The sound of pads popping, whistles blowing and bands playing can mean only one thing: Fall ball is just around the corner. Returning Ole Miss players were all over Baseball America’s rankings of the top prospects in various summer leagues. Ryan Rolison, who went 4-0 with a 1.93 ERA in the Cape Cod League, made BA’s list of the top prospects in that highly regarded circuit. UM’s Parker Caracci was tabbed as the best prospect in the Ripken Collegiate League, where he posted seven wins and a 0.70 ERA. First baseman Cole Zabowski also made the Ripken top 10. Pitcher Houston Roth was on the publication’s list of top prospects in the Perfect Game Collegiate League, and Dallas Woolfolk was a rather obvious standout (four saves, 0.87 ERA) for USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team. … Mississippi State left-hander Konnor Pilkington, who could be the first Mississippian picked in the 2018 draft, also pitched well for Team USA, and Bulldogs catcher Dustin Skelton made BA’s Perfect Game prospect rankings. … Mississippi College outfielder Blaine Crim was ranked among the top prospects in the Great Lakes Collegiate League, and Will Freeman, a sophomore right-hander at Jones County Junior College, was rated No. 1 in the Prospect League. Alabama native Freeman was 3-1 with five saves and a 1.80 ERA as a freshman for state champion JCJC. … Mississippi State’s new freshman class includes three members of Baseball America’s Top 500 draft prospects from 2017: outfielder Jordan Anderson, pitcher Chad Bryant and outfielder Owen Lovell. Ole Miss has two of the Top 500: pitcher Jordan Fowler and first baseman Tim Elko. … Southern Miss welcomes back standout closer Nick Sandlin, who showed good stuff in the Cape Cod League, and Matt Wallner, who won several national freshman player of the year awards last season. … Delta State returns a bunch of players from its NCAA Division II College World Series team, including slugger Zack Shannon, who earned a boatload of conference, regional and national honors. … Mississippi University for Women will have a fall program for its first class of recruits. MUW, which has applied for NCAA Division III membership, will launch its inaugural season in 2018. Coach Matt Wolfenbarger is a former Coahoma Community College pitching coach and Delta Academy head coach. The Owls announced 35 commitments from prep and juco players for the coming season and will hold an open tryout on Saturday at Columbus High, where the W will practice and play. The 2018 schedule includes games against Rust, Tougaloo, Blue Mountain and Belhaven.
Tough call on the hottest spot this weekend. You could go with Hattiesburg, where Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic will face off for first place in Conference USA. Or you could go with College Station, Texas, where SEC championship contenders Mississippi State and Texas A&M are hooking up; the Aggies won Game 1 9-2 on Thursday. Of course, in Gainesville, Fla., you’ve got Ole Miss, battling for an NCAA regional spot, taking on Florida, also still in the SEC title conversation. Meanwhile, at Braddy Field in Jackson, Jackson State looks to secure first place in the SWAC East when it meets Alabama A&M. Cast a glance, too, at Montgomery, Ala., where William Carey plays Faulkner today in a winner’s bracket game in the SSAC Tournament. The loser will play Blue Mountain later today in an elimination game; the Toppers stayed alive on Thursday by whipping Martin Methodist 11-1. Carey already has earned an NAIA regional host bid. But hold on. Even with all of this other stuff going on, Cleveland wins. The Gulf South Conference Tournament begins Saturday at Ferriss Field with both top seed Delta State and seventh-seeded Mississippi College in action in separate four-team pools. The only way the two could meet again is in the championship game on Tuesday. DSU has won 13 tournament titles and, considering how the Statesmen dominated the regular season, is the odds-on favorite to win again. MC, officially back in the NCAA Division II GSC this season after 20-plus years, qualified for the tournament with an impressive late surge that included a win over Delta State last week. Second-year coach Jeremy Haworth’s team went 20-25 overall. MC’s last GSC Tournament appearance came in 1996, when the Choctaws went 2-and-out. The team’s best result came in 1984, when it won the South Division Tournament and lost to North Alabama in the championship series. P.S. Awards have been rolling in, including GSC player and coach of the year honors for DSU’s Zack Shannon and Mike Kinnison; SSAC player of the year for Carey’s James Land; and a national player of the week award for MC’s Blaine Crim. … The five finalists for the Ferriss Trophy will be named on Sunday, May 14. The announcement ceremony, featuring former Ole Miss star and big leaguer Don Kessinger, is May 22.
