“Of Mudcat, Boo, The Rope and Oil Can … An Informal History of Mississippians in Major League Baseball,” written by yours truly and published by Sartoris Literary Group, will be released this week. Paperbacks will be available at Lemuria Books in Jackson, Book Mart in Starkville, Amazon, barnesandnoble.com, booksamillion.com. They will soon be available at Books-a-Million stores in Mississippi. Ebooks will be released on Wednesday, Oct. 15. Will be on Amazon, B&N, itunes/Apple, Kobo, etc. Book signings are scheduled for Lemuria on Thursday, Oct. 16, from 5-7 p.m. and Book Mart on Friday, Oct. 17, from 3-5 p.m.
Whappp. Hear that? It was the book closing — a bit belatedly — on the college season in the Magnolia State. It was a page-turner, from beginning (Belhaven lost to LSU-Alexandria on Jan. 31) to end (Ole Miss fell to Virginia in the College World Series on June 21). Lots of good stuff for the highlight pen. Each of the state’s Big Four NCAA Division I schools posted winning seasons, and three of them made the NCAA postseason. Ole Miss might have had the best season — and best team — its ever had. The Rebels, who featured good power, speed and pitching, went 48-21 and had nine players drafted by MLB clubs. Mississippi State finished 39-24 and fell in the NCAA regional at Lafayette, La. Jackson State (32-25), which won the SWAC Tournament, made the same regional, beating No. 1-ranked Louisiana-Lafayette in its first game. Southern Miss (35-25) saw its season end in the Conference USA Tournament, one win shy of playing for the title. Alcorn State (9-40) and Mississippi Valley (4-38) endured tough years, though the Braves beat JSU four of six times and the Delta Devils also took a series from the Tigers. Delta State went 38-13, finished first in the Gulf South Conference race and played in a D-II regional. Belhaven finished 42-21 and hosted an NAIA regional. William Carey (31-26), Millsaps (23-19) and Mississippi College (21-19) posted winning seasons; the Choctaws had a winning record in the American Southwest Conference in their last season in D-III. Blue Mountain (12-36), still a fledgling program, scuffled in its first year in the Southern States Athletic Conference, and Tougaloo, also in a building mode, went 12-31-1. The junior colleges also provided some compelling storylines. Jones County JC held the NJCAA No. 1 ranking for a big chunk of the year, and East Mississippi enjoyed one of its best seasons on record. And then there was Hinds, which could hardly have scripted a more exciting season. The Eagles won the Region 23 Tournament, beating the top two teams in the nation, and then marched all the way to the juco World Series championship game. All in all, the 2014 campaign had the feel of a best seller.
It’s not too early to start thinking about it. Mississippi State vs. Ole Miss in a Super Regional at Oxford-University Stadium (a.k.a. Swayze Field) next weekend. State is undefeated in the Lafayette Regional heading into a game tonight against host Louisiana-Lafayette. (ULL exacted its revenge on Jackson State today, ending the Tigers’ season.) Ole Miss is undefeated in the Oxford Regional heading into Monday’s play. Don’t bet against both the Bulldogs and Rebels getting through. Pitting those two rivals in a best-of-3 series with a trip to the College World Series hanging in the balance would be some kind of show. State went to the CWS just last year, finishing runner-up to UCLA, and would dearly love to paint Omaha maroon again this summer. Ole Miss hasn’t been to the CWS since 1972. ’Nuff said. Recall that the Rebels beat the Bulldogs two of three in Starkville in early April in their SEC series. UM won the rubber game 12-2, pounding out 20 hits in front of a stunned Dudy Noble Field crowd. The teams played again on April 22 in the Governor’s Cup at Trustmark Park in Pearl. State won 8-3. The atmosphere that night was electric, but it won’t hold a candle to what Oxford will be like if the Super Regional matchup happens. It’ll be Mississippi Madness. Just think about it. P.S. Columbia High shortstop Ti’Quan Forbes is projected to be chosen by the Atlanta Braves with the 32nd pick, according to Baseball America’s latest MLB mock draft. The Braves got that pick as compensation for losing Brian McCann to free agency.
It’s getting very interesting for Hinds Community College in the NJCAA Division II World Series. Only two unbeatens remain in the double-elimination tournament – and the Eagles are one of them. Half of the original 10-team field has been sent home, and another will be eliminated in today’s first game at Enid, Okla., when Mercer County (N.J.) plays Pasco-Hernando (Fla.). Hinds (38-19 overall, 3-0 in Enid) meets fellow unbeaten Madison (Wis.) in the second game. Hinds beat Pasco-Hernando 9-4 on Tuesday behind the brilliant pitching of freshman Houston Case (five-hit complete game) and homers from Matt Jones (his 10th) and Marshall Boggs. Madison, which has played only two games, had Tuesday off. The Wolfpack is 44-15. Keith Browning leads the hitters with a .372 average and 42 RBIs. The pitching staff has a 2.84 ERA for the season and has yielded just three runs in the tournament. For what it’s worth, Madison also has a lot of impressive history: eight juco World Series appearances and three national titles (the last in 1997). The Wolfpack finished third last year. Win or lose tonight, Hinds will play again on Thursday. Mesa (Ariz.) will play the Hinds-Madison winner.
The uniforms said “Delta State,” but the performance at the NCAA Division II South Regional didn’t seem to fit. DSU, 38-11 going in, went 2-and-out in Tampa, Fla., losing to Florida Southern on Thursday and No. 1-ranked Tampa today. The Statesmen, who batted an amazing .331 as a team this season and averaged 7.4 runs per game, scored a total of seven in their two losses. What’s more, standout pitchers Michael Manley and Jonathan Moody, a combined 17-5 with an ERA around 2.50 this year, both took losses. Manley, an All-Gulf South Conference pick from Raymond, was KO’d by Florida Southern in its seven-run sixth inning on Thursday, an 8-4 loss for DSU. Manley’s line: five-plus innings, six hits, two walks, four runs. Today, Moody went seven, allowing four runs on six hits and a walk, but he left with the Statesmen trailing. Standout reliever Taylor Stark then yielded three more runs in his one inning-plus as DSU fell 7-3 to Tampa, a 39-2 juggernaut. The unfortunate timing of this uncharacteristic showing means DSU’s dreams of returning to the College World Series for the 10th anniversary of its 2004 championship have ended.
It’s a quiet day at college ballparks around the state — except in Ellisville, where fireworks are in the offing. No. 1-ranked Jones County Junior College plays East Central and Hinds tangles with No. 2 LSU-Eunice in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. … Belhaven University’s season ended Wednesday at Smith-Wills Stadium when the Blazers lost for a second time to NAIA No. 3 Oklahoma Wesleyan. No shame in that. BU (42-21) went 2-2 in the NAIA regional, including a win over Houston-Victoria, coached by former major leaguer Terry Puhl. … At Tampa, Fla., Delta State takes on Florida Southern in the NCAA Division II South Regional. … At New Orleans, Jackson State and Alcorn State, both upset winners in the SWAC Tournament’s opening round, are back on the field today. JSU, coming off a win over West Division champ Arkansas-Pine Bluff, plays Alabama A&M; Alcorn gets tourney favorite Alabama State. … The Division I Big 3 are all on the road to finish conference play. League tournaments are next week. Southern Miss, third in Conference USA, is at Charlotte. Ole Miss and Mississippi State, which rank 1-2 in the SEC West standings, play at Texas A&M and Alabama, respectively.
Funny things do happen in tournament baseball, and unlike last year, that might be Jackson State’s best hope in the SWAC Tournament that started today in New Orleans. J-State was the league’s best team heading into the 2013 event and then won it, earning an NCAA regional berth. Omar Johnson’s Tigers go in this year as a No. 4 seed. They went just 9-15 in the league (27-23 overall). They open with West Division champion Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and looming large over the entire field is East champ Alabama State, which went 21-3 in the league (5-1 vs. JSU) and recently beat nationally ranked Miami. JSU features league newcomer of the year Tilur Smith, a first baseman from Richton, who batted .340 with three homers and 26 RBIs. Desmond Russell (7-4, 3.44 ERA) is the ace of a staff that put up a respectable 4.17 ERA. Third baseman Melvin Rodriguez batted .298 with three homers and 40 RBIs and made All-SWAC first team. The Tigers could use some production from Charles Tillery, the preseason player of the year who has struggled (.219). They could also use some funny bounces that go their way.
Though it has notched another 30-win season and currently holds third place in the Conference USA standings, Southern Miss has not had a good year with the bats. The team is hitting .244 and no individual is batting above .280. But the Golden Eagles and their fans have to be encouraged by the recent performance of Connor Barron, the one-time prized recruit who has scuffled for most of his three seasons in Hattiesburg. Barron is riding a career-best eight-game hit streak. The center fielder/leadoff batter has lifted his average to .259, second on the club to Matt Durst’s .279. Barron has four homers, nine doubles, 19 RBIs and 28 runs. During his injury-hampered freshman and sophomore seasons, Barron batted .250 and .198; he had no homers and 19 RBIs total. This was not what was expected of a player drafted in the third round (by the Florida Marlins) in 2011. This was not what was expected of a player who batted .490 with eight homers as a senior at powerhouse Sumrall High. But maybe things have turned for Barron, and it would be good timing. USM finishes regular season play with a three-game C-USA series at Charlotte starting Thursday, then hosts the C-USA Tournament next week. Its postseason fate likely will be determined there. P.S. In what could be the event’s pivotal game, Belhaven (41-19) meets top-seed Oklahoma Wesleyan (53-6) today at 2:30 in the winners bracket of the NAIA regional at Smith-Wills Stadium. … Of the five finalists for the Ferriss Trophy, you could build a good case for BU’s Tyler Akins, who is batting .340 and has 17 saves. Akins is joined by Ole Miss’ Auston Bousfield and Chris Ellis and Mississippi State’s Ross Mitchell and Jacob Lindgren as finalists for the award that goes to the state’s best college player.
Expect the Belhaven Blazers to kick up a lot of dust during this week’s NAIA opening round tournament. Well, they won’t actually be kicking up dust because Smith-Wills Stadium has an artificial surface — but the Blazers’ feet will be flying. That’s their game. The team has stolen 194 bases in racking up 40 wins. Five BU players have swiped double-figure totals. Reagan Rutledge has 59 bags (in 63 attempts), Paul Pickerrell 35, Emilio DeSilva 33, Dominick Francia 26 and Tyler Akins 11. This is not a team of mashers. Akins, the former Madison Central High and Hinds Community College star, leads the club with four home runs. Homers are hard to hit at Smith-Wills, especially with today’s bats. Stealing bases helped BU win 31 of 35 games there. Of course, you need some pitching depth, as well, to have postseason success, and the Blazers have a nice stable of arms. Boomer Scarborough, the Southern Miss transfer, won nine games with a 3.55 ERA. Preseason All-America pick Chris Good went 4-2, 3.73 and Ben Allison 6-0, 2.32. Austin McCann has a 1.98 ERA in 32 relief appearances, and Akins has notched a school record 17 saves. BU will try to dash past Oklahoma City today at 2:30. Oklahoma Wesleyan, which will play in today’s third game, is the top seed in the five-team regional.
Delta State, celebrating the 10th anniversary of its 2004 NCAA Division II national championship, will begin its quest for another title on Thursday against Florida Southern in the South Regional at Tampa, Fla. The Statesmen (38-11) are the No. 3 seed. The top seed is No. 1-ranked Tampa, which is 47-2. Also in the regional are Lynn, Stillman and Alabama-Huntsville, which beat DSU in the title game of the Gulf South Conference Tournament. … MACJC champion Jones County Junior College opens NJCAA Region 23 Tournament play on Thursday against East Central; Hinds and LSU-Eunice meet in the other first-round game at Community Bank Park in Ellisville. JCJC (43-9) is ranked No. 1 in Division II; LSU-E (41-11) is No. 2. Jones overcame a challenge from Hinds in Saturday’s state championship final, winning the clincher by run rule (14-3) with an eight-run seventh inning. Trent Giambrone’s three-run homer ended it. Jones last won the state title in 2011 and also claimed the region crown — and a Juco World Series berth — that season. LSU-E has won four national championships since 2006 and was national runner-up a year ago. But the Bengals were just 10-8 away from home this season. So there is hope for the Mississippi schools. … As of Sunday night, the SWAC still had not released the bracket for its tournament, which starts Wednesday in New Orleans. Alcorn State and Jackson State are in the field as the Nos. 3 and 4 teams from the East Division. JSU (27-23) won the tournament last year but has had a rough season, one made even more stressful when the team bus, with much of their equipment, caught fire during a road trip on May 5. The trip was aborted; JSU last played on May 3. … Belhaven University begins play today against Oklahoma City in the NAIA regional (opening round) it is hosting at Smith-Wills Stadium.