Hinds Community College will start the 2015 season where it finished 2014 – and that’s not a bad place to be. The Eagles, who finished runner-up in the NJCAA Division II World Series last season, are ranked No. 2 in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll. No. 1 is Mesa (Ariz.), the team that beat Hinds in the title game. The Eagles have 11 NCAA Division I signees on their roster. They return the top five hitters from 2014, led by Luke Reynolds (.376), Marshall Boggs (.366) and Quade Smith (.331). Also back are home run leaders Chase Lunceford and Matt Jones, who blasted 10 apiece. Austin Sanders (8-2, 10 saves) returns on the mound, along with Randy Bell (9-4) and Casey Sutton (8-3). “We should be good. We should at least get back to the World Series,” Lunceford said in an interview last summer. “I know that’s tough to do, but we’ll have high expectations.” Hinds certainly is a team to watch, and the watch will start on Feb. 7, when the Eagles open against Mineral Area (Mo.) at Moss Field in Raymond. … East Mississippi was No. 18 in the preseason poll and Northwest checked in at No. 20.
With nine NCAA Division I early signees on the roster, you’ve got to like Hinds Community College’s chances of earning some championship hardware in 2015. The Eagles went 40-21 in 2014, won the NJCAA Region 23 title and reached the NJCAA Division II title game. The group of D-I signees includes five players bound for Louisiana Tech in 2016, among them Cleveland’s Marshall Boggs (.366 in 2014) and Clinton native Chase Lunceford (.328, 10 home runs). Madison’s Austin Sanders, who posted a 2.95 ERA, 10 saves and eight wins as a freshman, is headed to Ole Miss. Brookhaven’s Houston Case, another standout pitcher, will move on to Southern Miss. And Sam Temple’s Eagles likely will have more players sign D-I offers in April. It’ll be interesting to see where HCC ranks in the NJCAA preseason poll. No. 1, perhaps? P.S. Former Ole Miss star Alex Presley reportedly has agreed to a $1 million deal for 2015 with Houston, his 2014 club. Presley batted .244 with six homers and 19 RBIs in an injury-interrupted season. The Astros picked up the veteran outfielder last spring as a waiver claim from Minnesota.
Hunter Renfroe mashed a grand slam in a televised Arizona Fall League game on Saturday. The former Mississippi State standout and San Diego prospect is batting .271 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in the AFL. … East Central Community College alum Tim Anderson, also playing in the AFL, had another three-hit game on Saturday and is batting .313 with two homers and five stolen bases. The Chicago White Sox prospect missed a big chunk of the 2014 season because of a broken wrist. “I definitely saw some things that helped me become a better ballplayer,” he told mlb.com about his downtime. … Former Petal High star Anthony Alford, understandably rusty, is 2-for-16 with eight strikeouts in the Australian Baseball League, where Toronto sent him to get some work in preparation for his return to the minors in 2015. … Belhaven University senior second baseman Paul Pickerrell has been named to the NAIA preseason All-America team. The Pearl River CC transfer batted .345 with 38 runs and 38 steals for the Blazers in 2014. … Preston Brown threw five scoreless innings and Reid Humphreys, the former Northwest Rankin High star, went 2-for-4 with two runs and two RBIs as the Maroon beat the Gray 8-0 in a Mississippi State fall scrimmage on Saturday. … Hinds CC, the NJCAA Division II runner-up in 2014, will open its 2015 season on Feb. 7 in Raymond against Mineral Area (Mo.) College. The Eagles will play 28 MACJC games next season. With Meridian re-joining the state association, every team in the league will play two games against every other team. There are still North and South divisions, but the playoff qualifying system has been altered slightly.
The search is on for a new coach at Southwest Mississippi Community College, where Lee Kuyrkendall resigned earlier this week after six seasons in Summit. One has to wonder if Kuyrkendall’s top assistant during his tenure, Ken Jackson, might be a logical candidate to replace him. Jackson is, like Kuyrkendall, a former Bears player and had a good track record as head coach at Parklane Academy. Southwest, which produced current Kansas City Royals outfielder Jarrod Dyson, went 15-27 overall in 2014 and was 9-15 in the MACJC South Division, missing the postseason. Kuyrkendall previously coached at Mississippi College.
