The road to Enid, Okla., starts Friday at four locations in Mississippi. The MACJC postseason, the first step toward the NJCAA Division II World Series, begins with four best-of-3 playoff series. Top seed Jones County hosts Delta; No. 2 Meridian hosts Itawamba; No. 3 East Central hosts Gulf Coast; and fourth-seeded Northwest hosts Hinds. Jones fairly dominated the regular season, finishing 24-4, 4 games clear of the field. But three of the teams that beat the Bobcats are in the postseason: Meridian, Hinds and ICC. Even 8-seed Delta could be dangerous; the Trojans won their last five games, including a sweep of Hinds, to get into the postseason. Still, Jones, 41-5 overall and flush with talent, will be a tough out. The pitching staff is deep. Mason Irby is batting .434 with seven homers and 61 RBIs, and don’t overlook Clint Sasser, whose 44 steals rank No. 2 in the country. Other players to watch: Meridian’s Baylor Obert (.420); ECCC’s Cole Prestegard (.367, eight homers) and Channing Wall (11 saves, 1.87 ERA); Northwest’s LeeMarcus Boyd (.360, 39 runs); Hinds’ Chase Cockrell (.341, six homers) and Carlisle Koestler (9-3, 3.14); Gulf Coast’s Brian Lane (.391); ICC’s Timothy Rowe (.421, eight homers); and Delta’s Nathan Pilutti (.305, four homers, 11 steals). The four winners from the best-of-3 round meet in a double-elimination tourney for the state title, which Hinds won in 2015. The top three from the MACJC event advance to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament, which is the doorway to Enid.
Hinds Community College will try to join an exclusive club today. The Eagles will try to beat Jones County Junior College, something only three teams have managed in 2016. Hinds, the defending state champ, has a good club. The Eagles are 23-17 and 15-9 in the MACJC. Chase Cockrell is hitting .355 with six homers and 27 RBIs. Carlisle Koestler has nine wins and three saves. But Jones’ stuff dwarfs everyone else’s. The Bobcats, ranked No. 2 in NJCAA Division II, are 37-3 and 20-2, 5 games up in the MACJC standings. (The losses: Arkansas Baptist, Itawamba and Southwest.) JCJC hits .379 as a team, slugs .583. The Bobcats average 9.4 runs a game, allow 3.5. Erick Hoard, a freshman from Brandon, has 13 homers and 56 RBIs. Mason Irby is hitting .472. Clint Sasser is at .434 with 42 steals in 45 attempts. Three pitchers have eight wins, led by Mason Strickland (8-0, 2.32 ERA, 57 strikeouts in 50 1/3 innings). Today’s doubleheader is in Ellisville, where Jones has suffered two of its losses. A chink in the armor? Probably not. P.S. Hoard won MACJC player of the week honors after going 7-for-13 with two homers and eight RBIs in four wins last week. Gulf Coast’s Dylan Mills-Derouen, who threw a no-hitter against East Central on April 19, was named pitcher of the week.
The Jones County Junior College express just keeps rolling on. The Bobcats, ranked fourth in the nation, beat Holmes Community College in Goodman 15-13 and 5-4 on Tuesday, improving to 18-2 in the MACJC and 35-3 overall under new coach Chris Kirtland. Over just its last 11 games, JCJC has won by scores of 11-1, 12-2, 13-3, 9-1, 13-3, 14-3, 20-1 and 8-3 before the sweep of Holmes. … Mississippi Gulf Coast CC’s Brian Lane was named MACJC player of the week after batting .571 with a homer and six RBIs and extending a hitting streak to 11 games in four contests last week. The Delta State signee is batting .411 on the year with 29 RBIs. … In Cleveland on Tuesday, DSU’s Will Robertson, having a monster season, went 4-for-6 with two doubles and a homer in a sweep of Ouachita Baptist. Robertson’s 26th double broke the school record held by, among others, Statesmen coach Mike Kinnison. Robertson, a redshirt senior from Falkner, is batting .451 with six homers and 59 RBIs for the 30-13 Statesmen, ranked 15th in NCAA Division II. … Logan Ferrell, Caleb Upton and Hunter Bolin combined for 10 hits as Mississippi College beat Belhaven University 13-9 on Tuesday at Smith-Wills Stadium in a game between Maloney Trophy Series combatants. MC went 2-0 against BU this season and beat Millsaps in their only meeting. … Millsaps (19-19), which wound up fourth in the Southern Athletic Association regular season, will play No. 5 seed Berry in the first round of tournament play on Friday at Birmingham-Southern. BSC, the regular season champ, opens with Sewanee in one of the two four-team, double-elimination pods. The winners from the two pods meet in a best-of-3 series for the SAA championship. … Here’s an interesting stat on Jackson State’s Jesus Santana. Of his 33 hits, 10 have left the park; he also has eight doubles. The Tigers (21-17) host the University of New Orleans tonight at Braddy Field. … Tate Blackman got a hit for Ole Miss on Tuesday, extending his streak of reaching base to 22 of 23 games as the Rebels whipped Memphis 7-0 at AutoZone Park. The nationally ranked Rebels (27-10) also blasted three homers in the minor league ballpark. … Southern Miss, also ranked in some polls, lost at Tulane 12-0 on Tuesday, perhaps looking ahead to the huge series against Rice this weekend in Hattiesburg. The Golden Eagles (27-11) and Owls are tied for first in C-USA at 12-3. … Mississippi State (24-12-1) takes its various national rankings to Biloxi tonight to play Louisiana-Monroe at MGM Park. ULM’s roster includes seven Mississippi juco products, among them ex-Hinds CC star Keller Bradford, son of former big leaguer Chad. Keller has a 2.78 ERA in 23 relief appearances for the Warhawks.
