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.
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.
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.
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.
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.