Kudos to Hinds Community College coach Sam Temple, who has been named NJCAA Region 23 coach of the year. Temple, a former Hinds and Delta State catcher in his ninth season in Raymond, led the Eagles to the MACJC Tournament title game, then to the Region 23 championship and ultimately to the NJCAA Division II World Series title game. Hinds finished 40-21. “It was so enjoyable, so much fun,” Temple said of the postseason run. “One of the biggest things for me was spending all that time with my guys. … I cherished that time.” The Eagles did not have any players named NJCAA All-America but did see freshman pitcher Casey Sutton make the Region 23 first team. Sutton, Matt Jones, Chase Lunceford and Luke Reynolds were MACJC first-team picks, and eight other Eagles made second team. Included was Marshall Boggs, who won the Best Hitter award at the juco World Series.
Jones County Junior College looked the part of the No. 1 team in the nation today, whipping Northeast Mississippi 14-4 in the opening round of the MACJC Tournament at Booneville. Chris Morgan and Trent Giambrone combined for nine hits, three home runs and six RBIs to back the pitching of Westin Stringer. The Bobcats (41-9) play Hinds, a 13-4 winner over East Central, in today’s winners bracket game. Northeast and East Central play an elimination game at 10 a.m. today, and the winner of that game will play the JCJC-Hinds loser in another elimination game on Friday. JCJC and Hinds have clinched berths in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament next week. P.S. Meridian Community College, the state’s only NJCAA Division I program, plays Delgado on Friday in the Region 23 Tournament at New Orleans. The Eagles (25-24) lost four of five games this season against Miss-Lou Conference rival Delgado, the No. 3 team in the nation. MCC is led by Dalton Thomas (.349, seven home runs), Ben Gann (.291, seven homers, 43 RBIs) and Goose Yates (5-2, 2.75).
This month marks the 25th anniversary of a very special occasion in the state’s baseball history. In May of 1989, Hinds Community College became the first Mississippi school to reach the Junior College World Series. But the story runs much deeper than just that fact. The 1989 season was the first since the merger of the predominantly white Raymond campus with the predominantly black Utica campus. The athletic programs also merged and were split up between the two campuses. Raymond got baseball. Hinds’ Rick Clarke remained the head coach, with Utica’s George McQuitter becoming his assistant. The players, heated rivals in 1988, were thrown into a blender. “It was a very, very difficult transition,” Clarke told The (Jackson) Clarion-Ledger years later. But a funny thing happened amid the tumult: The team started winning. Terre Woods, a former Utica player, had a monster season with the bat. Jeff Long, a Raymond player in 1988, set a team record for runs. Doug Thomas hit 16 homers. Mark Anders won 11 games and saved nine more. The Eagles rolled to an MACJC division championship, then claimed the state title, then the region and finally the district, which sent them on to the nationals at Grand Junction, Colo. They didn’t bring home a national crown, but they did blaze a trail to the Juco World Series that many Mississippi schools would follow. And, really, the ’89 Eagles did a lot more than that, taking a tough situation and turning it into something we can applaud 25 years later.
The appetizer at noon on Thursday features Hinds Community College, seeking an eighth state championship, and East Central, the defending state champion but an upstart in this postseason. The main course, served up at 4 at White Field in Booneville, will be Jones County JC, the No. 1 team in NJCAA Division II, and host Northeast, riding a wave of momentum after a dramatic playoff series win over Pearl River (see previous post). Hinds (29-16) is led by Matt Jones, a former Madison Central High star, and Casey Sutton, who swept the MACJC weekly awards after their performances in the playoff series against Northwest. Jones, 4-for-8 with two home runs against the Rangers, is batting .354 with six homers, 32 RBIs and 32 runs. Sutton is 6-2 with a 3.82 ERA after tossing a three-hit complete game vs. Northwest. The Eagles face an East Central team coming off a stunning upset of North Division champ East Mississippi. Neal Holliman’s Warriors (23-25) are led by sluggers John Morgan Berry and Maxwell Harmon and pitcher Ty Hendrix, who stymied East Mississippi in Game 3 last Saturday. From all indications, Jones County is loaded. Chase Hensley is hitting .408, Tyler Graves .377 and Trent Giambrone .373 with 36 RBIs and 48 runs. Westin Stringer, the former Terry High star, is 10-2 with a 1.76 ERA. But Northeast (27-18), playing at home, could be a real threat. Brandon High product Trent Turner is batting .431 with seven homers and 47 RBIs. Heath Wood is at .372 (and has 98 career hits), and catcher Riley Alef is a defensive stalwart. P.S. Three teams from this double-elimination event (the 0-2 team is done) will advance, along with second-ranked LSU-Eunice, to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament next week. If Northeast is still around, it will host again. Otherwise, it’ll be JCJC.
Jones County Junior College’s path to a state championship might have cleared a bit over the weekend. The top-ranked Bobcats rolled past Holmes to reach the MACJC Tournament, and they won’t have to face North Division champion East Mississippi in that four-team affair. The Lions, ranked eighth in NJCAA Division II, were upset in their best-of-3 series by South 4-seed East Central, which makes the final four with a 22-25 record. Hinds and Northeast also advanced. Northeast, as the highest surviving North seed, will host the tournament in Booneville starting on Thursday. Northeast won a three-game slugfest with Pearl River, taking Game 3 12-11 on Saturday. The Tigers blew a 7-0 lead, went up 12-9 on Easton Hall’s three-run homer in the eighth, then held on for dear life in the ninth. “It wasn’t pretty, but we’re on the dance floor,” Northeast coach Kent Farris said. ECCC’s upset of East Mississippi was fueled by two six-run innings in Saturday’s rubber game, a 12-3 Warriors win. John Morgan Berry had a big homer for the defending state champs. The bigger deal for the jucos is next week’s Region 23 Tournament. P.S. Delta State is 3-0 in the Gulf South Conference Tournament and has clinched a berth in the championship round, according to a school release. … Belhaven University will find out later this week what teams are coming to Smith-Wills Stadium for next week’s NAIA opening round tournament. … Mississippi College’s season is over. The Choctaws finished 21-19, apparently not good enough for an NCCAA regional berth. MC joins Millsaps, William Carey, Blue Mountain, Tougaloo and Rust on the sidelines.
Jackson State needed a hero on Friday. Desmond Russell came through. The Bahamas native threw a complete game, with 14 strikeouts, and went 2-for-3 at the plate as the Tigers beat Alcorn State 9-3 at Braddy Field. Russell is 7-4 for JSU, now 27-21 overall and 9-13 in the SWAC East, in a virtual tie for third with the Braves (8-12). JSU, the defending league champ, has lost five straight SWAC series, including a rather embarrassing pratfall against hapless Mississippi Valley State. The Tigers need to get it in gear with the SWAC Tournament approaching. Other stars from a fun-filled Friday: Westin Stringer won his 10th game as No. 1-ranked Jones County Junior College beat Holmes 12-2 in the MACJC playoffs. … Chance Whitten delivered a decisive two-run double as East Central upset North Division champion East Mississippi 4-3 in the opener of that three-game series. LaDarious Clark homered for the Lions. … Jonathan Andrews drove in four runs to lead Delta State past Christian Brothers 15-2 in the first round of the Gulf South Conference Tournament. … Chris Ellis improved to 7-0 as Ole Miss beat Arkansas 3-2. … Conor Fisk won his fifth game and Connor Barron homered as Southern Miss topped Tulane 4-2. … C.T. Bradford hit his first homer and Jonathan Holder notched his sixth save as Mississippi State beat Auburn 3-0. … In MLB, former MSU and Meridian CC star Tyler Moore hit his second homer — off former MCC standout Cliff Lee — to help Washington beat Philadelphia 5-3. … Itawamba CC product Desmond Jennings belted his third homer and stole two bases as Tampa Bay knocked off the New York Yankees 10-5 in 14 innings.