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.
It doesn’t have a nickname, and the winner doesn’t take home a trophy. It’s not a conference game and likely won’t have any bearing on the postseason hopes of either team. But Delta State-William Carey does have a lot going for it. Tonight’s meeting is the third in the series of senior college games at Biloxi’s MGM Park, home of the Double-A Shuckers. (Jackson State beat Southern University in the first on March 1, and Southern Miss lost to South Alabama in the second on March 2. Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College is also playing its home games at the Biloxi ballpark completed just last summer.) DSU, an NCAA Division II school, and Carey, an NAIA member, have played 116 times before, with the Statesmen leading 73-43. Tonight’s game is a matchup of highly successful and long-tenured coaches, Mike Kinnison at DSU and Bobby Halford at Carey, who have over 1,800 wins between them. And both appear to have good teams again in 2016. The Statesmen are 11-7, sparked to this point by a stable of sluggers. DSU is batting .357 as a team, topped by Will Robertson at .449. Ben Pickard has hit six homers, Colton Welch and Trent Giambroni five each. Outside of Tre Hobbs, who is 5-0, the pitching has been inconsistent (4.60 staff ERA), though Dalton Moats did get Gulf South Conference pitcher of the week honors after tossing a shutout last weekend. Carey is 15-5 with nine straight wins. Leading the Crusaders’ attack are Southern States Athletic Conference hitter of the week Tyler Odom (.439, two homers, 21 RBIs, 15 runs) and Tyler James (.414, 18 runs, 16 steals). WCU pitchers have compiled a 2.62 ERA. Bottom line on this game: Whenever DSU and Carey meet, it’s a matchup of the only two four-year schools in the state that have won baseball national titles.
2,326 – Announced attendance for Wednesday’s South Alabama-Southern Miss game at MGM Park in Biloxi. The Golden Eagles (7-2) were a hospitable host, losing to the Jaguars 4-2, their second straight loss to USA.
.563 – Jack Kruger’s batting average in nine games for Mississippi State. The California juco transfer also leads the 7-2 Bulldogs with 12 runs, 13 RBIs, two homers and a 1.000 slugging percentage.
5 – Hits by Errol Robinson, Ole Miss’ preseason All-America shortstop who is hitting just .217 over seven games. The Rebels, ranked in several polls, are 7-1 despite slow starts by veterans Robinson, Colby Bortles and Will Golsan.
7 – Steals in seven attempts by Jackson State’s Bryce Brown, whose speed nicely complements the power of Jesus Santana (four bombs) in the 5-3 Tigers’ lineup.
0 – Home runs in 10 games by Alcorn State’s Collin Carroll, picked by some as the SWAC’s preseason player of the year. The ex-Southwest Mississippi Community College star from Ridgeland hit 12 homers in 2015.
10.70 – Mississippi Valley State’s staff ERA. The 2-7 Delta Devils (both wins came against Tougaloo) are hitting .233 and have made 30 errors.
11 – Consecutive wins by Delta State against Union, the 9-5 Statesmen’s opponent in this weekend’s Gulf South Conference road series.
9 – Pitchers used, one in each inning, by Millsaps in a 5-2 win against Adrian at Twenty Field on Wednesday. The nine combined for a seven-hitter with eight strikeouts for the 4-6 Majors.
.621 – Timothy Rowe’s batting average for Itawamba Community College. That leads the state and ranks fifth in NJCAA Division II. Jones County JC’s Mason Irby and Pearl River’s Zachary Clark are tied for the state and national lead with six homers each. Irby’s 24 RBIs tops the state and ranks fourth in the country. Jones’ Clint Sasser has an MACJC-best 20 steals, tied for most in the nation.
