17 May

clearing the bases

The contrast is striking. Delta State has won 96 postseason games, 68 in region play, and claimed 12 regional titles, including the 2017 NCAA Division II South Region, and one national crown. Mississippi College has been playing baseball a long time and had some good years, but the Choctaws had never played in an NCAA D-II regional before this season. The longtime rivals are meeting today in Lakeland, Fla., in the first round of the D-II South Region Tournament. Delta State is 40-9 and seeded third in a loaded field. MC, which won the Gulf South Conference Tournament for the first time ever, beating DSU along the way, is 33-15. This is MC’s best run since 2010, when it played in a Division III regional. The school left Division II and the GSC in the mid-’90s and returned in 2015. … What else is going on? Lots. In Pearl, at Trustmark Park, the MHSAA state finals continue today. … In New Orleans, Jackson State opened SWAC Tournament play on Wednesday with a 13-3 pounding of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Four Tigers drove in three runs, including Jesus Santana, who hit his ninth homer of the year. JSU moves into a winner’s bracket game today against defending SWAC champ Texas Southern. Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State both lost on Wednesday and face elimination games today. … In Hattiesburg, William Carey stayed alive in the NAIA Opening Round tourney with a 6-2 victory against Indiana-Southeast but then saw its season end with a loss against top-seeded St. Thomas. … In Eunice, La., in the opening round of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College beat MACJC champ Pearl River, Itawamba topped Meridian and Hinds fell to No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. The double-elimination event continues today. … MUW went 2-2, bowing out Wednesday, in something called the ASCAA World Series in Dubois, Penn. Matt Wolfenbarger’s Owls finished their inaugural season with a 21-15 record.

13 May

comes a time

The target is in plain sight now. Delta State, Mississippi College, William Carey University and five state junior colleges take aim this week on a spot in the World Series in their respective divisions. The state’s three SWAC schools are focused on the league’s tournament title and the NCAA regional bid — the only one the league will get — that goes with it. Delta State and Mississippi College — the Gulf South Conference Tournament champ — are bound for the NCAA Division II South Region tourney; they’ll find out tonight where they’re going and who they’ll play in the first round. It’s a good bet the event will be in Cleveland. The Statesmen won the regional in 2017 and went to the D-II World Series. Carey is hosting an NAIA Opening Round tournament — one of eight regionals — that begins Monday at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. The Crusaders, who made the NAIA World Series last year, open with LSU-Shreveport. Also in the five-team field are Westmont (Calif.), Indiana Southeast and top-seeded St. Thomas (Fla.). The NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament begins Wednesday at Eunice, La. A berth in the Junior College World Series is on the line. MACJC regular season champion Pearl River Community plays old rival Mississippi Gulf Coast in the first round, while Meridian hooks up with Itawamba and Hinds faces top-seeded and No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. Hinds, the defending region champion, reached this year’s event by upsetting No. 3 Jones County in a best-of-3 playoff. Gulf Coast, Meridian and Itawamba also won playoff series last week to advance. The eight-team SWAC Tournament starts Wednesday in New Orleans. Jackson State plays Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi Valley State meets Grambling and Alcorn State takes on Texas Southern in the first round. Alcorn, which finished fifth in the East Division, made the eight-team field because Alabama A&M is ineligible for postseason play. P.S. Greenwood native and former Pillow Academy star Louis Coleman made his first big league appearance since 2016 on Saturday when he threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings for Detroit in a game against Seattle. The veteran right-hander has a career 3.49 ERA.

05 May

going forward

Cracking a national poll for the first time in eight years, which Mississippi College did on March 8, is kind of a big deal. MC was 13-2 at the time. Coach Jeremy Haworth wondered during an interview how the players would handle that measure of success going forward. Not a problem, as it turned out. The schedule got tougher but the Choctaws never buckled. They went 16-13, 13-9 in a challenging league, the rest of the way and clinched a Gulf South Conference Tournament berth for the second straight year. As the No. 4 seed, they meet fifth-seeded North Alabama today in Cleveland in the first round of pool play. Four Choctaws – Grant Barber, Billy Cameron, Blaine Crim and Kyle Smith – made the All-GSC second team, and ace pitcher Zack Ingram arguably should have. Crim had a stellar campaign, leading the team in the Triple Crown categories (.372, 10 homers, 52 RBIs). Cameron, a transfer from East Central Community College, hit .354 with five homers. Smith stole 18 bases and hit .339; Barber contributed 30 RBIs while batting .327. Ingram was 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA. MC is ranked ninth in the NCAA Division II South Region poll, positioned for a possible invitation to a regional. How will the Choctaws handle it?

