Playing at MGM Park in Biloxi, it was only fitting that Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College produced a couple of thrillers as it opened the 2016 season on Friday. The Bulldogs split a doubleheader against Jackson State (Tenn.) CC. They took a 5-4, walk-off win in the opener, scoring the game-winner on a fly ball by Marcus Buckley. Tyler Evans had two RBIs in the game as Gulf Coast rallied from a 4-0 deficit. Former Gulf Coast star and ex-big leaguer Matt Lawton threw out the first pitch to start Game 2, but the Bulldogs couldn’t quite pull off a fantastic finish, falling 5-3 in extra innings. Justin Nussbaum had a three-run double for Gulf Coast. … Meridian CC, which opens today against Bishop State at Scaggs Field, is celebrating the 20th anniversary of one its best teams on a long list of good ones. The 1996 Eagles, featuring future big leaguers Jason Smith and Paul Phillips, finished national runners-up in the NJCAA Division I World Series. MCC has had seven teams reach the juco World Series. … Holmes CC coach Kenny Dupont begins his 17th season in Goodman with 471 career wins. … New Northeast Mississippi CC coach Richy Harrelson will make his debut today when Columbia (Tenn.) State CC comes to Booneville. Harrelson, a former Ole Miss standout, was an assistant to former Tigers coach Kent Farris for several years. … Nationally ranked Hinds CC, the defending MACJC champion, opens Wednesday against Bossier (La.) Parish in Raymond. Sam Temple’s Eagles, who lost a lot from last year’s club, will count on production from Kyle O’Keefe (.327 in 110 at-bats 2015) and Hunter Bell (.375 in 48 ABs). … New Jones County JC coach Chris Kirtland will make his debut next Friday, when the Bobcats play Motlow (Tenn.) State in Ellisville. JCJC features one of the state’s best players in catcher Mason Irby, an All-America candidate. … Another juco player to keep a keen eye on this year is Itawamba CC infielder Delvin Zinn, the former Pontotoc High star who transferred from Mississippi State in December. Zinn made some prep All-America teams last season and was drafted by the Chicago Cubs. … Former Northwest Mississippi CC standout Clay Casey is now at Houston. He batted .333 with 12 bombs for the Rangers in 2015. He was drafted out of DeSoto Central High in 2014. … There are eight Mississippi juco products on Louisiana Tech’s roster, six of them from Hinds’ outstanding 2015 team. The Bulldogs’ new pitching coach is former JCJC coach Christian Ostrander.
Cody Reed is not on Cincinnati’s 40-man roster, but the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum is going to big league camp and should get a long look there. Reed, a left-handed starter from Horn Lake, was acquired by the Reds in a trade last summer and put up shiny numbers at Double-A Pensacola: 6-2, 2.17 ERA. Also on the list of non-roster invitees for this spring are Stuart Turner (Minnesota) and Scott Copeland (Toronto). Former Southern Miss standout Copeland, who went 1-1 with a 6.46 ERA in five games for the Blue Jays in 2015, re-signed with the team as a minor league free agent. Ole Miss alum Turner, a 2013 draftee, was the catcher for Double-A Chattanooga, which won the Southern League pennant last season. Ex-Rebels star Alex Presley, an MLB veteran, is going to Milwaukee’s camp on a minor-league deal (see previous post), and former Itawamba CC standout Tim Dillard, who re-signed with the Brewers as a minor leaguer, could be in the big camp, as well. Dillard, 32, had a 5.50 ERA in 27 games (six starts) at Triple-A Colorado Springs in 2015. P.S. Hinds CC is ranked 14th and Meridian CC 20th in Collegiate Baseball’s NJCAA Division II preseason poll, which has LSU-Eunice (what a shock) at No. 1. MACJC champion Hinds went 43-7 last year and was ranked No. 1 for a time; Meridian was 33-17. Hinds opens on Feb. 10 at Raymond against Bossier Parish (La.), the school that signed left-hander Sarah Hudek, daughter of former big leaguer John Hudek, back in February.
