Of all the wins racked up by Mississippi colleges over the weekend, none was more significant than Millsaps College’s conquest on Sunday of nationally ranked Birmingham-Southern. The Majors, coming off the worst season in coach Jim Page’s long tenure, were 5-7 heading into their Southern Athletic Association opening series on the road against the No. 8 team in NCAA Division III. BSC is the defending SAA champion and D-III College World Series runner-up. The teams split a doubleheader to begin the series, setting up Sunday’s rubber game that the Majors won in blowout fashion, 12-7. Behind home runs from Fritz Walker III and Chris Hart, the Majors bolted to a 10-1 lead. Erstwhile football player Walker, batting .362, leads the team with four homers and 18 RBIs. Hart, a Northwest Rankin High product, entered the game just 5-for-45 on the season. He banged out three hits, including a grand slam that was his first homer of the year. An unsung hero for the Majors was freshman Brady Davis, who recorded the last five outs to snuff out any BSC comeback hopes. … Meanwhile, tough times continued for Mississippi Valley State, which was swept in a home SWAC series against Alabama State to fall to 0-13. Two of the Delta Devils’ six SWAC losses were by one run and two were by two runs. Valley hasn’t scored more than four runs in any game and has managed that total only twice.
Millsaps College and Belhaven University, NCAA Division III programs in bounce-back mode, are slated to open the 2020 season today. The Majors, 10-33 in 2019, are hosting LeTourneau at Twenty Field on their Jackson campus, while the Blazers, 11-29 in Hill Denson’s final season as coach, play a pair of games (Randolph-Macon and Huntingdon) in a tournament in Montgomery, Ala. For BU, today’s games mark the debut of coach Kyle Palmer, previously director of baseball operations at California Baptist and an assistant at East Texas Baptist prior to that. The Blazers’ top player is Justin Milam, a former Madison Central and Northwest Mississippi Community College standout who hit .296 with five homers and 27 RBIs in 2019. At Millsaps, Jim Page enters his 32nd season with a 774-498-3 record but coming off what he calls “the toughest year we’ve ever had.” The bar for success is high at Millsaps, which has made eight D-III regional appearances under Page and in 2013 went to the College World Series. The Majors’ undoing in 2019 was a pitching staff that posted a 7.48 ERA, but Page said in a school-produced video that he is encouraged by what he saw in fall workouts. He wants his pitchers to throw strikes and trust the defense to make plays. “It’s going to come down to that,” he said. Lefty Taylor Sullivan was a bright spot in 2019, going 3-0 with a 4.11 ERA. With Mason Little (.331) on the shelf with an injury, the top returning hitter is Jimmy Johnstone, who batted .304.
In-state rivalry games do add a certain spice to the college season. Southern Miss and Mississippi State engaged in a compelling three-game series in Starkville last month, and Wednesday at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium, Millsaps College and Belhaven University battled it out in the first game of the Maloney Trophy Series. The Blazers, behind the arm of Kyle Whittington (two hits, 11 strikeouts in five innings) and the bat of Steven Liuzza (4-for-5, four RBIs), won 13-7, weathering a late Majors comeback. Freshmen Chris Hart (from Northwest Rankin High) and Brayden Stensaas (Pearl) drove in three runs each for Millsaps. BU improved to 6-7, while scuffling Millsaps fell to 3-12. Game 2 of the three-game series between the NCAA Division III rivals is March 19 at Millsaps’ Twenty Field. Also this month we get the first round of the SWAC home-and-homes, with Jackson State visiting Mississippi Valley State March 15-17, Alcorn State trekking to Valley March 22-24 and ASU visiting JSU March 29-31. On March 20, at MGM Park in Biloxi, D-II Mississippi College and NAIA William Carey will hook up. And looming in April are the Trustmark Park College Series games in Pearl: Ole Miss-USM on April 9 and the UM-State Governor’s Cup clash April 23. Those are always spicy.
Busy schedule at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium (with its artificial surface) this weekend: Millsaps College will play Wisconsin-Platteville on Friday at 2, followed by a Belhaven University-UWP game. On Saturday at 10, Millsaps and UWP will meet again, followed by a doubleheader between Belhaven and Centenary. Millsaps and Centenary will hook up on Sunday at 11, followed by a doubleheader (at 2) between Mississippi College and Gulf South rival West Georgia. That series will conclude on Monday with a noon start. … Unbeaten Delta State bolted to No. 7 – up eight spots – in the new NCBWA Division II poll. The Statesmen are 9-0 heading into a three-game series vs. Union University this weekend at Cleveland’s Ferriss Field. Mississippi College (7-3), ranked as high as No. 7 in one preseason poll, is 18th in the writers poll. … MUW opened its second season with a doubleheader sweep, 10-2 and 12-6, of Lane College on Monday at Columbus High’s field. Owls leadoff batter Heath Ford went 3-for-8 with three RBIs in the two games, and Leon Petite had two hits, three runs and three RBIs. … Tougaloo College and Rust College faced off in a Gulf Coast Athletic Conference series over the weekend, with the host Bulldogs winning both games to improve to 2-5. Rust is a new member of the GCAC this season. … Pearl River Community College’s Shemar Page and Jones County JC’s O’Neil Burgos were named the MACJC pitcher and hitter of the week. Page, a sophomore right-hander from Raleigh, threw five hitless innings with 10 strikeouts in a win last weekend against St. Louis CC. Burgos, freshman out of Brookhaven Academy, went 7-for-13 with a homer and four RBIs in the Bobcats’ 4-0 week. … Meridian CC, ranked No. 4 in preseason by Collegiate Baseball, is off to a 2-2 start with a doubleheader slated for Sunday against Copiah-Lincoln CC at Hartfield Academy in Flowood, just down the highway from Smith-Wills.
