle Crigger homered and drove in three runs in Game 1, and Houston Harding pitched 6 2/3 innings to improve to 4-0. Cullen O’Shea went deep in both games for Gulf Coast (16-4). No. 2-ranked Jones County JC (15-3) took two from East Mississippi in Scooba. The Bobcats rode the bats of Stephen Matthews (homer), Brandon Hale (homer) and Luther Woullard (two doubles, two RBIs) in the opener, a 12-6 win, and the arm of Jay Simpson in Game 2, a 7-1 victory. Fifth-ranked East Central (13-4) bounced back from three midweek losses to sweep Coahoma, and No. 19 Pearl River (15-3) won a pair from Northwest. No. 13 Hinds (12-3) split with Northeast, Southwest swept Holmes and Meridian swept Copiah-Lincoln.
Jones County Junior College slipped out of the top spot in the new NJCAA Division II poll, replaced by LSU-Eunice, which beat the Bobcats 3-2 last week. Jones is 13-3. Rising on the chart was East Central CC, up to No. 5 from 10th in the previous poll. The 11-1 Warriors have won seven straight. Wyatt Ball has led the charge, batting .500 with two homers, 14 RBIs and 14 runs. George Farid is hitting .441, and Southern Miss signee Jacob Edwards is at .390 with 16 RBIs. On the bump, Delta State-bound Payton Griffin is 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA, and Kolby Crowley has a 0.84 in six appearances. Four other MACJC schools are ranked, though each slipped a bit from last week. Itawamba (12-2) is eighth, Hinds (11-2) 13th, Gulf Coast (16-2) 16th and Pearl River (9-3) 19th. Holmes, at 11-2, isn’t in the Top 20, nor is Copiah-Lincoln (10-2). Only two of the 15 teams in the league are under .500. Conference play, which starts this weekend, will sort a lot of this out.
The long ball is all the rage in the MACJC this season. Brandon Parker of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College leads the nation’s Division II jucos with 10 home runs, and four other state players rank among the top seven. Parker, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound freshman out of West Harrison High, belted No. 10 on Saturday against Baton Rouge CC at MGM Park in Biloxi. He is batting .500 with 29 RBIs (tied for the national lead) for the 13-1 Bulldogs. Northwest’s Brant Blaylock has six bombs in his last seven games and seven on the year in 10 games. Gulf Coast’s Dylan Menhennett and East Mississippi’s Anthony Hickman have hit six homers apiece, and Meridian’s Blake Morris has five, tied for seventh in the country. … Itawamba and Holmes lost over the weekend, meaning there are no unbeatens left in the state. ICC is 11-1, as is top-ranked Jones County. East Central and Pearl River are 9-1. Conference play, which has not yet begun, promises to be a wild ride.
He hit one home run last season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and says he never hit one in high school. But there sits Dylan Menhennett, leading all NJCAA Division II batters with five homers. “I’ve been working out non-stop, just getting better,” he said in a release by the school. “I’ve been swinging every night, coming up here (to Farris Field) and getting extra work.” The third baseman from Biloxi is 11-for-18 with 12 RBIs for the undefeated Bulldogs, who have pounded their opponents 74-12. Gulf Coast is among three MACJC teams off to a 6-0 start. … Jones County JC, preseason No. 1 in the NJCAA poll, is also 6-0 and has outscored its opposition 51-17. Luke Hudson, one of several freshmen in the Bobcats lineup, is 9-for-16 with two homers and seven RBIs. … Itawamba CC moved to 6-0 with a sweep of Columbia State on Tuesday, notching career wins No. 501 and 502 for longtime coach Rick Collier. The former Delta State player has one Juco World Series appearance, two region titles and two state titles on his ICC resume. … East Central CC is 4-0 after sweeping Bevill State on Tuesday. The Warriors won their first two games last weekend on walk-off hits by Kenneth Scott and Hunter Harper. Harper homered on Tuesday. … Hinds CC, the defending Region 23 champion, is 5-1 after rolling over Bishop State 13-2 and 9-4 on Tuesday.
There figures to be plenty of interest in the Jones County Junior College coaching job, which came open Monday when Christian Ostrander was named pitching coach at Louisiana Tech. JCJC sits in the heart of an area with many strong prep programs. It has a first-rate facility in Community Bank Park. And Ostrander built a winning tradition, going 255-109 in seven seasons with two state championships and a national runner-up finish in 2011. Among the players returning from last year’s 30-16 club is NJCAA Division II second-team All-America catcher Mason Irby, a Southern Miss signee. JCJC officials hope to have Ostrander’s replacement named at the December Board of Trustees meeting, according to a school release. Ostrander is a Monroe, La., native who played at Delta State when current LaTech coach Greg Goff was the pitching coach there. P.S. Kudos to former Jackson Mets star Dave Magadan, who is expected to be named hitting coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks.