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.
Feb. 10. That’s a date worth circling. Jones County Junior College, ranked No. 2 in Collegiate Baseball’s NJCAA Division II poll, will make its 2018 debut on that date against Southwest Tennessee CC in Ellisville. It’s truly a testament to the tradition established by the Bobcats – the 2016 national champs – that they are so highly ranked. The 2018 team will look very different from the 2017 version, which started the year ranked No. 1, went 46-4, won the state championship and saw its brilliant season end in heartbreaking fashion at home in the Region 23 Tournament. (Hinds CC won the region title and advanced to the juco World Series.) Gone from the Bobcats roster are hitting stalwarts Tanner Huddleston, Erick Hoard, Fred Franklin and Shelton Wallace and ace starters Ben Stiglets, Mason Strickland and Logan Robbins. Luther Woullard (.326, six homers), a New Orleans signee, is the top returning hitter, and Alabama-bound Will Freeman (1.80 ERA, five saves) is hailed by coach Chris Kirtland as the MACJC’s “most dominant” pitcher. Freshmen will play significant roles. Ones to watch: outfielders Luke McKenzie (Columbia Academy) and Trace Henry (Mooreville) and right-hander Payton Harris (Oak Grove). While you’re circling dates, go ahead and do May 15. That’s the first day of the Region 23 Tournament. It’s a good bet that JCJC will be in it.
Hinds Community College, which has had a knack for getting on a roll this season, is on another. This latest one will carry the Eagles to the NJCAA Division II World Series. Hinds won its sixth straight postseason game on Saturday, beating No. 1-ranked Jones County JC 8-7 in Ellisville for the Region 23 championship. Freshman Will Pierce of Vicksburg knocked in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning of a classic title fight. Hinds, national runner-up in 2014, will make its sixth trip to the juco World Series. Sam Temple’s Eagles started this season 2-4 but then ripped off an eight-game win streak. After a few hiccups early in MACJC play, including two blowout losses to Jones, the Eagles won 13 of 15. They wobbled a bit at season’s end and finished 17-11 in the conference, drawing a best-of-3 playoff matchup against East Mississippi. They swept the Lions to make the Region 23 Tournament, where they faced No. 2-ranked LSU-Eunice in the first round. No worries. Hinds won 6-2, then bowled over Pearl River twice to reach the championship round against Jones. The defending national champion Bobcats had lost just three times all year and only once at home, to Pearl River in the first round of the regional. But the Bobcats could not slow Hinds’ roll. Next stop: Enid, Okla. P.S. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Delta State rode the brilliant pitching of Tre Hobbs and Zach Osbon to a 4-1 win over Nova Southeastern, clinching a berth in the NCAA Division II South Region championship round on Monday. Hobbs, a left-hander from Greenville and Mississippi Delta CC, hasn’t had a great senior year after a dominant junior season that saw him go 13-2 and earn all kinds of honors. But he answered the call on Saturday, allowing just four hits over eight innings. Osbon, a lockdown closer all year, fanned the side in the ninth for the save. DSU is 43-11 and knocking on the door of another D-II World Series trip, which would be the fifth under coach Mike Kinnison.
In a recent online chat, a Baseball America scribe made a prediction for this summer’s college Team USA roster that included three players from Mississippi: State’s Konnor Pilkington, Ole Miss’ Dallas Woolfolk and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner. They are worthy candidates – and certainly worthy of keeping an eye on this weekend as the Big 3 charge toward tournament season. Pilkington, the sophomore left-hander out of East Central High, is slated to start today at Georgia. He is just 5-4 in 12 starts, but his wins have been big ones for the Bulldogs, 32-17 and 16-8, tied for best in the SEC. He has a 3.82 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 73 innings. Woolfolk, a sophomore out of DeSoto Central, has been a solid closer for Ole Miss, which faces a crucial series against nationally ranked Texas A&M in Oxford. While both State and USM are projected as regional hosts in Baseball America’s latest mock NCAA Tournament field, the Rebels (29-20, 11-13) aren’t in at all. Woolfolk has 10 saves, three wins and a 1.91 ERA in 23 appearances. USM (37-12, 19-5 C-USA) can clinch the conference title this weekend against UAB in Hattiesburg. Wallner, a freshman from Minnesota, has been just one of several mashers in the Golden Eagles lineup. The 6-foot-5 outfielder leads the team with 15 homers and is batting .328 (.447 on-base) with 47 RBIs. He also has three saves and a 1.84 ERA on the mound. P.S. East Central Community College has advanced to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament with a two-game sweep of Mississippi Delta in their best-of-3 series. Game 1 winners on Thursday were Hinds, Northwest and Pearl River. No. 1-ranked Jones County and LSU-Eunice received byes to the six-team region tournament, which starts next week at Ellisville.