Finally, there is a new NJCAA Division II poll. Fittingly, Mississippi jucos, three of them, populate the top 20. Jones County Junior College, which has distanced itself from the field in the MACJC standings, is No. 4 in the national poll, the first one released since before the season began. JCJC is 33-3 and 16-2 after sweeping Pearl River Community College 20-1 and 8-3 on Wednesday, the day the poll came out. The Bobcats are one of the highest scoring teams in the country, led by Mason Irby, who leads the state with a .472 average and 45 RBIs. With seven homers, Irby trails only teammate Erick Hoard and PRCC’s Zack Clark, who have 11. Tanner Huddleston, a .425 hitter for JCJC, has driven in 44 runs and Hoard 42. The Bobcats’ Clint Sasser leads the state and ranks No. 2 nationally with 34 steals. Oh, and ace Mason Strickland is 6-0 with a 2.06 ERA. Meridian CC is ranked No. 7 and East Central is No. 20. They are in a pack of four schools sitting in a virtual tie for second place in the MACJC standings. The Eagles (27-7, 12-6) and Warriors (25-13, 13-7) split a twinbill in Decatur on Tuesday; Will Kennedy’s bases-clearing triple sparked the Warriors’ Game 2 win after they had blown a ninth-inning lead in the opener. Northwest, also 12-6 in the league, got some poll votes. The Rangers (20-12) had an eight-game win streak stopped by Dyersburg (Tenn.) State on Tuesday. Hinds, which was ranked No. 9 in the NJCAA preseason poll, started slowly but has picked it up of late. The Eagles (20-14, 12-6) swept Copian-Lincoln on Tuesday — with the aid of 11 errors. If the postseason started today, Northeast, Gulf Coast and Holmes would join Jones and the four second-place teams in the chase. But certainly, much could change between now and the start of the best-of-3 round on May 6.
Mississippi State jumped to No. 5 (from 10th) in the new Baseball America poll, and on Tuesday the Bulldogs will jump back into the fray against Southern Miss, unranked but rolling, in the first of the three College Series games at Trustmark Park in Pearl. This should be good. State, at 17-7-1, has more losses than any team ranked 13th or higher in the BA poll. But the Bulldogs have beaten Vanderbilt and Georgia two of three in their first two SEC series, apparently impressing the pollsters. USM is 19-6, coming off a sweep of a C-USA series against Texas-San Antonio. The Golden Eagles won last year’s College Series game, ending a six-game skid against State with a 3-0 victory before a rowdy crowd of 5,438 at the TeePee. You can debate the significance of these midweek games, but last year’s sure seemed to be a harbinger. USM was 13-8-1 at the time, finished 35-16-1. State was 18-8 and finished 24-30. If nothing else, a win for USM on Tuesday would be a big boost toward cracking the national polls. Looming just ahead for State is a home series with Ole Miss, 20-5 but coming off a lost weekend against South Carolina that dropped the Rebels from seventh to 13th in the BA poll. … A few miles from Trustmark Park on Tuesday, Millsaps will host Belhaven at Twenty Field in the second Maloney Trophy Series game of the year. The Majors topped their NCAA Division III rivals 10-7 last week. … And a short hop from Twenty Field on Tuesday, Hinds Community College and East Central CC will play an MACJC doubleheader at Smith-Wills Stadium. Hinds, ranked in preseason, is 11-13 and 3-5. ECCC is 19-7, 7-3.
A change of scenery might be what Tyler Moore needs, but a return to Triple-A Syracuse probably isn’t going to help. Moore, the former Mississippi State standout, was outrighted to Syracuse by the Washington Nationals on Friday after clearing waivers. Declaring free agency was not an option for the 29-year-old Moore, who doesn’t have enough service time. As a regular in the minors, Moore hit .271 with 107 homers, including back-to-back 31-bomb seasons, over 612 games. Playing irregularly in the big leagues, he has a .228 average and 24 homers in 277 games over four years. He is hitting .121 as a pinch hitter, and he struggled this spring. Moore, well-liked in Washington, needs an opportunity somewhere else. Maybe the Nationals will try to deal him. … Cleveland optioned Pascagoula’s Joey Butler to Triple-A Buffalo, but manager Terry Francona said he was “thrilled” that the Indians were able to keep the slugging outfielder in the organization. Butler, who flashed his potential with Tampa Bay in 2015, didn’t have a good spring with the Indians, but he’ll get another shot with them. … Delta State is suddenly cooking, with eight straight wins and back-to-back Gulf South Conference series sweeps. The Statesmen, after rolling over North Alabama on the road this weekend, are 20-9, 13-5. They’ll be climbing in the NCAA Division II polls. … This just in: Southern Miss can hit a little bit. The Golden Eagles mashed four home runs on Saturday to finish off a C-USA sweep of Texas-San Antonio and now have 33 homers in 25 games. Taylor Braley leads with eight and Dylan Burdeaux has seven for 19-6 USM. …. Big series. Big crowds. Big letdown in Oxford? After getting swept by South Carolina in a matchup of top 10 teams, Ole Miss finds itself with a 2-4 SEC record. It’ll be interesting to see how the Rebels respond. … Was anybody left at Dudy Noble Field on Saturday when Mississippi State’s game against Georgia ended? Was anybody awake? The home Dogs lost to the road Dogs 11-8 in a nine-inning game that lasted almost five hours and “featured” 22 walks and 10 pitching changes. State did win the first two games and is now 4-2 in the league. … Props to Itawamba Community College’s Rick Collier on becoming the school’s all-time winningest coach with 452 W’s in 14 years. The Indians, with two homers from Timothy Rowe, beat Meridian 10-3 in the second game of a twinbill on Friday to push Collier past Roy Cresap. … Nominee for Game of the Year: In Ellisville on Friday, Jones County Junior College got a game-tying three-run homer from pinch-hitter Marcus Hardy in the bottom of the ninth and a walk-off two-run shot from Erick Hoard in the 10th to beat Northwest 8-6. After completing the doubleheader sweep, Jones is 24-2 and 7-1, leading the MACJC standings.
Mississippi College is in a good place. Not meaning Carrollton, Ga., necessarily but in a broader sense. This is MC’s second season playing an NCAA Division II schedule after many years in D-III, and there are several signs of progress. The Choctaws head into this weekend’s Gulf South Conference series at West Georgia with an 11-13 record, 4-10 in the league. In coach Jeremy Haworth’s first season, the Choctaws have already equaled their GSC win total from last year (when they were 4-28) and are one victory shy of equaling their overall win mark (12-34). They beat Christian Brothers two of three in a GSC series last weekend and followed that up with a nice win over a good William Carey team on Tuesday. MC has gotten good offensive production from Hunter Bolin (.385), Logan Ferrell (.352, 25 runs), Caleb Upton (.293, 17 RBIs) and Will Elliott (.263, three homers). A big key for the Choctaws, who had major pitching problems in 2015, has been the emergence of lefty Jake Fraze (5-1, 3.33 ERA) as a No. 1 starter and Tyler Scholl (0.47 ERA in 16 games, two wins, two saves) as a bullpen weapon. P.S. Another program seemingly on the rise is Coahoma Community College. The Tigers, in their second season under ex-Ole Miss star Lee Hodge, are 4-4 in the MACJC (10-15 overall) heading into a twinbill at Gulf Coast today. CCC went 5-23, 7-37 in 2015, continuing a long trend of rough years. … Props to Southern Miss senior Tim Lynch, whose first career walk-off hit delivered a C-USA victory over Texas-San Antonio in Hattiesburg on Thursday. … William Carey (20-9) is ranked No. 24 in the latest NAIA coaches poll.
