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.
The threat of more wet weather on Tuesday has prompted Mississippi College and Millsaps to postpone their scheduled Maloney Trophy Series clash in Clinton to April 29. Tough break. One imagines that both teams were eager to get back on the field. Millsaps swept a doubleheader from NCAA Division III nationally ranked Rhodes on Saturday to improve to 16-15 (6-8 in the Southern Athletic Association). MC swept a pair from D-III nationally ranked Concordia-Texas on Saturday to improve to 14-12 (12-9 in the American Southwest Conference). The Choctaws, ineligible for the ASC postseason as they transition to D-II, have won nine of 10 games as they chase a bid to the National Christian College Athletic Association regionals. Marty Stringfellow (.383), Spencer Wilson (.333) and Robbie Jernigan (.322) have been hot hitters for MC, and Blake Mcilwain (4-1, 3.43 ERA) and Brooks Fortenberry (3-2, 2.19) have been stalwarts on the bump. But the heroes on Saturday were Zach Evans, who hit a two-run bomb in a 2-0 win over Concordia, and Jayme Monroe, who threw eight innings of one-hit ball in that game. They were named ASC player and pitcher of the week. For Millsaps, Keith Shumaker, who batted .470 with nine RBIs in four games last week, was selected as SAA player of the week. P.S. In MLB, Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College standout, has been sent down by Colorado, while Tyler Moore, another MCC alum who also played at Mississippi State, is back up with Washington.
Neither Mississippi College nor Millsaps seemed particularly impressed that Belhaven University broke into the NAIA top 10 this week. No. 8 Belhaven, which has announced its intention to move to NCAA Division III, lost to both the current D-III schools, falling to 26-9. On Tuesday night at Frierson Field in Clinton, MC — which is in the process of returning to NCAA Division II, by the way — beat BU on a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the ninth after squandering a 7-4 lead in the seventh. Blake Mcilwain, now 3-1, earned the win for 9-11 MC with two scoreless innings. On Wednesday afternoon at Millsaps’ Twenty Field, the Majors erupted for eight runs in the third inning and whipped the Blazers 12-5. Keith Shumaker had a three-run homer and Stephen Gates a three-run double in that pivotal third for the Majors (13-11). Millsaps is now 3-0 in the Maloney Trophy Series, with BU 1-2 and MC 1-3. Millsaps and Belhaven hook up Monday at Smith-Wills Stadium. … Delta State, nationally ranked in D-II, is heating up, having stretched its win streak to eight after beating Ouachita Baptist twice in Cleveland this week. Ben Pickard, a sophomore from Biloxi, went 7-for-7 with five RBIs and five runs in the two games against Ouachita. DSU is 18-6 overall and takes a 14-3 Gulf South Conference record into a weekend series at West Georgia.
A showdown looms. Well, that might be a bit over the top, but Millsaps College and Belhaven University are both 1-0 in the Maloney Trophy Series headed into their makeup game on Monday at the Majors’ Twenty Field. Millsaps beat Mississippi College 5-2 on Tuesday, dropping the Choctaws to 0-2 in the round-robin series among the Jackson-area small colleges. MC, which got three hits from newcomer Marty Stringfellow, fell to 1-4 overall. The Majors, now 7-5, got three hits each from Isaac Glenn (.455) and Keith Shumaker (.388) and a sterling start from Smokey Ethridge (2-2). … Belhaven is 12-3 after a 5-1 win over Talladega on Tuesday. Ben Allison improved to 4-0 and lowered his ERA to 0.47 in 19 innings. Tyler Akins, the former Madison Central and Hinds Community College standout, drove in three runs and now has 13 on the season. BU plays Talladega again today at Smith-Wills Stadium. … Delta State (5-4) is on the road today against Arkansas-Monticello’s Boll Weevils, against whom the Statesmen hold a 76-5 series lead. Dex Herrington, a senior from Senatobia and reigning Gulf South Conference player of the week, is leading DSU in hitting at .394. … Tougaloo, which started 0-5, is now 5-7. … Blue Mountain, which won its opener, is now 1-9.
Mississippi College opens its season today with an eye on reversing a troublesome trend. The Choctaws — who play Belhaven University at Smith-Wills Stadium — have seen their win total drop each year since 2010, when they won 39 games and reached the NCAA Division III West Regional final. The Choctaws were 17-22 in 2013. The Choctaws have a decent collection of arms — led by left-hander Brooks Fortenberry (4-2, 2.85) — back from a staff that posted a solid 3.70 ERA. Improvement in 2014 likely will depend on better hitting. “The big story last year was big hits in key situations,” coach Brian Owens said. “We didn’t get enough of them. We lost a bunch of one- and two-run games. It’s tough winning close games without getting clutch hits, and it starts to weigh on you. It even affects the way your pitchers work.” MC hit .262 with just four home runs last season. Owens is counting on returning outfielder Kyle Blount (.333, 23 runs, six steals) and newcomers like Marty Stringfellow and Caleb Morris, both touted juco transfers, to fortify what he thinks will be a better balanced lineup. The Choctaws face a Belhaven team today that already has played 10 games, winning eight. It’s the first game of the Maloney Trophy Series, which adds to the significance. But every game is big for the Choctaws. In transition from D-III to D-II, MC is still playing in the American Southwest Conference but is ineligible for the postseason. The Choctaws are hoping for a bid to a National Christian College Athletic Association regional, and Owens said it’ll take 26 wins to get said bid. P.S. Even when you consider that Stetson went 26-31 last year and finished fifth in its conference, Ole Miss’ season-opening three-game sweep at DeLand, Fla., was impressive. The Rebels outscored the Hatters 22-3, hitting .364 as a team. Auston Bousfield hit .583 with six runs and three steals; Will Allen hit .542 with two home runs and 10 RBIs; Austin Anderson batted .462 and scored five runs; and Preston Overbey put up a .455 average and two homers. Next up for the Rakin’ Rebels is Tennessee-Martin on Wednesday at Oxford-University Stadium.