Zack Ingram, a sophomore right-hander at Mississippi College, was named both the Gulf South Conference and NCAA Division II South Region pitcher of the week this week. He is 4-0 with a 3.16 ERA this season, and he threw a no-hitter for the Choctaws in 2017. Ingram is the well-credentialed ace of a pitching staff that will be challenged, to say the least, when MC visits Delta State for a GSC series this weekend in Cleveland. They’ll play a doubleheader Saturday and a single game Sunday at Ferriss Field. Highly ranked DSU, which already has clinched the GSC regular season title, is 36-7 (21-4), led by an offense that is batting .340, slugging .522 and tallying 10 runs a game. Clay Casey is the reigning GSC player of the week and is batting .362 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs. He’s not even the Statesmen’s best hitter. That’s Golden Spikes Award candidate Zack Shannon (.439, school-record 27 homers, 80 RBIs). Oh, and Emil Ellis is hitting .395. MC is 28-13 (17-8 GSC) and enjoying one of its best years in a while. Chris Crosby (5-3, 3.73), Hunter Mullis (5-3, 4.39) and Brandon Kennedy (3.34) are other high-performing members of the pitching staff. The Choctaws can hit a little, too, with seven regulars at .300 or better, led by Blaine Crim at .370. DSU leads this old rivalry 119-41-2, but the series stands 6-3 since MC returned to the GSC. And Ingram beat the Statesmen – with much the same lineup — last year, so there’s a blueprint.
Well, now, that was some kind of weekend in college baseball. Mississippi State swept Arkansas. Ole Miss took two of three from Georgia. Southern Miss took three from Middle Tennessee State. Jackson State won a series against Alabama State. Alcorn State took two of three from visiting Mississippi Valley. Delta State claimed the Gulf South championship with a sweep at North Alabama as Zack Shannon broke the school’s single-season homer record. William Carey won a Saturday rubber game against Blue Mountain. Millsaps put up a fight at the SAA Tournament, going 2-2. But let’s focus for a moment, if that’s possible, on Mississippi College. The Choctaws beat West Alabama two of three at Frierson Field in Clinton, clinching a berth in the GSC Tournament for the second straight season. MC is 28-12, 17-8 in the league. Remember that the Choctaws were 17-30 two years ago in Jeremy Haworth’s first season there and 12-34 the year before he arrived. That’s some kind of progress. MC’s best hitter has been Blaine Crim, who homered and drove in three runs in Saturday’s series clincher. He is batting .380 with nine home runs and 48 RBIs, all team-bests. MC’s pitching also has improved dramatically under Haworth. The weekend starters – Chris Crosby, Hunter Mullis and Zack Ingram – are a combined 14-6 with a 3.73 ERA. So, what’s next? For MC, there’s a trip to Delta State next weekend. Buckle up.
MGM Park in Biloxi would be a nice place to post up today. The home of the Southern League’s Shuckers is hosting a college doubleheader: Mississippi College-William Carey University at 1 p.m., Mississippi State-Southeastern Louisiana at 6:35. The Bulldogs are 10-6, having recovered – apparently – from their 0-3 start at Southern Miss and the dismissal of their head coach for off-field issues. This will be their final tuneup for SEC play, which starts Friday against Vanderbilt in Starkville. Unsung Southeastern Louisiana, which always seems to have a good team, is 11-6. The Lions’ roster includes several Mississippians, notably Trey Shaffer, last year’s state Gatorade Player of the Year at Biloxi High, and ex-Hinds Community College star Kyle Schimpf. No less intriguing is the MC-Carey game, which could evolve into an annual rivalry. Both are nationally ranked, MC (15-3) in NCAA Division II, Carey (18-5) in NAIA. The resurgent Choctaws claimed two walk-off wins last weekend, one on a homer by Blaine Crim. Crim, at .351, is one of six regulars batting .350 or better, topped by Billy Cameron, a former Mendenhall High and East Central CC standout, at .464. He has four homers and 17 RBIs. This will be just the fourth game away from home for Carey, which went to the NAIA World Series in 2017. Christian Smith, from Carriere, has been the Crusaders’ sparkplug, batting .329 with 21 runs and 20 steals, leading a team that has 55 bags. David Pimentel adds pop with three homers and 16 RBIs.