As the NJCAA Division II World Series plays out in Enid, Okla., it seems a shame that Hinds Community College isn’t there for an encore. Sam Temple’s Eagles, national runners-up in 2014, won a school-record 43 games this year but couldn’t get past a strong LSU-Eunice club in Region 23. Hinds recently bid farewell to an impressive group of sophomores who went 83-28 during their career, with two state titles (regular season and tournament in 2015), a region title and a long stay at No. 1 in the national poll. Twelve Eagles made first- or second-team All-MACJC this season. Moving on are the likes of All-Region right-hander Randy Bell (HCC record-tying 21 career wins), RH Austin Sanders (record 21 career saves), first baseman Marshall Boggs (record 139 career hits), 2B Matt Jones (team-leading .369 average in 2015), catcher Jonathan Washam (team-best 68 hits in 2015), 3B/SS Chase Lunceford (team-leading nine homers in 2015, 19 career), RH Casey Sutton (7-1 this season), RH Houston Case (7-2), RH Derek Martin (6-0), OF Tyler Cox (.323), OF Quade Smith (team-leading 11 steals) and RH Keller Bradford (1.54 ERA). Shortstop Jordan Washam (.369) and RH Graham Ahlrich (1.99 ERA) played only this season, and they are among six Eagles bound for Louisiana Tech. Sanders signed with Ole Miss, Case with Southern Miss and Bell with South Alabama. Cox, Martin and Bradford will play for Louisiana-Monroe. Years from now, we may still look back with wonder on this two-year run by HCC. P.S. Austin Riley, who led DeSoto Central High to the MHSAA Class 6A championship, is rated No. 107 in mlb.com’s latest list of the Top 200 draft prospects. Mississippi State signee Riley, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound third baseman/pitcher, batted .423 with 11 homers and went 7-2 with a 2.70 ERA for the 28-9 Jaguars. Pearl River CC right-hander Jacob Taylor is No. 77 on the mlb.com draft chart.
This should be good. Hinds Community College and LSU-Eunice, ranked 1-2 in the NJCAA Division II poll, will meet tonight in a winner’s bracket game in the Region 23 Tournament at Eunice, La. The Eagles (42-5) clubbed East Mississippi 12-1 on Thursday, and LSU-E (42-9) routed Northwest Mississippi 12-0. Hinds and LSU-E did not meet in the regular season, though the Bengals did play a couple of MACJC schools. Randy Bell got the win against EMCC and moved to 12-0 for Hinds. Jonathan Washam went 3-for-4 and drove in three runs, and Tyler Cox belted a two-run homer. LSU-E was powered by Steven Sensley, who hit his 18th homer, and Madison Nickens, who had three hits. The Bengals threw ace Mitch Sewald (12-1) on Thursday, so the Eagles might face lefty Ben Braymer, who has 113 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings. P.S. Jim Page notched his 700th win as Millsaps coach on Thursday when the Majors held off Whitworth 7-6 in the first round of the NCAA Division III West Regional. Annon Etheridge and Andy Page had two RBIs apiece for Millsaps. The Majors’ next game is today against old rival Trinity (Texas) in the weather-plagued tournament at Tyler, Texas. … Omar Johnson got win No. 300 at Jackson State when the Tigers beat Prairie View 10-1 in a SWAC Tournament elimination game. Jevon Jacobs threw a six-hitter with 13 strikeouts. The Tigers play Alabama State today. Alcorn State also stayed alive on Thursday, beating Alabama A&M 13-3 behind Cedric Walker’s complete game. The Braves earned a rematch with Texas Southern, which beat them on Wednesday. … Northeast Mississippi CC announced that assistant Richy Harrelson will replace Kent Farris as head coach. Farris is now the school’s athletic director. Harrelson was a legendary prep player at Iuka and Tishomingo County before going on to star at Ole Miss. He also worked as an assistant at Southern Miss.
What a Saturday in Mississippi. In Oxford, there was the jaw-dropping comeback by Ole Miss to sweep the series against Mississippi State. In Hattiesburg, Southern Miss made a comeback of its own to beat Charlotte and extend its win streak to eight games. And in Raymond, Hinds Community College blasted Northwest Mississippi 14-3 to claim its eighth state championship. Hinds, 41-5 and ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II, went 3-0 in the MACJC tourney, getting outstanding pitching efforts from Randy Bell, Derek Martin and Casey Sutton. Quade Smith was the hitting hero in the finale, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs. USM, now 30-16-1 and 15-10 C-USA, got brilliant mound work from Cody Carroll, Luke Lowery and Ryan Milton in Friday’s 1-0 win over Charlotte. Down 5-0 early on Saturday, the Eagles rallied to win 11-10 in 10 innings, Michael Sterling scoring the game-winner on a throwing error that followed an infield hit by Connor Barron. Game 3 of that series is today. But, of course, the events at Oxford-University Stadium, witnessed by crowds totaling 27,871, trumped all. On Thursday, the Rebels (28-24, 14-13 SEC) got two big hits and three RBIs from Errol Robinson in a 4-3 win. On Friday, Sikes Orvis belted a home run and drove in four runs all told in a 13-10 victory. And on Saturday, down 7-2 in the ninth, the Rebels battled back against a crumbling State bullpen to win 8-7 in 10 innings. Colby Bortles had a game-tying, two-out, two-run hit in the ninth, and Nic Perkins knocked in the game-winner in the 10th. Orvis had two more homers on Saturday, boosting his total to 14. Wyatt Short, the sophomore left-hander from Southaven, worked a perfect 10th to earn the win on Saturday after notching saves on both Thursday and Friday. Short is 4-1 with nine saves. The devastated Bulldogs fell to 24-27, 8-19 and are in real danger of missing the SEC Tournament. P.S. Worth noting: In Pearl on Saturday, the Mississippi Braves beat the Biloxi Shuckers 5-2 in 10 innings to clinch the series with Game 5 still to play today. The M-Braves lost the inaugural game between the two Southern League clubs on Wednesday but have now won three straight.