New Alcorn State coach Brett Richardson will debut on Friday when the Braves play UNO in the MLB Urban Invitational in New Orleans. Four of the state’s other NCAA Division I schools open at home Friday: Mississippi State against Florida Atlantic, Ole Miss vs. Florida International, Southern Miss vs. Eastern Illinois and Jackson State vs. Tennessee-Martin. Mississippi Valley State is at Nicholls State. Here are some more dates of note on the Mississippi calendar for 2016:
Feb. 23: Belhaven at Millsaps (first Maloney Trophy Series game)
March 1: Jackson State-Southern University at MGM Park in Biloxi
March 2: Southern Miss-South Alabama at MGM Park
March 9: William Carey-Delta State at MGM Park
March 11: Jackson State at Alcorn State (series opener)
March 22: Southern Miss-Tulane at MGM Park
March 29: Southern Miss-Mississippi State at Trustmark Park in Pearl
April 1: Ole Miss at Mississippi State (series opener)
April 2: Milwaukee Brewers-Biloxi Shuckers exhibition at MGM Park
April 4: Jackson State-Biloxi Shuckers exhibition at MGM Park
April 5: Southern Miss-Ole Miss at Trustmark Park
April 7: Pensacola at Mississippi, Chattanooga at Biloxi (Southern League openers)
April 12: Mississippi Valley State at Delta State
April 15: Jackson State-Alcorn State at MGM Park
April 20: Mississippi State–Louisiana-Monroe at MGM Park
April 22: Biloxi at Mississippi (first meeting of season)
April 26: Mississippi State-Ole Miss at Trustmark Park
April 30: Mississippi College at Delta State (series opener)
May 25: Conference USA Tournament starts at Taylor Park in Hattiesburg
June 21: Southern League All-Star Game at Trustmark Park
14 – Pitchers used by Millsaps College in going 1-2 in the Millsaps Invitational over the weekend. Daniel Ross went 5 1/3 innings against LaGrange on Friday to get the lone win.
13 – RBIs by Pearl River Community College’s Carter Hankins in six games over the weekend. The Wildcats (8-2) won five of the six.
11 – Runs in six games this season by Mississippi College’s Logan Ferrell.
10 – RBIs in seven games for Delta State’s Will Robertson.
9 – Losses to start the season for Tougaloo College.
8 – Road games scheduled to start the season for Belhaven University, which opens today against Huntingdon in Montgomery, Ala.
4 – Wins in four games to start Chris Kirtland’s coaching career at Jones County Junior College.
2 – Wins in two starts for William Carey University’s J.D. Little, who has a 1.38 ERA.
1 – Home run on Friday by Mississippi Gulf Coast CC’s Brian Lane, the first at Biloxi’s MGM Park for the Bulldogs.
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.
Oxford High’s Jason Barber, the Gatorade Player of the Year in Mississippi in 2015, has officially signed with Ole Miss, which announced a boatload of early signees this week. Mississippi State inked highly regarded Magnolia Heights products Riley Self and Dustin Skelton, among others, for its 2017 team. Southern Miss picked up juco stars Colt Smith and LeeMarcus Boyd from Northwest Mississippi Community College. Barber had a tremendous 2015 season: 10-0, 0.00 ERA as a pitcher, .337, eight homers as a hitter. Boyd’s numbers suggest an impact player: .330, 18 steals, 42 runs, 29 RBIs in 49 games at NWMCC. Of course, there is a catch. The “excitement,” if it can be called that, of the early signing period in college baseball is always tempered by the realization that the best of the signees may never put on the uniform of their chosen school. The MLB draft tends to snap them up. See Austin Riley, State signee from the fall of 2014, now a hot prospect in the Atlanta Braves’ system. It’s a quirky issue the other major sports don’t have to deal with. P.S. Conference USA might have scored a hit with its decision to hold its tournament at MGM Park, the new home of the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers, in 2017 and 2018. The Coast, with its casinos and beaches, might just draw some big crowds. Dates for the events haven’t been announced, but they’ll fall somewhere in mid-May.