As much as baseball aficionados love to throw around statistics, there’s only one that really matters. Runs. Score more than the other guy and you’ll never lose. Delta State has done a pretty good job of that and has a 13-1 record to show for it. The Statesmen, currently ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II, have scored 128 runs (9.1 per game, which is tough to beat) to their opponents’ 71. Zack Shannon, the highly decorated senior slugger, has impressive Triple Crown numbers: .431 average, eight homers, 23 RBIs. He also leads the team in runs with 20. He is one of seven DSU players with double-digit runs. They get on and they get in. DSU’s D-II rival Mississippi College also gets around the bases at a good clip: 124 runs in 15 games. The Choctaws are 13-2. They have eight double-figure scorers, led by Kyle Smith with 19. William Carey has scored enough (114 runs to its opponents’ 74) to post a 16-4 record. Ranked No. 8 in NAIA, the Crusaders are led by Christian Smith, who has 20 runs – plus a .354 average and 20 steals. Interesting note: Tyler Reid, a .220 hitter for WCU, has reached base safely 18 times (11 hits, six walks, one HBP) and has scored 17 runs. That’s efficiency. D-III Millsaps, averaging 7.2 runs per game in an 11-5 start, has three players with 16 runs: Chase Callaway, Andy Page and Connor Woodall. The Majors’ top hitter, Brennan Ducote (.431, four homers, 22 RBIs) has scored 14 times. Among the D-I schools, nationally ranked Ole Miss, off to a 12-1 start, has scored 93 times (a healthy 7.2 runs per game), led by Thomas Dillard with 13. The red-hot Grae Kessinger (.353) has tallied 12 runs. Scoring alone isn’t enough, of course. You’ve also got to hold down the other team. Southern Miss, also nationally ranked, has been a prolific scoring club, averaging 9.6 runs a game even after Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Alabama. Newcomer Luke Reynolds, batting .426 with four homers and 18 RBIs, leads the team with 19 runs. But the Golden Eagles have lost four times (against eight wins) and in three of those losses, they’ve allowed nine or more runs, losing by scores of 10-9, 13-10 and 9-6.
13 – Hits for Grae Kessinger, who is batting .464 for unbeaten Ole Miss, 7-0 after a weekend sweep of Tulane.
71 – Runs in seven games for Southern Miss (5-2), which scored 39 in three games vs. UT-Martin over the weekend. Luke Reynolds leads with 13.
7 – RBIs for Josh Hatcher, a freshman who also leads Mississippi State (3-4) in homers with three and runs with seven.
7 – Home runs by Zack Shannon of Delta State, 11-1 after a sweep at Valdosta State over the weekend.
3 – Home runs for Jesus Santana, batting .368 with eight RBIs for Jackson State (3-2).
10 – RBIs by Hunter Wilson of Alcorn State (4-4).
3 – Wins in three starts for Chris Crosby of Mississippi College, 10-2 after taking two of three at West Georgia over the weekend.
14 – Stolen bases for Christian Smith, batting .380 for William Carey (12-3).
14 – Steals by Miciah Heard of Blue Mountain (12-4).
13 – RBIs by Brennan Ducote, a .500 hitter for Millsaps (8-3).
3 – Homers for Will Costinett, who also has seven RBIs for Belhaven (2-6).
5 – Consecutive wins for MUW, now 5-3 in its inaugural season after a twinbill sweep of Rust last Friday.
In his third year at Mississippi College, Jeremy Haworth appears to have things trending in the right direction. The Choctaws are 8-1 as they head into their first Gulf South Conference series of the season, a single game today and a doubleheader on Saturday at West Georgia. It’s the team’s best start in eight years. Haworth’s first MC team, still in transition to NCAA Division II, went 17-30 (7-25 GSC) and his second started 2-17 (0-9). While there was no word of buzzards circling Frierson Field, surely there was some anxiety in Clinton. But suddenly – things turned around. The Choctaws ripped off 18 wins in their next 26 games, finished 15-17 in the league and qualified for the conference tournament. That momentum seemingly has carried into 2018. They rallied to beat nationally ranked Lindenwood (Mo.) 12-11 in their opener, took that series 2-1 and haven’t lost since. Chris Crosby, a transfer from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College, has been the ace, posting a 2-0 mark with a 1.26 ERA in three starts. Another juco transfer, Billy Cameron from East Central CC, is batting .455 with two home runs and seven RBIs in six games. Grant Barber, a first-team All-GSC selection in 2017, is at .359 with 14 RBIs and 13 runs. Returnees Hunter Sykes (.452, eight doubles) and Kyle Smith (.432, 16 runs) also have been swinging hot bats. West Georgia will give MC an early gauge on its progress. The Wolves, ranked No. 9 in D-II, are 10-1 – they lost for the first time on Wednesday — and are averaging more than 11 runs a game.
The hitting hero of a busy weekend for the state’s small colleges was Brian Lane, a senior at Delta State. Lane went 6-for-12 with a home run and nine RBIs as the Statesmen rebounded from a season-opening loss with big wins on Saturday and Sunday in Florida. Shut out by Lynn on Friday, DSU – ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II – erupted for 31 runs against Nova Southeastern and Palm Beach Atlantic. … Playing at home in Hattiesburg, William Carey, ranked sixth in NAIA, won its first three games behind a pitching staff that yielded only three earned runs. Cole Edgens threw a three-hit shutout against Georgetown College on Saturday. … Mississippi College opened with a doubleheader split against Lindenwood on Saturday; the rubber game was rescheduled for today at Frierson Field in Clinton. Kyle Smith sparked the Choctaws with five hits and four RBIs in the two games. … Millsaps got 20 hits in its two games at Huntingdon in Alabama but scored just four runs and lost twice. … Tougaloo went 0-3 at Talladega, though two of the losses were one-run defeats. … Blue Mountain took three of four from visiting William Woods to improve to 5-2. Miciah Heard is off to a hot start (10-for-25, six RBIs) for the Toppers. Jonas White is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts.