Brooms were in fashion in the opening round of league play in the MACJC over the weekend. Six of the seven doubleheaders resulted in sweeps, including the only matchup between two nationally ranked teams. Itawamba Community College (16-2), ranked eighth in last week’s NJCAA Division II poll, beat No. 16 Mississippi Gulf Coast CC 7-4 and 11-9 in Fulton. Labryant Siddell, a freshman out of Tupelo High, went 4-for-6 in the twinbill with two homers and four RBIs. Kyle Crigger homered and drove in three runs in Game 1, and Houston Hardy pitched 6 2/3 innings to improve to 4-0. Cullen O’Shea went deep in both games for Gulf Coast (16-4). No. 2-ranked Jones County JC (15-3) took two from East Mississippi in Scooba. The Bobcats rode the bats of Stephen Matthews (homer), Brandon Hale (homer) and Luther Woullard (two doubles, two RBIs) in the opener, a 12-6 win, and the arm of Jay Simpson in Game 2, a 7-1 victory. Fifth-ranked East Central (13-4) bounced back from three midweek losses to sweep Coahoma, and No. 19 Pearl River (15-3) won a pair from Northwest. No. 13 Hinds (12-3) split with Northeast, Southwest swept Holmes and Meridian swept Copiah-Lincoln.
The long ball is all the rage in the MACJC this season. Brandon Parker of Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College leads the nation’s Division II jucos with 10 home runs, and four other state players rank among the top seven. Parker, a 6-foot-1, 205-pound freshman out of West Harrison High, belted No. 10 on Saturday against Baton Rouge CC at MGM Park in Biloxi. He is batting .500 with 29 RBIs (tied for the national lead) for the 13-1 Bulldogs. Northwest’s Brant Blaylock has six bombs in his last seven games and seven on the year in 10 games. Gulf Coast’s Dylan Menhennett and East Mississippi’s Anthony Hickman have hit six homers apiece, and Meridian’s Blake Morris has five, tied for seventh in the country. … Itawamba and Holmes lost over the weekend, meaning there are no unbeatens left in the state. ICC is 11-1, as is top-ranked Jones County. East Central and Pearl River are 9-1. Conference play, which has not yet begun, promises to be a wild ride.
He hit one home run last season at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and says he never hit one in high school. But there sits Dylan Menhennett, leading all NJCAA Division II batters with five homers. “I’ve been working out non-stop, just getting better,” he said in a release by the school. “I’ve been swinging every night, coming up here (to Farris Field) and getting extra work.” The third baseman from Biloxi is 11-for-18 with 12 RBIs for the undefeated Bulldogs, who have pounded their opponents 74-12. Gulf Coast is among three MACJC teams off to a 6-0 start. … Jones County JC, preseason No. 1 in the NJCAA poll, is also 6-0 and has outscored its opposition 51-17. Luke Hudson, one of several freshmen in the Bobcats lineup, is 9-for-16 with two homers and seven RBIs. … Itawamba CC moved to 6-0 with a sweep of Columbia State on Tuesday, notching career wins No. 501 and 502 for longtime coach Rick Collier. The former Delta State player has one Juco World Series appearance, two region titles and two state titles on his ICC resume. … East Central CC is 4-0 after sweeping Bevill State on Tuesday. The Warriors won their first two games last weekend on walk-off hits by Kenneth Scott and Hunter Harper. Harper homered on Tuesday. … Hinds CC, the defending Region 23 champion, is 5-1 after rolling over Bishop State 13-2 and 9-4 on Tuesday.
Recalled from Triple-A earlier in the day, Chris Stratton jumped right into the fray for San Francisco on Tuesday and registered a rare four-inning save in an 11-3 win against Pittsburgh. The ex-Mississippi State star relieved Madison Bumgarner – who earned his first win of the year – in the sixth and yielded six hits and two runs the rest of the way for his first career save. Stratton has a 7.71 ERA in 14 big league innings in 2017. … Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, the subject of trade rumors, worked six-plus innings for St. Louis but got no decision in a 3-2 win over Colorado. Lynn, who allowed one run Tuesday, has yielded just two runs in his last four starts. He has a 3.21 ERA for the year, though he has given up 21 home runs. … UM product Drew Pomeranz labored through five innings (105 pitches), allowing three runs on four hits and four walks, for Boston at Seattle. Pomeranz left with a lead, but the Red Sox didn’t hold it and fell 6-5 in 13 innings. Pomeranz is 10-4 with a 3.59 ERA for the first-place BoSox. … Tony Sipp, the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum from Pascagoula, retired one of the two hitters he faced – one reached on an error – in first-place Houston’s 5-0 win against Philadelphia. Former Mississippi Braves standout Charlie Morton went seven innings for his eighth win. Veteran left-hander Sipp has a 5.16 ERA in 35 appearances, few of those in high-leverage situations. … Former State star Brandon Woodruff was reinstated from the disabled list by Milwaukee and sent to Triple-A Colorado Springs. Woodruff, still awaiting his MLB debut, was roughed up in a rehab start for Colorado Springs on Monday. … Kendall Graveman, another former Bulldogs hurler, will make at least on more rehab start for Triple-A Nashville before returning to Oakland, according to reports. Ole Miss alum Bobby Wahl, also on the DL for the A’s, was assigned to Nashville for rehab work. P.S. Kris Bryant of the Chicago Cubs was ejected from a game on Tuesday for the first time in his big league career. Brookhaven native Lance Barksdale was the umpire who ran Bryant for barking about a called third strike.