“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.
With nine wins in its first 12 games and three straight blowout victories, Millsaps College heads into its first conference series of the year riding a wave of positivity. The Majors, who host Rhodes in Southern Athletic Association play at Twenty Field this weekend, have scored at least 11 runs in their last three games, including an 11-2 win against local rival Belhaven University on Tuesday. Brennan Ducote, a junior from Lafayette, La., has been the main masher, with a .500 average, two homers, 14 RBIs and 11 runs. He hit .279 with one homer last year. Jimmy Johnstone is batting .429 and former Northwest Rankin High star Chase Callaway .386 for the Majors, hitting .314 as a team. Connor Haynes is 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA on the bump. The Majors went 19-23 in 2017 after a 20-21 finish the year before, uncharacteristic campaigns for an NCAA Division III program that has won 64 percent of its games since Jim Page became the coach in 1989.
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.
Millsaps College will play at Twenty Field this weekend without Keith Shumaker for the first time in five years. The Majors, hosting the three-team Millsaps Invitational, play LaGrange on Friday in their home opener. They went 1-2 in a tournament in Alabama last weekend. Shumaker, the team’s best all-around hitter and pitcher in 2015, was the Southern Athletic Association player of the year and an NCAA Division III All-America as a senior, leading the Majors to a 29-14 finish and an at-large berth in the D-III regionals. Among the familiar faces in purple and white this season is coach Jim Page, who typically finds a way to win. He has 701 career W’s. Page has some experienced talent back in the fold in Isaac Glenn, an All-America candidate who hit .425 last year; Andy Page, .331 in 2015 as a freshman; and Lee Ogletree, .305 last year. Those three combined for nine hits in an 11-7 romp against Southwestern last weekend. P.S. In case you missed it, Rust College opened its season last weekend at Loyola-New Orleans with three losses. The Bearcats, who play in NCAA D-III, were outscored by the NAIA Wolf Pack 54-8.
Delta State junior Jacob Swiney was named to the Preseason All-Gulf South Conference squad announced on Wednesday. The Biloxi native, also cited as a top player in NCAA Division II by Collegiate Baseball, batted .396 with three home runs and 35 RBIs last season, making All-GSC first team. Junior college transfer pitchers Dalton Moats and Jacob Howell were listed on the GSC’s top newcomer list. The Statesmen were pegged for a third-place finish in the league. … Mississippi College’s Will Elliott and Perry Turner also made the list of top newcomers in the GSC. Elliott, a junior outfielder from Oxford, is a transfer from Alabama. Turner, a junior pitcher, came in from Jones County Junior College. MC, still in transition to D-II, is not yet eligible for the GSC championship. … Millsaps College outfielder Isaac Glenn was an honorable mention pick on the d3baseball.com preseason All-America team. The junior from Madison hit .436 with 17 doubles and 45 RBIs in 2015. He led the Southern Athletic Association last year in slugging and on-base percentage. … Jackson State had three players named to the Black College Nine preseason All-America team. Third baseman Jesus Santana and DH Sam Campbell were named to the first team and outfielder Lamar Briggs to the second team. Santana led the Tigers and the SWAC with 12 home runs in 2015. … Former USM and MLB standout Chad Bradford will be the keynote speaker at the Southern Miss Dugout Club Banquet on Feb. 6. Bradford played at Byram High School and Hinds Community College before signing with USM. He went 5-4 with a 3.59 earned run average and three saves in 1996, his only season with the Golden Eagles. The submarine-style right-hander, featured in “Moneyball,” pitched for 12 years in the majors, posting a 36-28 overall record with a 3.26 ERA. He served as pitching coach at Hinds CC in 2014-15. … Tougaloo, one of three GCAC schools that play baseball, will be eligible to compete for the Association of Independent Institutions Baseball Championship this year. A total of 15 teams will vie for eight spots and a chance to play for one of the three NAIA Tournament bids given to the tournament champion, runner-up and third-place finisher. The Bulldogs went 7-40 in 2015 in the first year of coach Earl Sanders’ second stint with the program. P.S. Former Mississippi Braves third baseman Wes Timmons is the new coach at Shorter University, which plays in the Gulf South Conference.