The renewed rivalry between Mississippi College and Delta State might be as strong and compelling as it has ever been as the 2019 campaign gets under way. MC and DSU were ranked 1-2 in the Gulf South Conference’s preseason poll. MC, the GSC Tournament champ in 2018, is ranked No. 7 in NCAA Division II by Perfect Game and No. 18 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Delta State, which finished first in the GSC regular season standings, is No. 10 in Collegiate Baseball’s poll. DSU took two of three from the Choctaws in the 2018 regular season but lost to them in the conference tournament. Both went to the D-II South Regional, where the Statesmen won their first-round meeting and the Choctaws won an elimination game four days later. The rivalry will simmer all season, as the two don’t meet until the end of the schedule – on April 27-28 at Frierson Field in Clinton. MC returns the GSC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, senior first baseman Blaine Crim, who hit .383 with 13 homers in 2018. Billy Cameron, a senior third baseman, batted .354 with six homers last year. Both were named preseason All-GSC. Catcher Josh Russell is the lone returning starter for DSU, though there are a handful of other experienced position players back. Seniors Dalton Minton and Seth Hoguesen, both left-handers, should front the rotation, and Melvin Frazier, another lefty, is an experienced bullpen piece. And Statesmen coach Mike Kinnison is high on his crop of newcomers. P.S. Both teams opened with wins on Friday. MC beat Harding 12-6 as Cameron drove in three runs. DSU snuffed East Central University of Oklahoma 9-1 behind Hunter Riggins’ pitching and three RBIs from Darek Sargent.
The scorebook has closed on Zack Shannon’s career at Delta State, which saw its season end with a loss to Mississippi College in the NCAA Division II regionals on Tuesday. In his two years with the green-and-white, the big man from Cincinnati stuffed that scorebook with some jaw-dropping numbers. Start with his home run totals – and take a deep breath. He hit his 31st of the season in the final game (Game No. 53); that’s not only a school record but also the most all-time by any player in any division in the state. That number also leads the nation, all divisions included. Shannon’s total of 50 career homers at DSU ranks second to Dee Haynes, who hit 69 over three seasons (1998-2000) in Cleveland. For the year, Shannon hit .406 with 93 RBIs (best in the nation) and a .955 slugging percentage (also No. 1). Also noteworthy, he struck out just 27 times and walked 35 times in 202 at-bats. Though he didn’t win a Ferriss Trophy, plenty of awards and accolades have poured in the last two years and more may be coming. Earlier this week, Shannon was named one of 25 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the nation’s best player. He is the first D-II player to be named a semifinalist. He won Gulf South Conference player of the year both this year and last and received several D-II national player of the year awards in 2017. Surely he’ll get picked in the MLB draft. Regardless, he won’t soon be forgotten in the Magnolia State. P.S. Before Shannon broke it, the state’s college homer record was shared by former Mississippi State stars Rafael Palmeiro and Bruce Castoria, according to John W. Smillie’s Mississippi Baseball Record Book. Castoria hit 29 in 1981, Palmeiro in 1984. Will Clark smacked 28 for MSU in 1984 (and got 25 the next year). DSU’s Haynes hit 26 in 1999. Three Southern Miss players cranked out 23: Fred Cooley (1989), Bill Selby (1992) and Jeff Cook (2003). The Ole Miss single-season mark is 21 by Brian Pettway in 2005. … MC’s remarkable season also ended on Tuesday with a loss to Tampa in the rain-soaked South Region tourney in Lakeland, Fla. The Choctaws, who made their first D-II regional appearance, finished 36-17.
Arkansas-Monticello is next on Delta State’s schedule. Boll Weevils pitchers don’t need to pore over the Statesmen’s stat sheet too long to identify what should be their biggest concern, if not their biggest fear, in Tuesday’s game. Zack Shannon’s numbers are scary good. The DSU senior, an Ohio native, is batting .494 with 17 home runs and 48 RBIs for a 19-2 team. He has a 1.229 slugging percentage. He has struck out just 10 times in 83 at-bats. And pitchers have been challenging him: He has walked only 11 times and been hit by a pitch just four times. “He has the ability to look for a pitch, sit on it and get it,” DSU coach Mike Kinnison told The Bolivar Commercial. Shannon, 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, has been on a fearsome power trip of late, with homers in seven straight games and nine of 10. With 36 career bombs in one-plus years in Cleveland, he has equaled Barry Lyons’ total for fifth place on the team’s all-time list. Dee Haynes’ 69 is probably out of reach, but Jud Thigpen (41), Craig Newton (40) and Devin Goodwin (37) should prepare to be taken down a peg. Shannon reaped all kinds of honors last season, including the Tino Martinez Award as NCAA Division II’s most outstanding player, and he has been even better in 2018.