The early leader for comeback player of the year from among Magnolia State colleges is, without a doubt, Tate Blackman of Ole Miss. The Florida native, a Louisville Slugger All-American as a prep senior, hit just .197 with nine RBIs in 39 games (36 starts) as a freshman for the Rebels in 2015. He had some moments – a game-winning run against Mississippi State, a walk-off hit vs. Arkansas-Pine Bluff, a good series against LSU – but overall, it was a rough first year. The second baseman has come back with a vengeance this spring: He went 2-for-4 with a home run on Tuesday as the Rebels (20-2) rolled to an 8-2 win over UT-Martin. Blackman leads Ole Miss with a .347 average and is tied for the team lead with 21 RBIs. He also has scored 20 runs. He’ll surely be in the Ferriss Trophy conversation down the road. P.S. Down went the heavyweights in the MACJC on Tuesday. Both Jones County Junior College and Meridian Community College lost for the first time in league play. Jones (now 5-1 and 22-2 overall) split a twinbill with Southwest (3-3), and MCC (5-1 and 20-2) split with Delta (3-1). Of note: In Southwest’s 4-1 win in Game 2 at Ellisville, Brady Anderson hit a game-turning grand slam off JCJC ace Calder Mikell, and Bears pitchers Braden Smith and Kaleb Clarke checked the slugging Bobcats on seven hits.
The state’s small colleges will roll out the welcome mats this weekend, with Delta State, Mississippi College, Belhaven and Millsaps hosting out-of-state guests for conference series. Also on the agenda are two matchups of in-state rivals: Rust at Tougaloo and Blue Mountain at William Carey. Tougaloo just beat Rust twice (13-0 and 15-1) in Holly Springs on Thursday; they’ll play another twinbill on Saturday. The BMC-Carey series (single game today, two on Saturday at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg) should be more competitive. Maybe. Carey is 18-8 and 4-2 in the Southern States Athletic Conference. The visiting Toppers are 13-13 and 0-6. Led by Tyler Odom (.416), Carey is batting .319 as a team. The Crusaders’ pitching also has been very good, posting a 2.81 ERA. Coach Bobby Halford has a stable of starters to choose from, including Devin Smith (3-0, 1.64 ERA) and J.D. Little (4-1, 3.50). For BMC, All-SSAC first baseman Seth Davis has scuffled (.227), but Miciah Heard has been hot (.325) and Caleb Leach has four homers in 33 at-bats. The key for Curt Fowler’s Toppers might be how well their pitching staff (6.90 ERA) handles Odom and Co. P.S. In juco land, the state’s two big dogs will be on home turf on Saturday. Jones County Junior College (19-1, 2-0 MACJC) will host East Mississippi Community College (4-14, 0-2). Mason Irby and Erick Hoard have combined for 13 bombs for the Bobcats; Hoard hit a grand slam and a three-run shot in a sweep of East Central on Wednesday. Meridian CC (17-1, 2-0) welcomes Copiah-Lincoln (5-10, 1-1). Jones and Meridian were rained out of their big showdown last weekend; it has been rescheduled for May 2, the end of the regular season.
Mississippi State’s sweep of Oregon got top billing in the college weekend wrap-up on Baseball America’s web site. The host Bulldogs (12-3-1) put up 24 runs on 33 hits against the Ducks’ vaunted pitching staff. State had a bunch of heroes, but Brent Rooker stood out with a 6-for-11 effort, two homers and five RBIs. He is batting .377 – third among State regulars — and leads the club with 20 RBIs. State jumped from 24th to 15th in the new BA poll, while Oregon dropped from No. 11 to 19. … Ole Miss, BA’s No. 12 team, swept three from Grambling State in Oxford to improve to 15-1. The Big Man on Campus for the Rebels was Brady Bramlett, who beat the Tigers (five shutout innings, 11 strikeouts) to move to 4-0 with a 2.14 ERA, 30 K’s in 21 innings. … Jake Sandlin went off for Southern Miss as the Golden Eagles (13-4) took two of three from visiting Samford. The Georgia College transfer, an NCAA Division II All-America last year, went 6-for-12 with five RBIs and three runs. He is batting .350 for the year. … Delta State (13-9, 7-5) salvaged the final game of its Gulf South Conference series against West Georgia. Will Robertson was 2-for-5 in the 6-3 win, recording his 14th multi-hit game and boosting his average to .429 (with 23 RBIs and 20 runs). … Millsaps used a seven-run ninth inning rally to beat Center 9-7 on Saturday and claim the Southern Athletic Association series. Freshman Brennan Ducote had the go-ahead hit, a two-run single, for the Majors (8-8, 4-2). … Delta State transfer Tanner Cable got the win, his fourth, as Belhaven crushed Eureka College 15-1 on Saturday. Cable is 4-0 with a 2.08 ERA for the Division III Blazers (8-4). … Blue Mountain, forced to play NAIA No. 3 Faulkner on the road instead of in New Albany, was outscored 43-5 in losing three straight. … In the only MACJC doubleheader completed over the weekend, Hinds Community College beat Itawamba CC 17-6 and 4-3, getting 24 hits and four home runs in the process at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. The Eagles are 9-7, the Indians 12-6.