The Houston Astros have the best record (29-12) in baseball, and many experts say they are the best team in the game right now. Several key pieces of this club have Mississippi connections, including reliever Tony Sipp, a Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alum, and four former Mississippi Braves standouts. (An aside: Atlanta, five games under .500, has only five ex-M-Braves on its current roster.) Sipp, after a rocky start, has trimmed his ERA to 3.38 over 12 appearances. In a win against Miami on Tuesday, the left-hander threw 2 2/3 shutout innings to finish the game. Former M-Braves closer James Hoyt also works out of the Astros’ pen and has posted a 1.13 ERA in six games with 18 strikeouts in eight innings. (As M-Braves fans may recall, Hoyt throws serious gas.) Charlie Morton, whose star turn with the M-Braves came 10 years ago, is 5-2 with a 3.97 ERA as a Houston starter. That brings us to the catchers, the bearded boys Brian McCann and Evan Gattis. McCann, in the home stretch of a brilliant career, is still productive at 33: .276, six homers and 25 RBIs. Gattis is also batting .276 with three bombs and 18 RBIs. (Many Atlanta fans are wondering why the Braves ever parted with the brawny slugger.) And though it has been 18 years since the Astros’ Double-A club played in Jackson, there is a Generals connection in Houston. Dave Hudgens, in his third year as the club’s hitting coach, was the Gens’ hitting coach in 1993, when the team won a Texas League championship.
From early indications, Belhaven University is going to bounce back from what Hill Denson called his program’s “worst season.” The Blazers, who slumped to 20-18 in 2016, are 7-3 heading into a three-game weekend series at Texas-Tyler, which is ranked in the latest d3baseball.com poll. The Blazers, not yet eligible for the postseason in NCAA Division III, are ranked No. 8 in the National Christian College Athletic Association poll. Making the NCCAA’s postseason tournament is a reasonable goal for BU, which appears to have a good balance of power and speed plus depth in its pitching staff. Terrell Hodges, in his second season in the green and gold, is batting .412 with two homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs. Fellow veterans Daniel Ammirati and J.G. Miley are at .375 and .342, respectively, and Miley has five steals. Stephen Sexton, a Pontotoc native who transferred in from Arkansas-Monticello, has stood out among the newcomers with a .353 average, three homers, 11 RBIs and 11 runs. Tyler Wolfe, a juco transfer, and Tanner Cable, injured much of 2016, have been the pitching stalwarts. Wolfe is 3-0 with a 1.53 ERA and two complete games, while Cable is 1-0, 2.18. P.S. There are no parades scheduled in Hattiesburg or Perkinston, but both William Carey and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College are celebrating homecomings. Carey, forced from its campus by the Jan. 21 tornado, will play at Wheeler Field for the first time, hosting Loyola-New Orleans for a three-game Southern States Athletic Conference set that begins today. WCU is 12-4 with eight straight wins. In Perkinston, Gulf Coast will play Illinois Central in a Saturday twinbill in its first games at renovated Farris Field since April 2015. The Bulldogs are off to a 9-1 start. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Delta State, which has played only one of its 13 games at home, will host Union in a three-game Gulf South Conference series this weekend at Ferriss Field. DSU is 10-3, 4-2 GSC.
There likely will be a lot of eyes on Tony Sipp as he goes to work in West Palm Beach, Fla., over the next few weeks. The Pascagoula native and former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout is coming off a rough year and is the only seasoned left-hander in Houston’s bullpen. Sipp’s ERA jumped to 4.95 over 60 appearances in 2016. He had a 1.99 in 2015, and his career ERA over eight MLB seasons is 3.65. Batters hit .297 against Sipp in 2016, and he yielded 12 homers in 43 2/3 innings. The beefed-up Astros, picked by some as the favorite in the American League West, surely want a reliable lefty in their pen. If Sipp, 33, doesn’t look sharp, they may have to go shopping. Astros pitchers and catchers formally reported to camp today and will work out at their new spring facility on Wednesday. P.S. Joey Butler, another Pascagoula native and MGCCC alumnus, signed a minor league contract last week with Washington. Butler, a right-handed hitting outfielder, spent all of 2016 in the minors with Cleveland’s Triple-A Columbus club. He batted .276 with eight homers in 88 games for Tampa Bay in 2015 and is a career .282 hitter with 104 homers over nine pro seasons, including a stint in Japan. … Ole Miss product Aaron Barrett may be close to re-signing with Washington as a minor league free agent. He missed the 2016 season recovering from Tommy John surgery. While rehabbing last season, Barrett suffered a fractured right elbow and had another surgery. He ultimately was waived by the Nationals and elected free agency in the off-season. As a rookie in 2014, Barrett had a 2.66 ERA in 50 games for the Nats. In 2015, his ERA jumped to 4.60 in 40 games before he was injured late in the season.