There’s a lot on the line this weekend when Mississippi College hosts old rival Delta State to finish the regular season at Frierson Field in Clinton. MC (19-23) is 14-15 and in seventh place in the Gulf South Conference standings. The top eight teams make the GSC Tournament. DSU (35-10), ranked No. 1 in the South Region and as high as third overall in NCAA Division II, is first (23-7) in the league and trying to nail down the top seed in the tournament. The top seed hosts. After a terrible start, MC has won 17 of its last 23, including a clutch series win at Lee University last weekend. Led by Casey Echols (.347), the Choctaws have seven regulars batting .307 or better. But MC’s pitching (6.07 ERA) will need to step up. DSU is the GSC’s best offensive club, batting .323 with 44 homers. Zack Shannon has been amazing: .461, 13 homers, 71 RBIs. And the pitching quartet of Seth Birdsong, Corey Beard, Tre Hobbs and closer Zach Osbon makes taking a series from the Statesmen a tall order. DSU leads the all-time series 106-29-1. The teams play one game today and doubleheader on Saturday. … Millsaps begins Southern Athletic Association postseason play against Hendrix at Memphis today. Millsaps (17-22) is the sixth overall seed and is playing in the four-team bracket hosted by Rhodes, the No. 2 seed. Andy Page (.397), Lee Ogletree (.303, five homers, 34 RBIs) and Jacob Mardick (8-2, 2.59) have had all-conference type seasons for the Majors. … Blue Mountain finishes an SSAC series against Brewton-Parker at home today after sweeping a twinbill on Thursday. With Caleb Leach (.368, five homers, 35 RBIs) and Dustin Allen (8-3, 3.04) leading the way, the Toppers (30-23, 11-12) already had clinched a spot in next week’s conference tourney at Montgomery, Ala. William Carey (17-7 SSAC) also will be there. The NAIA nationally ranked Crusaders (34-15) are finishing up a non-conference series against Stillman College in Hattiesburg today. James Land hit his 15th bomb in a 16-6 win on Thursday. … Tougaloo finished its regular season 10-42, including a pair of home losses to Miles on Wednesday. Earl Sanders’ Bulldogs lost 18 of their last 19 and went 0-6 against GCAC competition. … Belhaven (26-14) is awaiting word on a bid to the NCCAA Tournament; regionals begin the week of May 15.
It started on March 12 in an unlikely place against an unlikely opponent. Mississippi College limped into Union University’s Fesmire Field in Jackson, Tenn., with a 2-17 record and seven straight losses. The host Bulldogs were 17-3, leading the Gulf South Conference with a 7-2 record and freshly ranked 24th in NCAA Division II. But just when it seemed as if “Taps” had become the anthem for their season, the Choctaws changed the tune. In the opener of a twinbill played on a chilly Sunday, MC’s Hunter Lacefield, a Northwest Mississippi Community College transfer, and Zack Ingram, a true freshman, combined to hold Union to three hits. Clutch knocks by Hunter Wilson and Casey Echols put the Choctaws up 4-2 in the fifth inning, and they rolled on to win 7-2. Union’s Game 2 starter was Teddy Christie, who sported a 5-0 record. Cue up the “Rocky” music. MC beat Christie 5-4. The Choctaws capitalized on four Union errors and the stout pitching of Hunter Mullis and Tommy Taborda. MC has lost only one game since; the 12-inning win against nationally ranked Southern Arkansas on Wednesday was the team’s ninth straight. At 10-10 in the GSC, they’ve climbed to seventh (of 12) in the standings. They’re fourth in the league in hitting, and the staff ERA, so bad early on, is trending in the right direction, a hair above 4.00 over the last nine games. North Alabama, 13-8 in the league, comes to Frierson Field this weekend for a series that could be very big for the Choctaws in their charge to make the GSC Tournament. Is that “Reveille” playing in the background? P.S. William Carey has dominated its series against Blue Mountain, beating the Toppers 15 times in 16 meetings. They meet again this weekend in an SSAC series at the new BMC SportsPlex, and it could get interesting. Nationally ranked Carey is 25-10, 11-4 in the league. BMC is 25-15, 6-6. James Land and Tyler Graves carry the big bats for the Crusaders, and the Toppers’ Caleb Leach has emerged as one of the SSAC’s best hitters. Three of the conference’s top base stealers also will be on hand: Carey’s Tyler James and Adrian Brown and BMC’s Miciah Heard. … As part of Hinds Community College’s centennial celebration, the school is hosting a tribute to the baseball program tonight in Raymond. Hinds was the first Mississippi school to reach the Juco World Series back in 1989, the year the program was merged with Utica’s. The 2014 Eagles were one win away from claiming the NJCAA Division II national title, which also would have been a first for the state. Jones County JC pulled off that feat last summer.
Corey Dickerson: The Meridian Community College product from McComb notched the first hit and first run of the MLB season in Tampa Bay’s win against the New York Yankees on Sunday.
Kendall Graveman: The ex-Mississippi State standout will start the opener tonight for Oakland against the visiting Los Angeles Angels; he was 10-11, 4.11 in 2016.
Zack Ingram: The freshman from Alabama threw a no-hitter for Mississippi College as the Choctaws completed a GSC series sweep at Valdosta State; Ingram is 2-4, 4.25 for MC, now 13-18, 10-10.
Spencer Price: Mississippi State’s closer got the save in all three games as the Bulldogs (19-10, 6-3 SEC) took down nationally ranked Ole Miss (16-12, 3-6) in Oxford; MCC transfer Price has nine saves all told for State, now ranked No. 22 by Baseball America.
J.C. Keys: The Southern Miss senior out of Oak Grove tossed a one-hitter as the Golden Eagles finished off a C-USA series sweep at Western Kentucky; Keys is 2-1, 3.46 for nationally ranked USM, now 24-5 (8-1 C-USA) heading into Tuesday’s clash with Ole Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
Zack Shannon: The Delta State junior went 7-for-10 with 10 RBIs as the Statesmen swept a GSC series from Christian Brothers, a team they’ve beaten 47 straight times; juco transfer Shannon is batting .450 with nine homers for NCAA Division II nationally ranked DSU (25-8, 16-5).
Miguel Yrigoyen: The Jackson State senior tossed a seven-hitter as the Tigers finished off a SWAC sweep of Alabama A&M; Yrigoyen (4-2) walked one and fanned seven for the Tigers (22-11, 9-3).
Larson Barkurn: The senior from Petal delivered a walk-off hit that snapped a four-game skid and propelled William Carey to a doubleheader sweep and series victory over SSAC foe Bethel; the NAIA nationally ranked Crusaders are 25-10, 11-4.
Tanner Huddleston and Erick Hoard: The Jones County Junior College teammates notched back-to-back four-RBI games as the Bobcats beat Northeast 13-1 and 15-2; NJCAA D-II No. 1-ranked Jones (27-1, 9-1) is back atop the MACJC standings thanks to Itawamba’s sweep of Pearl River.
A dreadful start is becoming a distant memory for Mississippi College. After losing 17 of their first 19, the Choctaws have slugged their way to seven victories in their last eight games, including winning three straight Gulf South Conference series. They swept West Georgia at Frierson Field in Clinton this weekend, taking Saturday’s doubleheader 15-11 and 10-1. Hunter Austin and Will Elliott drove in three runs each in the first game, though the overshadowed hero may have been pitcher Jake Fraze, who delivered 4 1/3 innings of stellar relief as MC held off the Wolves. In Game 2, Hunter Mullis tossed a four-hitter, and Blaine Crim and Casey Echols delivered big hits. Led by Chance Whitten (.330, seven homers, 19 RBIs), Echols (.364) and Elliott (.286, three homers, 18 RBIs), MC’s hitting has been productive most of the season, Jeremy Haworth’s second as coach. What the Choctaws need is more pitching along the lines of what Fraze and Mullis provided on Saturday. The staff ERA is 6.38. MC faces an interesting showdown against William Carey on Tuesday at Frierson Field. The Crusaders are 23-7 (with a game against Mobile today) and ranked ninth in NAIA. And Carey hitters can rake: .313 average, 9.2 runs per game. P.S. Delta State is also on a roll, moving to 21-7 with a sweep of GSC foe North Alabama on Saturday. The Statesmen, who’ve won seven straight, scored 26 runs in those two wins, 18 in Game 2, in which Clay Casey went 4-for-4 with four RBIs and four runs and Josh Russell knocked in five runs.
It’s a road trip weekend for the state’s small colleges. The only one slated for a home game is Tougaloo, which will start its three-game series against Loyola-New Orleans in Biloxi today before returning to Jackson on Saturday. … Delta State (15-7, 7-5 Gulf South) travels to Alabama-Huntsville. The Statesmen lost a home conference series against West Georgia last weekend, then bounced back with an 8-1 win over Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday. Zack Shannon, batting .442, hit his fourth homer of the year in that win. … Mississippi College is hoping to ride some momentum from a twinbill sweep at Union last Sunday as it takes on Christian Brothers in Memphis in a GSC series. Casey Echols (.393) continues to sizzle for the Choctaws, now 4-17, 2-9. … William Carey, ranked 12th in the new NAIA poll, takes its 19-5 record to Brewton-Parker for a Southern States Athletic Conference series. The Crusaders, 5-1 in league play, will look for more big things from Tyler Graves, batting .427 with 38 RBIs. … Blue Mountain (16-10, 2-4), which got a one-hitter this week from Jonas White against Crowley’s Ridge, travels to Bethel for an SSAC series. … Belhaven (10-7, 2-4) and slugging Stephen Sexton (.361, six homers) head to Texas to tangle with American Southwest Conference foe McMurry. … Millsaps takes on longtime rival Rhodes in a Southern Athletic Association series. The Majors are just 8-10 (0-2 SAA) but are one of just two teams to beat Emory, the No. 1-ranked team in NCAA Division III.