West Lauderdale, the MHSAA Class 4A champion, is ranked No. 6 in Baseball America’s final high school poll. The Knights, who finished 33-3, are the only state school in the Top 40. The 2017 title, accomplished in a three-game battle against Corinth at Trustmark Park in Pearl, is the 14th for West Lauderdale and legendary coach Jerry Boatner. “This is probably one of the best teams we’ve had, especially in a good while,” Boatner told the Meridian Star on the eve of the state finals. “This bunch can beat you with hitting, bunting, stealing, pitching.” Boatner’s program has produced three major league players – Jay Powell, Paul Phillips and Jamie Brown – and many other pros, including 2014 first-round pick Blake Anderson (now in Miami’s system) and Jody Hurst, the former Mississippi State star whose son Cole was one of the best players on the 2017 Knights team.
There were two huge stunners in the opening round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Ellisville and upsets of considerable weight in Hattiesburg and Pearl, as well, on Wednesday. To wit: NJCAA Division II No. 1 Jones County Junior College squandered a four-run lead and fell to Pearl River 5-4 in the regional, and Hinds upended second-ranked LSU-Eunice 6-2. John Moore and Lucas Scott got clutch hits for PRCC and Colby White did the clutch mound work. Jones lost for just the third time all season and first time at home. The Wildcats and Hinds will play in a winner’s bracket game today. Jones meets East Central in an elimination game. … William Carey University won twice to stay alive in the NAIA Opening Round tourney at Wheeler Field. In their second game of the day, the Crusaders rallied to beat top-seeded and ninth-ranked Southeastern (Fla.) University 6-4, forcing a winner-take-all game today for a berth in the NAIA World Series. Carey scored twice in the ninth to tie the score, then went ahead in the 10th on a Christian Smith two-run single. Closer Lane Fazende worked the last three innings to get the win. … West Lauderdale High entered the MHSAA state finals at Trustmark Park with a 31-2 record and is the only Mississippi school ranked by Baseball America at No. 10. But Corinth (29-8) jumped on the Knights for three runs in the first inning and Kyle Crigger made the lead stand up with a complete game effort in a 5-3 win in Game 1 of the best-of-3 Class 4A series. P.S. There also was an upset of note in the SWAC Tournament in New Orleans as Alcorn State, the 4-seed from the East, beat West No. 1 Grambling State 7-6 in 11 innings.
Cody Reed’s promotion to Cincinnati – the left-hander is scheduled to start Saturday against Houston – brings to six the number of Mississippi junior colleges currently represented in the big leagues. Reed played at Northwest Mississippi Community College. The other MACJC products are Tim Anderson (East Central), Corey Dickerson (Meridian), Jarrod Dyson (Southwest), Desmond Jennings (Itawamba) and Tony Sipp (Gulf Coast). That’s kinda cool. … Former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis is slated to make his Triple-A debut on Saturday for the Gwinnett Braves against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Ellis was promoted today from the Double-A Mississippi Braves. The right-hander was 8-2 with a 2.75 ERA for the M-Braves and had been selected for next week’s Southern League All-Star Game. Lucas Sims, another pitching prospect who had been scuffling at Gwinnett, returned to the M-Braves’ roster. … Tyler Moore has played just one game since late April for Gwinnett. The Mississippi State alum, batting .242 with one homer in 16 games, is on the disabled list – his second stint this season — with an undisclosed injury. … Oxford High, the MHSAA Class 5A champion, is ranked 19th in Baseball America’s final high school poll of 2016. The Chargers, led by Jason Barber and Grae Kessinger, went 28-8. Class 6A champ Madison Central (27-10) is ranked No. 42 in that poll.
With so many talented young arms now at work in the Atlanta system, it’s not easy to stand out. Chris Ellis has found a way. The Ole Miss alum goes to the mound tonight for the Mississippi Braves at Mobile with a 6-0 record and a 2.06 ERA. The 6-foot-5 right-hander, who throws three quality pitches, has 36 strikeouts and 19 walks in 48 innings. He leads the Southern League in wins, ranks eighth in ERA, ninth in WHIP and fifth in innings (an underrated stat). He is even swinging the bat: 5-for-13. Ellis, a third-round draft selection by the Los Angeles Angels in 2014, made it to Double-A last summer and went 7-4, 3.92. The Braves acquired him in the Andrelton Simmons trade, and he is rated their No. 14 prospect by mlb.com. Nine other pitchers, scattered throughout the system, are ranked above Ellis, but none is having more success this year. P.S. M-Braves catcher Willians Astudillo recently was highlighted in Baseball America for his uncanny ability to make contact. Astudillo has struck out just two times this season in 114 at-bats. (He has only walked twice while batting .272.) A minor league free agent signee by Atlanta this off-season, Astudillo has fanned just 53 times in 1,651 at-bats, with a .314 career average. … The M-Braves have hit seven home runs as a team in 20 games at spacious Trustmark Park this season, four of those by Dustin Peterson. Oxford High’s Thomas Dillard hit two bombs at the TeePee on Thursday in the Chargers’ MHSAA Class 5A championship clincher against Hattiesburg. Dillard finished the year with 16 homers.
Buckle up. Big week ahead on many fronts. East Central Community College, continuing its ’27 Yankees impression, beat Jones County Junior College 13-12 on Saturday to win the MACJC title and will host the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Decatur. No. 2-ranked Jones will be there, as well as No. 1 LSU-Eunice (50-4) and Northwest Mississippi. … William Carey University is off to Santa Barbara, Calif., for NAIA regional play. The 25th-ranked Crusaders (37-19), led by All-SSAC first-team picks Adrian Brown and Tyler Odom, take on College of Idaho on Tuesday in the five-team opening round tournament. The top seed there is Westmont (Calif.). … Jackson State and Alcorn State, the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds from the SWAC East, start play on Wednesday in the conference tournament at Barrow Stadium in New Orleans. Alabama State dominated the league with a 24-0 mark, but JSU (32-24 overall) certainly has the hitters (see Cornelius Copeland, Carlos Diaz, Jesus Santana) to make a run. … Delta State will learn tonight where it is heading for NCAA Division II regional play. The Statesmen (38-15) earned an automatic bid by winning their 13th Gulf South Conference championship last week. … And the MHSAA finals matchups are set: Madison Central-George County in Class 6A, Oxford-Hattiesburg in 5A, Houston-Newton County in 4A, Kossuth-St. Andrews in 3A, East Union-Loyd Star in 2A and Tupelo Christian Prep-Ethel in 1A. The games in the best-of-3 series begin Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
Oxford High, generally considered the best prep team in Mississippi, has crashed out of the new MaxPreps Xcellent 25 national poll. The Chargers, preseason No. 1 and seventh in last week’s poll, ran out of juice in the Perfect Game Showcase in Cartersville, Ga., losing twice to move their record to 8-3. Oxford went 35-1 in 2015 en route to a Class 5A championship. Next up for Oxford, which hasn’t lost to a Magnolia State school, is South Panola on Wednesday. Jason Barber, the state’s Gatorade player of the year in 2015, is off to another fine start, batting .429 with two homers, though he has lost a game on the mound. He was unbeaten with a 0.00 ERA in 2015. Grae Kessinger, like Barber an Ole Miss signee, is hitting .412, and Drew Bianco, son of UM coach Mike Bianco, has three home runs. Rest assured, the Chargers will power up again and contend for another MHSAA crown.
As the MHSAA state finals roll on at Pearl’s Trustmark Park, here are some amazing prep stats to ponder courtesy of the Mississippi Baseball Record Book, produced by John W. Smillie of Corinth. Louis Clark of Shannon High, better known for his football exploits, set the single-season record for batting average at .759 in 1983. Clark’s older brother Dave, a former big leaguer who now coaches third base for the Detroit Tigers, holds the home run record with 23, set at Shannon in 1980. Silento Sayles’ 103 steals for Port Gibson in 2013 is an eye-popping number, and so is Dillon Owens’ streak of reaching base in 16 straight plate appearances for D’Iberville in 2007. Ditto for Jeff Rutland’s 13 RBIs in a game for Enterprise in 1990 and Heath Graham’s 60 career homers for Stringer. Richy Harrelson, recently named head coach at Northeast Mississippi Community College, had 251 career hits at Iuka/Tishomingo County AND 71 career wins. The most impressive pitching feat might be Randolph Salters’ 366 strikeouts for Mooreville in 1985, when he won a state record 25 games. Then again, Chris Taranto of Notre Dame-Biloxi threw 10 no-hitters back in 1961. Former New York Mets first-round draft pick Kirk Presley of Tupelo posted a 0.60 career ERA. Hattiesburg’s Jermaine Van Buren, who pitched in the majors, and David Sanders of Columbia each fanned 21 batters in a seven-inning game, and David Stevens of Ackerman blew away 29 in a game that went 14 innings in 2002. Sure, they say records are meant to be broken, but when it comes to many of these, forget about it.
While undefeated Oxford High is the highest ranked Mississippi school in two different national polls, Northwest Rankin definitely rates attention. The Cougars, also ranked in the Top 25 by both MaxPreps and Baseball America, are 29-2 headed into the MHSAA Class 6A North championship series against DeSoto Central. The Cougars, coached by Jeff McClaskey, feature Shelton Wallace (.464, 25 steals), Ian Ladner (.409, five homers, 38 RBIs) and Hunter Smith (9-0, 0.96 ERA). They are 4-0 in the postseason and have won eight straight overall. Both of NWR’s losses were by one run. DeSoto Central (24-9) is led by the highly touted Austin Riley, hitting .456 with 11 homers and 6-2 with a 2.75 ERA as a pitcher. Keegan James hits .336, and Dallas Woolfolk is 7-1, 2.07. In the 6A South finals, defending state champion Oak Grove (24-7) meets Biloxi (21-11) in the best-of-3. The Warriors have the 1-2 pitching punch of Drew Boyd (9-0, 1.04) and J.C. Keys (8-0, 1.01) and a hot hitter in Matthew Guidry (.426). Biloxi counters with the arms of Austin Creel (7-1, 2.01) and Blake Johnson (7-2, 2.00) and the bat of Darrell Montiforte (.296, three homers). In 5A, Oxford puts its unblemished mark (32-0) on the line against New Hope in the North finals. P.S. The SWAC Tournament begins Wednesday in New Orleans. Jackson State, the two-time defending champion, meets Southern University and Alcorn State plays West Division winner Texas Southern in the opening round of the eight-team event. The tourney winner earns an automatic NCAA Tournament bid (though Southern is ineligible). With probable league MVP Melvin Rodriguez (.444, seven homers, 72 RBIs) in its lineup, JSU certainly has a shot at a three-peat. … In Tyler, Texas, on Wednesday, third-seeded Millsaps faces 4-seed Whitworth in the first round of the NCAA Division III West Regional. … At Eunice, La., on Thursday, Hinds Community College meets East Mississippi and Northwest Mississippi plays LSU-Eunice in the first round of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. No. 1-ranked Hinds is the defending region champ.