23 May

the green standard

Collegiate Baseball’s preseason Top 40 poll for NCAA Division II schools did not include Delta State. The Statesmen were in the Also Receiving Votes category. O ye of little faith. DSU is one of just eight teams still standing in Division II, off to the College World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas. The Statesmen, ranked as high as No. 2 in the nation, are 44-11 with Gulf South Conference regular season and tournament titles and a South Region championship on their ledger. Tradition never slumps, as they like to say up in Cleveland, and the Green and White certainly has that. The 6-4 win over West Alabama on Monday at Ferriss Field gave the program its 12th regional title, its sixth in 21 years under coach Mike Kinnison, who is four wins shy of 900. One of those wins delivered a national championship in 2004. You want tradition? Kinnison was a second-team All-America shortstop at DSU under the great Boo Ferriss and led the 1978 team to the College World Series. Lowered expectations — in some circles, at least – for 2017 were based on the heavy personnel losses from last year’s team, which also made the regional. But Kinnison rebuilt the roster with some masterful recruiting, bringing in juco transfers like GSC and South Region player of the year Zack Shannon, Seth Birdsong, Jason Popovich, Emil Ellis, Justin Nussbaum and Brian Lane plus University of Houston transfer Clay Casey, a former DeSoto Central High star. Detractors might point out that, for all those CSW trips, DSU has won only the one national title. But, hey, it’s one of only two by any four-year school from the Magnolia State.

21 May

hinds is rolling — again

Hinds Community College, which has had a knack for getting on a roll this season, is on another. This latest one will carry the Eagles to the NJCAA Division II World Series. Hinds won its sixth straight postseason game on Saturday, beating No. 1-ranked Jones County JC 8-7 in Ellisville for the Region 23 championship. Freshman Will Pierce of Vicksburg knocked in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning of a classic title fight. Hinds, national runner-up in 2014, will make its sixth trip to the juco World Series. Sam Temple’s Eagles started this season 2-4 but then ripped off an eight-game win streak. After a few hiccups early in MACJC play, including two blowout losses to Jones, the Eagles won 13 of 15. They wobbled a bit at season’s end and finished 17-11 in the conference, drawing a best-of-3 playoff matchup against East Mississippi. They swept the Lions to make the Region 23 Tournament, where they faced No. 2-ranked LSU-Eunice in the first round. No worries. Hinds won 6-2, then bowled over Pearl River twice to reach the championship round against Jones. The defending national champion Bobcats had lost just three times all year and only once at home, to Pearl River in the first round of the regional. But the Bobcats could not slow Hinds’ roll. Next stop: Enid, Okla. P.S. Meanwhile, in Cleveland, Delta State rode the brilliant pitching of Tre Hobbs and Zach Osbon to a 4-1 win over Nova Southeastern, clinching a berth in the NCAA Division II South Region championship round on Monday. Hobbs, a left-hander from Greenville and Mississippi Delta CC, hasn’t had a great senior year after a dominant junior season that saw him go 13-2 and earn all kinds of honors. But he answered the call on Saturday, allowing just four hits over eight innings. Osbon, a lockdown closer all year, fanned the side in the ninth for the save. DSU is 43-11 and knocking on the door of another D-II World Series trip, which would be the fifth under coach Mike Kinnison.

