“Play ball” time arrives for NCAA Division III schools Belhaven University and Millsaps College this weekend, with the Blazers set to open on Friday at Smith-Wills Stadium and the Majors on Saturday at Twenty Field as part of a round-robin tournament. Belhaven coach Hill Denson has announced that this will be the final season of his long and heralded career. The swan song begins against LeTourneau, a D-III school from Texas. The Blazers, 12-27 in 2018, a rare losing season for Denson, were pegged to finish 11th in the 12-team American Southwest Conference. The team had two players get recognition on the league’s preseason Watch List: second baseman Evan Moore, who hit .297 with 23 runs and 14 steals as a freshman, and right-hander David Hall, who posted a 3-6 record and 4.71 ERA last year. Pitching was a 2018 sore spot for BU, which put up a 6.53 staff ERA. Millsaps will play LeTourneau on Saturday, launching coach Jim Page’s 31st year with the purple and white. He topped 750 career wins in 2018 as the Majors went 25-19. The team returns outfielder Jimmy Johnstone, a .361 hitter and second-team All-Southern Athletic Association pick in 2018; outfielder Brennan Ducote, who batted .374 with four homers and 33 RBIs; and right-hander Conner Haynes, 4-1, 3.22 ERA. … Belhaven and Millsaps will play the first of three Maloney Trophy Series games on March 6 at Smith-Wills.
Millsaps College’s postseason path will start in Rome, Ga., on Thursday in the Berry bracket, one of the Southern Athletic Association’s two mini-tournaments. The Majors (22-17, 10-11 SAA) concluded their conference schedule in grand fashion, blasting Centre 21-10 Sunday on the road. After a Maloney Trophy Series game against Belhaven on Tuesday at Twenty Field, the Majors will shift their full attention to Birmingham-Southern. Fifth-seeded Millsaps lost two of three last month to fourth-seeded BSC (21-14, 11-10). Berry (25-11, 15-4) won the SAA regular season title and is the top seed. No. 2 Rhodes is hosting the other four-team bracket. Jim Page’s Majors last made the NCAA Division III Tournament in 2015. They’ll have to get through the double-elimination Berry bracket and then a best-of-3 league championship series to get there this season. An at-large bid appears unlikely. Andy Page is the Majors’ leading hitter at .401 and has a team-best 41 runs. Chase Callaway, a .321 hitter, leads in RBIs with 27. Several others stepped up on Sunday with some big numbers: Cavan Breland (3-for-7, five RBIs), Jimmy Johnstone (three RBIs) and Wes Lassere (four runs). The team’s top arms include Jacob Mardick (2-4, 3.74 ERA, two saves in 15 games) and Barret Kaul (4-3, 4.18 in 11). … The Majors already have clinched the Maloney Trophy, having beaten D-III rival Belhaven in the first two games. The Blazers will bring an 11-21 mark into the game.
Even if you’re not partial to maroon or gold, there are compelling reasons to check out tonight’s Mississippi State-Southern Miss game at Trustmark Park in Pearl. USM (16-4) is on a seven-game winning streak that has propelled the Golden Eagles into a couple of the national polls. State (12-9) was swept three straight at Arkansas over the weekend but features the SEC’s batting average leader, Brent Rooker, a .446 hitter who also tops the league in slugging, RBIs and steals. His six homers lead the team. Jackson Prep product Jake Mangum (.378) and Ryan Gridley (.354) also have played well for the Bulldogs. The Eagles’ starting pitcher will be ex-Oak Grove High star Taylor Braley, who is also their best hitter. He has a 3.38 ERA in three starts and a .366 batting average with six homers and 22 RBIs. Meridian native Mason Irby, a juco All-America pick at Jones County Junior College in 2016, is the reigning C-USA hitter of the week. In addition to Braley, USM trots out three other sluggers with four or more homers: Dylan Burdeaux, Casey Maack and Matt Wallner, who might also make a mound appearance. State won last year’s game 13-5 and leads the series at the TeePee 5-3. … Meanwhile, at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson tonight, NCAA Division III rivals Belhaven and Millsaps will hook up in the decisive third game of the Maloney Trophy Series. The host Blazers are 12-8 and feature a trio of impressive hitters: Daniel Ammirati (.406), Terrell Hodges (.347, five homers, 22 RBIs) and Stephen Sexton (.338, six, 20). Andy Page leads the Majors (9-12) with a .341 average, and Lee Ogletree is batting .288 with three homers and 20 RBIs.