The state championship is a nice catch, to be sure, but the four junior colleges participating in the MACJC tournament in Raymond might have one eye on a bigger prize: the region crown. The double-elimination state tourney starts today at Moss Field with East Mississippi Community College playing Northwest Mississippi and host Hinds meeting Meridian. Three of the four – the team that goes 2-and-out is done — will advance to the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament at Eunice, La., from May 14-17. The region winner goes to the juco World Series. Hinds did not win the state title last year but did win the region and then went all the way to the championship game of the World Series. The Eagles, 38-5 and back up to No. 1 in the country, are loaded again. Jordan Washam (.385, six homers, 33 RBIs) leads a lineup full of mashers, and the Eagles have arms (Randy Bell, Houston Case, Austin Sanders, et. al) in abundance. EMCC, Northwest and Meridian finished 2-3-4 in the regular season standings, and all are now ranked in the Top 20. But they were a collective 0-6 against HCC. P.S. Waiting in the wings for the three surviving Mississippi schools is No. 2 LSU-Eunice. The Bengals are 41-9, 24-3 at Bengal Stadium. Freshman Steven Sensley is batting .373 with 17 homers and 63 RBIs. Mitch Sewald is 11-1 with a 2.04 ERA, and lefty Ben Braymer is 6-1, 2.51 with 113 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings. Beating that bunch at their place for the region championship could be a tall order.
Potent pitching performances popped up all over the place in the opening round of the MACJC postseason as the top four seeds survived and advanced. Third-ranked Hinds Community College, the regular season champion, swept Southwest Mississippi to earn the host role for the four-team state tournament that begins Thursday at Moss Field in Raymond. The Eagles’ Randy Bell moved to 10-0 on the year with a complete-game (seven innings) effort in a 14-3 win in Game 1 on Friday. Houston Case (7-1) allowed just one hit in four innings of a 13-3 win in Game 2 on Saturday. East Mississippi completed a sweep of Mississippi Delta behind Andrew Crane’s four-hitter in a 4-0 victory. Austin Towles buoyed Northwest with seven strong innings in the 7-3 clincher in Game 2 against Jones County. And in the only series that went the full three games, Meridian’s Austin Harrison allowed one run in seven innings as the Eagles run-ruled East Central 11-1 in the decisive contest. The bracket for the double-elimination state tournament has yet to be set, though it figures that Hinds will open with 4-seed Meridian and EMCC would play Northwest. P.S. Former Mississippi Gulf Coast CC standout Joey Butler was called up to the big leagues today by Tampa Bay, replacing injured Desmond Jennings, an Itawamba CC alum, on the active roster.
The defending MACJC Tournament champion is Jones County Junior College, which enters the 2015 postseason as the league’s No. 6 seed. The Bobcats might qualify as a sleeper. They were once ranked No. 8 in the country and have won 30 games, one of only three teams in the league to reach that number. They open postseason play at third-seeded Northwest Mississippi CC in an intriguing best-of-3 series that starts today. The Bobcats’ top hitter is Mason Irby, who is batting .390 with 50 RBIs. But Irby might play a bigger role on defense; the freshman out of Southeast Lauderdale High is JCJC’s catcher. He’ll face a Northwest team that swiped 111 bases this year, including Dalton Dulin’s nation-leading 42. Jamell Newson got 19, LeeMarcus Boyd 15 and Clay Casey 11. … In the other opening series, No. 8 seed Southwest Mississippi is at No. 1 Hinds, No. 7 Mississippi Delta visits No. 2 East Mississippi and No. 5 East Central is at No. 4 Meridian. Hinds slipped from No. 1 (with LSU-Eunice) to No. 3 in the NJCAA Division II poll released Wednesday. Meridian is ranked 15th, East Mississippi 16th. … Itawamba CC missed out on the postseason but did sweep MACJC individual honors from the last week of the regular season. The Indians’ Tanner Poole went 15-for-27 with 12 RBIs, 10 runs and four stolen bases in six games and T.J. Watson won twice and posted a 1.42 ERA in his two outings.