With Alexei Ramirez becoming a free agent, the heir apparent to the Chicago White Sox’s shortstop job in 2016 looks like Tyler Saladino. But lurking on the depth chart, not too far behind, is Tim Anderson, the former East Central Community College star. Anderson, 22, is rated the White Sox’s No. 1 prospect on mlb.com’s list. His defense may still need some work, but Anderson’s offensive skills are impressive. He batted .312 with five homers, 12 triples, 49 steals, 46 RBIs and 79 runs for Double-A Birmingham this past season, just his third in pro ball. The ChiSox, a disappointing team in 2015, declined to pick up an option for Ramirez, 34, who hit a career-worst .249 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs. Saladino, 26, batted .225 in 68 games as a rookie last season, playing mostly third base. P.S. The Biloxi Shuckers’ walk-off win in their June 6 home debut was named the MiLBY Game of the Year by milb.com. After playing the first two months of the season on the road, the Shuckers beat Mobile in the 14th inning before a standing room only crowd at MGM Park. Nick Shaw got the game-winning knock.
Southern Miss will play the first eight games of the 2016 season at home in Taylor Park, but the more interesting aspect of the schedule is where the Golden Eagles will play 10 of their road games. In addition to the annual games against Mississippi State (April 1) and Ole Miss (April 5) at Trustmark Park in Pearl, USM will visit three other minor league ballparks. USM is slated for three games in a March 4-6 tournament at Pensacola’s scenic Bayfront Stadium. The Eagles have two March games set for MGM Park in Biloxi and a three-game C-USA series March 18-20 against Marshall at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston, W.Va. USM opens the season Feb. 19 against Eastern Illinois. … After last weekend’s fall ball scrimmages in Oxford, Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco singled out four pitchers for their work. Good stuff is expected from junior left-hander Wyatt Short, the Southaven product who was an All-SEC pick in 2015. The other three drawing praise were newcomers: juco transfer David Parkinson and freshmen Andy Pagnozzi and Parker Caracci. Caracci is from MAIS powerhouse Jackson Prep. … Pitching also has been in fashion of late at Mississippi State. In Sunday’s scrimmage, lefty Daniel Brown threw three shutout innings with five strikeouts. On Monday, Austin Sexton tossed four shutout innings with four K’s. And on Tuesday, freshman lefty Jared Padgett worked three scoreless innings. Padgett, from Florida, was a 26th round pick by the Chicago Cubs in June. P.S. Former Ole Miss left-hander Austin Wright was rated the top prospect in independent ball by Baseball America. Wright, who recently signed with Arizona, went 5-11 with a 4.46 ERA for Windy City in the Frontier League. He had a 4.26 ERA in four years in the Philadelphia system before being released – but he also has a fastball that reaches the mid-90s.
Wes Thigpen, a former Mississippi State catcher, was recently hired as the new pitching coach at Hinds Community College, replacing former big leaguer Chad Bradford. Thigpen was a graduate assistant at State the past two seasons. He played at Meridian CC before starting for the Bulldogs in 2010 and ’11. He also played pro ball in the Detroit Tigers’ system. … Southern Miss has announced it will play host to two games against longtime coastal rivals at MGM Park in Biloxi next season. The Golden Eagles will meet South Alabama on March 2 and Tulane on March 22. MGM Park, home of the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers, formally opened on June 6. … When fall ball starts at Mississippi State, outfielder Brent Rooker might have a little swagger in his walk. He was named the New England Collegiate Baseball League Most Valuable Player and its second-best prospect by Baseball America. He finished first in the league in home runs (10), RBIs (33) and runs (36) and third in batting (.360). Rooker hit .257 with two homers in 74 at-bats for the Bulldogs in 2015. … Ole Miss shortstop Errol Robinson is also coming off a strong summer. Playing in the top-drawer Cape Cod League, he hit .312 with 25 runs and 15 steals, made the All-Star game and was rated the No. 9 prospect. … Jackson State’s Jamal Wilson, a senior right-hander, was rated among the Valley League’s top prospects. He went 2-3 with a 5.16 ERA during the summer league’s regular season and 1-1, 2.25 in the playoffs. … William Carey may have made a key pick-up for 2016 when it added former Petal High and Jones County Junior College catcher Tyler Graves to its roster. As a sophomore at JCJC in 2014, Graves was named NJCAA D-II Spalding National Defensive Player of the Year and was a third team All-America pick. He had 28 assists and batted .371. He signed with Delta State out of JCJC but didn’t play there in 2015.