Ole Miss took two of three from Vanderbilt. Jackson State took two of three from Alcorn State. Delta State and William Carey scored sweeps, and Mississippi Valley State, Mississippi College and Belhaven all won conference series on the road. Oh yeah, and Jones County Junior College remained unbeaten. But as the dust settles on an eventful weekend in college baseball, Southern Miss emerges as the team of the moment. The Golden Eagles swept Louisiana Tech at Ruston, La., in their C-USA opening series. Tech, loaded with former Hinds Community College stars, was 15-2 entering the weekend and ranked in some polls. Each game was a battle: 5-2, 13-9, 8-5. The Eagles got clutch pitching from Kirk McCarty and Matt Wallner in Game 1 and from Nick Sandlin in Game 3. They blasted seven homers all told – two by Taylor Braley – in Games 2 and 3. USM is now 16-4 and will take a seven-game win streak into Tuesday’s game against Mississippi State at Trustmark Park in Pearl. MSU (12-9) was one of the few state teams to suffer a bad weekend, scoring just six runs while dropping three straight at Arkansas to start SEC play. … Ole Miss, 14-6 and up to No. 11 in Baseball America’s new poll, won a wild rubber match with Vandy 10-8 on Sunday in Oxford as Dallas Woolfolk tossed two scoreless innings late and Chase Cockrell delivered a go-ahead double in the eighth. C.J. Newsome drove in four runs and Jose Tirado pitched a sterling 4 1/3 innings of relief as JSU (12-9, 6-3 SWAC) beat Alcorn 11-6 in Sunday’s series clincher at Braddy Field. Zack Shannon, batting .440 with five homers and 33 RBIs, knocked in eight runs as DSU (18-7, 10-5 Gulf South) rolled past Alabama-Huntsville. William Carey, 22-5 and ranked 12th in NAIA, scored 49 runs in a sweep of outmanned Brewton-Parker. MC (6-18, 4-10) won its second straight GSC series, taking the rubber match from Christian Brothers 6-5 on Sunday as Will Elliott and Hunter Austin drove in two runs apiece. Landon Boyd worked seven shutout innings in relief on Saturday to lift Belhaven past McMurry and give the Blazers an American Southwest Conference series win. BU (12-8) will play Millsaps on Tuesday at Smith-Wills Stadium for the Maloney Trophy. The Majors are 9-12 and coming off a Southern Athletic Association series loss at Rhodes. Finally, Jones County JC beat East Mississippi 8-5 and 3-1 on Saturday in Scooba to improve to 20-0, 2-0 MACJC. The Bobcats are ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II.
William Carey University, yet to play a true home game, has won eight in a row and will take a 12-4 record into its first games at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg this weekend. Tyler Graves leads the Crusaders’ attack with a .442 average and 26 RBIs, and Adrian Brown also has been stuffing the box scores. The son of the former big leaguer of the same name is batting .385 with three homers, 15 RBIs, 22 runs and 10 steals. Lane Fazende, working out of the Carey bullpen, has three wins, a save and an 0.89 ERA. … Going the other way is Mississippi College, reeling from three straight one-run losses at West Alabama over the weekend. UWA scored four in the ninth to win 5-4 on Sunday. The NCAA Division II Choctaws, who play Spring Hill on Wednesday, are 2-13 and 0-6 in the Gulf South Conference. Casey Echols is batting .368 and Chance Whitten has four home runs, but the MC pitching staff has a 7.64 ERA. … Millsaps and Belhaven will battle on Tuesday at Twenty Field in a Maloney Trophy Series game; the Majors won the first meeting of the D-III rivals 6-3 at Smith-Wills Stadium last week. Millsaps is 6-6 but coming off what could be a springboard victory, rallying from a 7-0 first-inning deficit to beat Webster 13-11 in Memphis on Sunday. Jon Dale Dieckman had a big two-run hit in a four-run eighth inning that propelled the Majors. Seth Trulock and Jimmy Fondren also had two RBIs in that game. Belhaven took a series from American Southwest Conference foe Hardin-Simmons over the weekend. Tyler Wolfe (3-0, 1.53 ERA) notched a complete game in the 13-3 victory in the rubber match on Saturday, and Stephen Sexton had a homer and four RBIs. He is batting .355 with three homers on the year. Terrell Hodges is at .406 with two bombs and 11 RBIs. … Delta State won the rubber game of its GSC series at Lee University and moved to 10-3, 4-2. Juwan Burney, batting .406, led the Statesmen in the 13-5 clincher with a pair of homers. DSU will play D-I rival Mississippi Valley State in Itta Bena on Wednesday. Valley is 1-4, having beaten Arkansas State 10-9 last Wednesday in its last game. … Caleb Leach (.433) and Dustin Allen (4-1, 2.81 ERA) have led Blue Mountain to a 12-6 record. … Tougaloo has dropped six straight to fall to 4-10. Correction: The Carey-MC game is scheduled for March 28 in Clinton.
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.