Buckle up. Big week ahead on many fronts. East Central Community College, continuing its ’27 Yankees impression, beat Jones County Junior College 13-12 on Saturday to win the MACJC title and will host the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Decatur. No. 2-ranked Jones will be there, as well as No. 1 LSU-Eunice (50-4) and Northwest Mississippi. … William Carey University is off to Santa Barbara, Calif., for NAIA regional play. The 25th-ranked Crusaders (37-19), led by All-SSAC first-team picks Adrian Brown and Tyler Odom, take on College of Idaho on Tuesday in the five-team opening round tournament. The top seed there is Westmont (Calif.). … Jackson State and Alcorn State, the Nos. 2 and 3 seeds from the SWAC East, start play on Wednesday in the conference tournament at Barrow Stadium in New Orleans. Alabama State dominated the league with a 24-0 mark, but JSU (32-24 overall) certainly has the hitters (see Cornelius Copeland, Carlos Diaz, Jesus Santana) to make a run. … Delta State will learn tonight where it is heading for NCAA Division II regional play. The Statesmen (38-15) earned an automatic bid by winning their 13th Gulf South Conference championship last week. … And the MHSAA finals matchups are set: Madison Central-George County in Class 6A, Oxford-Hattiesburg in 5A, Houston-Newton County in 4A, Kossuth-St. Andrews in 3A, East Union-Loyd Star in 2A and Tupelo Christian Prep-Ethel in 1A. The games in the best-of-3 series begin Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
The transition to NCAA Division II proved to be a bumpy ride for Mississippi College. The Choctaws finished 12-34 overall and 4-28 in their first year back in the Gulf South Conference. Phase two of this project will come under the direction of Jeremy Haworth, hired on Saturday as MC’s new coach, succeeding Brian Owens, who announced his resignation late in the season. Haworth previously coached at D-II Ouachita Baptist, where he was named Great American Conference coach of the year this past season. He went 102-96-1 at the Arkansas school. Haworth was a star player – a D-II All-America third baseman in 2007 – at OBU when it was in the GSC, so he knows the caliber of talent it takes to compete in the league. He was also an assistant coach at D-I Arkansas-Little Rock. Haworth might want to bring a hard hat to Clinton, because there is work to do, especially on the pitching staff. There were 29 underclassmen on the Choctaws’ 2015 roster, including some promising players. A lot of them figure to return, but a large influx of newcomers might also be expected.
Delta State likely needs to win the Gulf South Conference Tournament to get an NCAA Division II regional bid. The Statesmen (25-17) are two wins away. Sixth-seeded DSU has won three straight elimination games in Livingston, Ala., including an 11-7 victory against Alabama-Huntsville and 9-5 win over West Georgia on Monday. DSU, pegged to win the league title in preseason, must beat top-seeded West Alabama twice today to win the GSC crown. After losing to UWA on Saturday, the Statesmen survived with a 7-4 win over Valdosta State on Sunday as Ethan Gill belted his 10th home run and drove in four runs all told and Nick Goza notched his seventh save. DSU avoided going 2-and-out in the league tournament for the first time since 2010. On Monday, an eight-run fourth inning (big hit: two-run double by Dalton Skelton) propelled DSU past UA-Huntsville and a seven-run sixth (big hit: Colton Welch’s two-run double) toppled West Georgia. Three GSC teams appeared in the most recent D-II South Region top eight: West Alabama, UA-Huntsville and West Georgia. P.S. The Millsaps Majors (28-12), who last played a game on April 26, won’t know until Sunday if they’ll get an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III regionals. It would appear unlikely. In the meantime, senior Keith Shumaker has been named the Southern Athletic Association player of the year for the second time; he also won the award after his sophomore season. The Brandon native, a preseason D-III All-America choice, led the conference in runs scored (48) and hit .417. The right-hander went 8-1 with a 2.31 ERA on the mound during the regular season. Shumaker’s 254 hits for his career set a school record. Joining Shumaker on the SAA first team are outfielders Isaac Glenn and William Chenoweth. Glenn, a junior from Madison, led the SAA in hits (66), batting (.446) and slugging (.649) and was second with 44 RBIs.
The uniforms said “Delta State,” but the performance at the NCAA Division II South Regional didn’t seem to fit. DSU, 38-11 going in, went 2-and-out in Tampa, Fla., losing to Florida Southern on Thursday and No. 1-ranked Tampa today. The Statesmen, who batted an amazing .331 as a team this season and averaged 7.4 runs per game, scored a total of seven in their two losses. What’s more, standout pitchers Michael Manley and Jonathan Moody, a combined 17-5 with an ERA around 2.50 this year, both took losses. Manley, an All-Gulf South Conference pick from Raymond, was KO’d by Florida Southern in its seven-run sixth inning on Thursday, an 8-4 loss for DSU. Manley’s line: five-plus innings, six hits, two walks, four runs. Today, Moody went seven, allowing four runs on six hits and a walk, but he left with the Statesmen trailing. Standout reliever Taylor Stark then yielded three more runs in his one inning-plus as DSU fell 7-3 to Tampa, a 39-2 juggernaut. The unfortunate timing of this uncharacteristic showing means DSU’s dreams of returning to the College World Series for the 10th anniversary of its 2004 championship have ended.
It’s a quiet day at college ballparks around the state — except in Ellisville, where fireworks are in the offing. No. 1-ranked Jones County Junior College plays East Central and Hinds tangles with No. 2 LSU-Eunice in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. … Belhaven University’s season ended Wednesday at Smith-Wills Stadium when the Blazers lost for a second time to NAIA No. 3 Oklahoma Wesleyan. No shame in that. BU (42-21) went 2-2 in the NAIA regional, including a win over Houston-Victoria, coached by former major leaguer Terry Puhl. … At Tampa, Fla., Delta State takes on Florida Southern in the NCAA Division II South Regional. … At New Orleans, Jackson State and Alcorn State, both upset winners in the SWAC Tournament’s opening round, are back on the field today. JSU, coming off a win over West Division champ Arkansas-Pine Bluff, plays Alabama A&M; Alcorn gets tourney favorite Alabama State. … The Division I Big 3 are all on the road to finish conference play. League tournaments are next week. Southern Miss, third in Conference USA, is at Charlotte. Ole Miss and Mississippi State, which rank 1-2 in the SEC West standings, play at Texas A&M and Alabama, respectively.