Hinds Community College, the No. 1 team in NJCAA Division II and the regular season champion in the MACJC, will open postseason play against 8-seed Southwest Mississippi. The best-of-3 series starts Friday at Moss Field in Raymond. Sam Temple’s Eagles are 36-5, 15-1 at home. The Bears, who made the postseason in Ken Jackson’s first year as coach, swept a doubleheader from the Eagles on April 16 at Smith-Wills Stadium. In the other postseason openers, league runner-up East Mississippi will host Mississippi Delta at Scooba; Northwest gets Jones County JC in Senatobia; and Meridian welcomes East Central. The four series survivors will play a double-elimination tournament for the state championship at a site TBD, then comes the Region 23 tourney at Eunice, La. P.S. The last weekend-plus of the regular season in the jucos produced quite a highlight show. To wit: Northwest’s Clay Casey belted three home runs in a twinbill split on Saturday against Meridian. … Jones County’s Will Hazen threw his second straight shutout on Saturday as the Bobcats completed a sweep of Coahoma. … East Mississippi got grand slams from David Pimentel and Chris McCullough in a victory on Saturday over Gulf Coast, which won the nightcap on a Tyler Rachel walk-off homer. … Pimentel belted two more homers (that’s 13 for the year) in an 11-1 win on Monday that capped a sweep of Delta. … But the most impressive feat was delivered by L.D. Coney, a freshman at Southwest. He hit for the cycle in Game 2 of a doubleheader sweep over Northeast on Sunday. Coney, from McComb, hit his first home run of the season as part of the cycle.
The schedule brings Belhaven and William Carey together at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. In the Southern States Athletic Conference standings, the old rivals are far apart. With the SSAC Tournament looming next week, Carey is 16-9 and in third place. Belhaven is 10-16 and clinging to seventh. The teams are slated for a doubleheader today and a single game Friday. It’s been sort of an odd season for both. Carey (26-20 overall) lost its first five games, then went on a 10-game win streak that included coach Bobby Halford’s 1,000th career victory. The Crusaders were 13-8 in early March when they endured another five-game skid. But … they’ve swept three SSAC series and took two of three from Faulkner when it was No. 2 in the nation in NAIA. Carey’s offense has been sparked all season by Tyler Richardson, who is batting .382 with 45 runs. The Crusaders (.285 as a team) have two other regulars hitting above .300: Cody Christian and Petal’s Larson Barkurn. Pitching hasn’t been a strength of this club, which has a 4.56 ERA, but the Crusaders do have a potentially dominant ace to throw in Gavin Culpepper. The 6-foot-8 right-hander is 7-2 with a 3.21 and has 88 strikeouts and 22 walks in 73 innings. Belhaven (32-20), which saw coach Hill Denson notch his 1,000th college coaching victory this season, has been on a rollercoaster, as well. After a 9-4 start, the Blazers were swept in a three-game series at home by SSAC foe Mobile in late February. They were on an 8-1 roll when they were swept at home by Auburn-Montgomery in late March. They also were swept at home by Faulkner earlier this month. BU hits .302 as a team and, led by Adam Kowalczyk’s 12 bombs, is second in the SSAC with 28 home runs. What the Blazers do best, however, is steal bases. They lead the league with 170 and have three of the top six individual base burglars. Reagan Rutledge leads the pack with 49, Emilio DeSilva has 33 and Paul Pickerrell 27. BU’s most reliable starting pitcher has been Ben Allison (7-3, 3.52). The team’s ERA is a shaky 4.52, but its defense has been a bigger issue: 106 errors, most in the SSAC, and 71 unearned runs allowed. P.S. In what has been a down year for Pearl River Community College, sophomore shortstop Derrick Mount has been tearing it up. Mount, a former Harrison Central High star, hit three homers and drove in 10 runs in a doubleheader against Co-Lin last week, earning MACJC player of the week honors. Mount is batting .359 with 10 homers and 39 RBIs for the Wildcats (13-27, 7-17 MACJC). Jones County JC’s Will Hazen, a sophomore left-hander out of St. Stanislaus, was named pitcher of the week on the basis of his two-hit, nine-strikeout effort in a 1-0 win over Mississippi Delta last week.