Belhaven University is humming: 13-4 with a seven-game win streak. Millsaps is sputtering at 10-10. The timing of the first Maloney Trophy Series game of 2016 certainly looks favorable for the Blazers, who’ll host the Majors today (4 p.m.) at Smith-Wills Stadium. Of course, both BU coach Hill Denson and Millsaps’ Jim Page are likely to trot out a bunch of pitchers, so anything can happen. The Blazers’ hot streak has been fueled in large part by junior outfielder Terrell Hodges, a former Northwest Rankin High and Holmes Community College star. He is batting .463 (slugging .791) with four home runs, 15 RBIs, four triples, 22 runs and 15 steals. Last week, Hodges had 11 hits, two homers, six RBIs, 10 runs and five steals — and somehow did not win American Southwest Conference player of the week honors. Millsaps lost two of three at home to Rhodes over the weekend, scoring five runs all told. The Majors have only two homers (both by Lee Ogletree) all season. Isaac Glenn, the Madison Central product, leads their attack at .360 with 11 RBIs and 17 runs. Ogletree, from Raymond High via Hinds CC, is hitting .333 with 19 RBIs. P.S. Meanwhile, at MGM Park in Biloxi, Southern Miss will hook up with longtime rival Tulane in an intriguing non-conference contest. The Golden Eagles (16-5) and Green Wave (13-7) have met 152 times, with Tulane leading 93-59. USM features a lot of power, with 26 homers as a team, six by Tim Lynch, the preseason All-C-USA pick who is batting .373 with 22 RBIs. Tulane has some thump, too: 20 homers, led by Hunter Hope with five. USM is 0-1 at MGM Park, having lost to South Alabama earlier this month.
Belhaven University visits Mississippi College tonight in the first game of the Maloney Trophy Series. BU, still an NAIA member, is 23-12, led by the terrific trio of Emilio DeSilva (.347, 26 steals, 36 runs), Paul Pickerrell (.344, 34 RBIs, 36 runs) and Adam Kowalczyk (.333, six homers, 37 RBIs). MC, in its first year back in NCAA Division II, has taken some lumps. The Choctaws are 9-17 – but are 7-2 outside the Gulf South Conference and have won six of 13 games at Frierson Field in Clinton. Starkville Academy product Hunter Bolin has been MC’s steadiest hitter, batting .383 with 17 RBIs and 18 runs. A 5.84 staff ERA tells a lot about the Choctaws’ season. … Millsaps, the other Maloney Trophy participant, is rolling along at 15-4 after an impressive sweep of the University of Chicago on Monday. Former Madison Central High star Isaac Glenn has paced the D-III Majors with a .433 average, a homer and 28 RBIs. … Millsaps meets Belhaven on April 8 at Smith-Wills Stadium and hosts MC at Twenty Field on April 21 to conclude the Maloney games.
Ready or not, the 2015 college baseball season begins in Mississippi one month from today, when Belhaven University hosts Saint Francis (Ind.) at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson and William Carey takes on Missouri Baptist in a twinbill at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Tougaloo, under new coach Earl Sanders, the former Jackson State star, opens on Feb. 3 at Belhaven. The Bulldogs will serve as the opening day foe for Mississippi College on Feb. 6 at Frierson Field in Clinton. MC, transitioning to NCAA Division II, begins playing a Gulf South Conference slate this season; the much-anticipated Delta State series will be April 11-12 in Clinton. DSU starts the 2015 campaign on the road on Feb. 6, playing Nova Southeastern in Florida. The Statesmen’s home opener at Ferriss Field in Cleveland is Feb. 18 against Harding. Opening day for NCAA Division I schools is Feb. 13, and each of the Big 4 is at home: Ole Miss hosts William and Mary, Mississippi State gets Cincinnati, Southern Miss plays Murray State and Jackson State welcomes Texas-Pan American. Alcorn State opens at Savannah State. Mississippi Valley State hasn’t published a schedule. The Delta Devils’ opener will be the debut of coach Aaron Stevens, a longtime assistant to Doug Shanks, who retired in November to take a high school job at Central Hinds Academy. Shanks had a good run at Valley, winning five division titles, but 2014 was a rough year: 4-38, 4-17 in the SWAC. NAIA member Blue Mountain also has not released its schedule. P.S. The Maloney Trophy Series between Belhaven, MC and Millsaps, once a nine-game round-robin, has been reduced to a total of three games. Maybe it’s time to bring Tougaloo into the mix.
Belhaven University’s 2-1 win Tuesday over Mississippi College, which wrapped up the Maloney Trophy for the Blazers, was punctuated by yet another Tyler Akins save. Here are the key numbers on the impressive season being registered by the senior from Madison: 17-for-17 on save opportunities; 0.92 ERA; 36 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings; .351 batting average; and a team-leading three home runs and 43 RBIs. Sounds like Ferriss Trophy kind of stuff. Akins, a Hinds Community College and Madison Central High product, is just two saves shy of the NAIA single-season saves record, according to the school. The Blazers play a three-game series at Auburn-Montgomery this weekend and then will enter postseason play.