16 May

trifecta

They had the best record in the league. They put up wow-inducing numbers, both with their bats and their arms. They’re the top seed in this week’s tournament and, even though wild and crazy things can happen in double-elimination play, it’d be foolish to bet against them. So, who are we talking about? Could be Jackson State, Delta State or Jones County Junior College. The description fits all three. JSU, which went 20-4 in the SWAC East and 36-15-1 overall, starts conference tournament play Wednesday against Southern University, the fourth-place team from the West, at Barrow Stadium in New Orleans. The Tigers hit .322 as a team with 421 runs and 132 steals; they posted a 3.46 ERA, a .252 batting average against and seven complete games. Tigers to watch: Lamar Briggs (.379), Jesus Santana (nine homers, 62 RBIs), Bryce Brown (.368, 25 steals), C.J. Newsome (50 runs), Miguel Yrigoyen (nine wins, 2.93), Jose Tirado (seven saves). Delta State, regular season and tournament champion in the Gulf South Conference, will start NCAA Division II South Region play on Friday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. It’s a strong, seven-team field, including defending national champ Nova Southeastern and GSC powers West Alabama and Valdosta State. But DSU (41-11) looks up to the task. The Statesmen are hitting .320 with 432 runs and 60 homers; the staff ERA is 4.57 (fifth in the hitter-heavy GSC) with five shutouts and just 25 homers allowed. Statesmen to watch: Ferriss Trophy finalist Zack Shannon (.451, 18 homers, 84 RBIs, 60 runs), Clay Casey (.358, 17 homers), Seth Birdsong (9-1, 2.82), Zach Osbon (six saves, six wins, 1.35). And then there’s Jones County JC, ranked No. 1 in the country in NJCAA D-II. The Bobcats (44-2) open Region 23 Tournament play on Wednesday against Pearl River at Community Bank Park in Ellisville. JCJC batters hit .370 with 437 runs and 44 homers; its pitchers had a 2.64 ERA with 9.3 K’s per game. Bobcats to watch: Erick Hoard (.417, 12 homers, 53 RBIs), Shelton Wallace (.452, 62 RBIs), Fred Franklin (40 steals), Ben Stiglets (11-0, 1.60), Logan Robbins (11-0, 2.34, 83 K’s in 61 2/3 innings). P.S. William Carey won its opener in the NAIA Opening Round tournament and plays top-seeded Southeastern (Fla.) University today at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Carey knocked off Texas Wesleyan 4-3 with a four-run ninth sparked by big hits from Tyler Odom and Cody Christian.

19 May

time to shine

If there is one opposing player Delta State wants to keep reined in today in Tampa, Fla., it would be John Silviano. The Lynn University star enters the NCAA Division II South Region contest with 30 home runs and 74 RBIs. The sophomore catcher was the Sunshine State Conference player of the year. Lynn (33-20 and seeded fifth in the seven-team regional) had two other all-conference players, both second-teamers: Ryan Donovan (.343, 12 homers) and John Borup (.339). DSU (38-15 and seeded fourth) may have a little more star power: Gulf South Conference pitcher of the year Tre Hobbs and Will Robertson, a Ferriss Trophy finalist who is batting .426 with 71 RBIs, lead a pack of five Statesmen who earned All-GSC honors. For what it’s worth, the Statesmen also have an edge in history, with 30 NCAA regional appearances, 61 all-time wins and 11 titles. Lynn has six regional appearances, including three straight. Should DSU beat Lynn, next up is a game on Friday against top-seeded, No. 2-ranked and defending D-II national champ Tampa. P.S. William Carey’s Adrian Brown didn’t make the cut for Ferriss Trophy finalist, but he kept the Crusaders’ season alive with a ninth-inning home run that beat College of Idaho in an NAIA regional on Wednesday. Brown, son of the former major league outfielder of the same name, has had a heck of a year: .389, five homers, 42 RBIs, 51 runs and 28 steals in 58 games. He’s likely to get drafted. Carey plays top-seeded Westmont (Calif.) in an elimination game today in Santa Barbara, Calif.

11 May

dsu still climbing

Delta State coach Mike Kinnison often refers to the season as a mountain. His Statesmen have reached what might be called Level 2 on the annual climb. Qualifying for the Gulf South Conference Tournament would be Level 1. By winning its 13th GSC tournament championship on Tuesday, DSU has clinched a bid to the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament. Call that Level 2. “That’s what you play for all year long,” Kinnison said in a taped postgame interview. Now the mountain gets steeper. The South Region, which could well be set at Ferriss Field in Cleveland, will be stacked, as usual. But this Statesmen team (38-15) appears to have the ingredients to climb another level, claim a 12th regional crown and reach the D-II College World Series. It’s a team with three .400 hitters, led by Will Robertson (.433), Erick Santiago (.402) and Trent Giambrone (.401), who batted .650 in the GSC tourney and won MOP honors. DSU also has five players with seven or more home runs. The aces of the staff are lefties Tre Hobbs (12-1, 3.07 ERA) and Dalton Moats (10-3, 2.97), but there is no shortage of quality arms behind them. See, for example, Corey Beard, who threw 5 2/3 shutout innings to beat Alabama-Huntsville in the tournament clincher. “This tournament was good for us,” Kinnison said. “It seasoned our team a little bit.” The previous three years, DSU lost in the championship round and, as Kinnison noted, watched another team celebrate. In 2015, DSU’s season ended there. Today, the Statesmen are packing for another climb. At the summit of this mountain, still out of view, there’s a national championship.