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.
Seven state schools, including the Big 3 NCAA Division I schools, are ranked in Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s preseason polls, which came out this week. There might be a tendency to take such news for granted – aren’t there a bunch of Mississippi schools ranked every year? – but we really should not do that. Let’s put this in perspective. Mississippi ranks among the least populous states – 34th in 2018, according to World Atlas – and is smaller, population-wise, than any other Deep South state. It produces good players: 16 Mississippi high school products appeared in big league games in 2018. Per capita, that figure is among the best in the nation. But there isn’t a large volume of talent. And there are 30 senior and junior colleges playing baseball in the state. College coaches here can’t just roll out the balls and bats and win games. Over the years, they’ve mined and refined the state’s talent to build winning programs and grow tremendous fan support. They’ve developed tradition and created brands that are attractive to out-of-state talent. Twenty-two state college alumni, including 11 who played high school ball in other states, appeared in big league games in 2018. Each of the state’s Big 3 had a player in the World Series this year: Mitch Moreland (Mississippi State) and Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss) with Boston and Brian Dozier (Southern Miss) with the Los Angeles Dodgers. That’s pretty impressive stuff for what Willie Morris used to call “poor old whupped-down Mis’ippi.” So when these polls come out, sprinkled with Mississippi schools, don’t just shrug. Smile and be proud. … Collegiate Baseball pegged Ole Miss, SEC Tournament champ in 2018, at No. 11 in NCAA Division I. Mississippi State, which went to the College World Series last summer, is No. 27 and Southern Miss, 2018 C-USA champion, is No. 30. Delta State, coming off yet another NCAA regional appearance, is No. 10 in Division II, while Mississippi College, the Gulf South Conference Tournament champ in 2018, got votes in the D-II poll. Meridian Community College, runner-up in the Region 23 Tournament last season, is No. 9 in the NJCAA D-II poll, with defending state champion Pearl River checking in at 13th and Jones County 15th. … MSU’s Jake Mangum and USM’s Matt Wallner made CB’s first-team All-America list, while UM’s Parker Caracci and Ryan Olenek were second- and third-team picks.
The familiar “plink” of ball meeting bat is back on college campuses around the state. Fall ball begins Friday at Southern Miss, which returns 19 lettermen from a C-USA championship squad. In addition to intrasquad games, the Golden Eagles will play two scrimmages against outside competition, which is now permitted by the NCAA. USM hosts Nicholls State in Hattiesburg on Oct. 28 and visits Tulane on Nov. 4 to wind up the fall schedule. … Ole Miss also has announced its slate of scrimmages, the first of which is an intrasquad on Friday. The Rebels also will play two other teams this fall, Delta State on Oct. 13 and Arkansas-Little Rock on Oct. 27, both in Oxford. The Pizza Bowl, the intrasquad finale, is set for Nov. 2. The Rebels are coming off an SEC championship season and return All-America closer Parker Caracci. … Mississippi State, under new coach Chris Lemonis, started fall scrimmages last week. The Bulldogs are coming off a College World Series appearance – the 10th in program history – and welcomed the nation’s No. 12 recruiting class (by Baseball America) to Starkville. The freshman crop includes J.T. Ginn, the Brandon High product who was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers in June. … Fall ball is also under way at Delta State, where much is new. Only one regular position player – catcher Josh Russell – returns from last year’s NCAA Division II regional participant. Two new full-time assistants are now on Mike Kinnison’s staff: Blake Mathews and Slater Lott, a former Meridian Community College assistant. The Green-White Fall Series, which concludes the season, is set for Oct. 18-21. … Itawamba, Mississippi Delta and Pearl River Community Colleges will play a tripleheader of scrimmages on Oct. 5 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson.
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.
Dalton Minton threw seven shutout innings to pace Delta State to a 2-0 win against Mississippi College on Sunday in the rubber game of a Gulf South Conference series in Cleveland. Minton allowed seven hits and struck out eight batters in running his record to 8-1 and cutting his ERA to 3.74. DSU rolls into the GSC Tournament — at Ferriss Field starting this week — with a 38-8 record. … Mason Strickland tossed 3 1/3 near-perfect innings in relief to help Southern Miss beat host Old Dominion 9-2 on Sunday and complete a C-USA sweep. Strickland allowed one hit and walked none for the Golden Eagles, now 32-11, 16-4 in conference, with nine straight wins. … Rahman Williams smacked a three-run homer to cap a five-run eighth inning as Jackson State beat Alcorn State 7-4 in the rubber game of a SWAC series on Sunday at Braddy Field. JSU is 28-15, 17-7. … On Saturday in Oxford, before a crowd of 12,000-plus, Thomas Dillard’s three-run bomb in the seventh inning carried Ole Miss to a 9-8 win over LSU in the rubber game of an SEC series. Dillard is hitting .306 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs for the Rebels (34-11, 12-9). … Also on Saturday, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College’s Kole Kittrell threw a five-inning no-hitter in a 13-0 win vs. East Mississippi CC. Kittrell fanned six and walked just one.
Jones County Junior College, ranked No. 1 in preseason and still there after a 13-1 start, veered off course in mid-March, losing six times in a 12-game stretch. The team’s ranking in the NJCAA Division II poll tumbled to 12th on April 3. Well, don’t look now, but it seems the Bobcats have rediscovered their way. Jones has won six straight games in MACJC play to climb into second place in the league at 12-4, a notch behind Pearl River CC (12-2). The Bobcats, 25-7 heading into a twinbill at Baton Rouge CC today, put on an impressive showing at Wesson on Tuesday, blasting Copiah-Lincoln 12-2 and 18-6. Luther Woullard, a sophomore from d’Iberville who has been the club’s big bat, had eight hits in the two games and knocked in seven runs in Game 2 alone. He is batting a robust .448 with 17 doubles, five home runs, 40 RBIs and 22 steals. Trace Henry also has been a key offensive player, with a .392 average and 28 steals. Cooper Brune (7-0, 2.37 ERA), Will Freeman (5-1, two saves, 4.19) and Tyler Spring (5-1, 1.89) front coach Chris Kirtland’s pitching staff, which has a 3.11 ERA. JCJC’s next conference games are Wednesday at Mississippi Gulf Coast, another nationally ranked team that features the nation’s top homer and RBI man, Brandon Parker (18 and 63). A potential showdown with Pearl River, currently ranked No. 6, looms on April 24.
Focus on Wildcat Field in Poplarville. This should be good. Itawamba Community College makes the long trip south to meet Pearl River CC today in a battle of two of the top three teams in the MACJC standings. ICC is 19-3 and ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA Division II poll, the school’s highest ranking ever. But the Indians, at 5-1, aren’t in first place in the league. PRCC is – at 6-0. (East Central is actually second at 7-1.) The 18th-ranked Wildcats (20-4) are pumped up from a hard-fought sweep of rival Gulf Coast earlier this week. PRCC’s Connor Lewis, a sophomore from Corinth, has been a sparkplug, batting .329 with four homers, 17 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Justin Medlin leads the team in hitting at .373, and Kyle Crigger follows at .361. The ace of the staff is lefty Houston Harding, who is 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA and 43 strikeouts. For PRCC, Simon Landry, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore from Louisiana, brings the thunder: .420, nine homers, 34 RBIs. The Wildcats are deep in arms, topped by Shemar Page (5-0, 1.75), Camden Dusang (5-0, 2.49) and Miles Smith (3-1, 3.20).
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).
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.
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.