“Play ball” time arrives for NCAA Division III schools Belhaven University and Millsaps College this weekend, with the Blazers set to open on Friday at Smith-Wills Stadium and the Majors on Saturday at Twenty Field as part of a round-robin tournament. Belhaven coach Hill Denson has announced that this will be the final season of his long and heralded career. The swan song begins against LeTourneau, a D-III school from Texas. The Blazers, 12-27 in 2018, a rare losing season for Denson, were pegged to finish 11th in the 12-team American Southwest Conference. The team had two players get recognition on the league’s preseason Watch List: second baseman Evan Moore, who hit .297 with 23 runs and 14 steals as a freshman, and right-hander David Hall, who posted a 3-6 record and 4.71 ERA last year. Pitching was a 2018 sore spot for BU, which put up a 6.53 staff ERA. Millsaps will play LeTourneau on Saturday, launching coach Jim Page’s 31st year with the purple and white. He topped 750 career wins in 2018 as the Majors went 25-19. The team returns outfielder Jimmy Johnstone, a .361 hitter and second-team All-Southern Athletic Association pick in 2018; outfielder Brennan Ducote, who batted .374 with four homers and 33 RBIs; and right-hander Conner Haynes, 4-1, 3.22 ERA. … Belhaven and Millsaps will play the first of three Maloney Trophy Series games on March 6 at Smith-Wills.
Millsaps College’s postseason path will start in Rome, Ga., on Thursday in the Berry bracket, one of the Southern Athletic Association’s two mini-tournaments. The Majors (22-17, 10-11 SAA) concluded their conference schedule in grand fashion, blasting Centre 21-10 Sunday on the road. After a Maloney Trophy Series game against Belhaven on Tuesday at Twenty Field, the Majors will shift their full attention to Birmingham-Southern. Fifth-seeded Millsaps lost two of three last month to fourth-seeded BSC (21-14, 11-10). Berry (25-11, 15-4) won the SAA regular season title and is the top seed. No. 2 Rhodes is hosting the other four-team bracket. Jim Page’s Majors last made the NCAA Division III Tournament in 2015. They’ll have to get through the double-elimination Berry bracket and then a best-of-3 league championship series to get there this season. An at-large bid appears unlikely. Andy Page is the Majors’ leading hitter at .401 and has a team-best 41 runs. Chase Callaway, a .321 hitter, leads in RBIs with 27. Several others stepped up on Sunday with some big numbers: Cavan Breland (3-for-7, five RBIs), Jimmy Johnstone (three RBIs) and Wes Lassere (four runs). The team’s top arms include Jacob Mardick (2-4, 3.74 ERA, two saves in 15 games) and Barret Kaul (4-3, 4.18 in 11). … The Majors already have clinched the Maloney Trophy, having beaten D-III rival Belhaven in the first two games. The Blazers will bring an 11-21 mark into the game.
This should be good. Hinds Community College and LSU-Eunice, ranked 1-2 in the NJCAA Division II poll, will meet tonight in a winner’s bracket game in the Region 23 Tournament at Eunice, La. The Eagles (42-5) clubbed East Mississippi 12-1 on Thursday, and LSU-E (42-9) routed Northwest Mississippi 12-0. Hinds and LSU-E did not meet in the regular season, though the Bengals did play a couple of MACJC schools. Randy Bell got the win against EMCC and moved to 12-0 for Hinds. Jonathan Washam went 3-for-4 and drove in three runs, and Tyler Cox belted a two-run homer. LSU-E was powered by Steven Sensley, who hit his 18th homer, and Madison Nickens, who had three hits. The Bengals threw ace Mitch Sewald (12-1) on Thursday, so the Eagles might face lefty Ben Braymer, who has 113 strikeouts in 71 2/3 innings. P.S. Jim Page notched his 700th win as Millsaps coach on Thursday when the Majors held off Whitworth 7-6 in the first round of the NCAA Division III West Regional. Annon Etheridge and Andy Page had two RBIs apiece for Millsaps. The Majors’ next game is today against old rival Trinity (Texas) in the weather-plagued tournament at Tyler, Texas. … Omar Johnson got win No. 300 at Jackson State when the Tigers beat Prairie View 10-1 in a SWAC Tournament elimination game. Jevon Jacobs threw a six-hitter with 13 strikeouts. The Tigers play Alabama State today. Alcorn State also stayed alive on Thursday, beating Alabama A&M 13-3 behind Cedric Walker’s complete game. The Braves earned a rematch with Texas Southern, which beat them on Wednesday. … Northeast Mississippi CC announced that assistant Richy Harrelson will replace Kent Farris as head coach. Farris is now the school’s athletic director. Harrelson was a legendary prep player at Iuka and Tishomingo County before going on to star at Ole Miss. He also worked as an assistant at Southern Miss.
Only 14 at-large bids to the NCAA Division III Tournament were handed out. Millsaps got one. The Majors (28-12) will play in the West Regional, which starts Wednesday at Tyler, Texas. The regional features four conference champions, including host UT-Tyler, 34-10 out of the American Southwest. The Majors’ chances of getting a regional bid appeared slim when they were eliminated at home by Rhodes in the tournament phase of the Southern Athletic Association postseason. Rhodes and SAA regular season champ Birmingham-Southern also made the 56-team NCAA field. Under longtime coach Jim Page, Millsaps has made several regional appearances and reached the D-III College World Series in 2013. League player of the year Keith Shumaker leads the current club, hitting .395 and posting an 8-2, 2.39 pitching ledger. Isaac Glenn also had a huge year, batting .446 with four homers and 44 RBIs, and William Chenoweth hit .366 with five bombs. Smokey Ethridge (5-4, 2.35) is the Majors’ No. 2 starter. Another stat worth knowing: Millsaps is 6-6 away from home this season.
In a much different position than it was in a year ago, Millsaps College starts postseason play on Friday. The fourth-seeded Majors (21-16 after scoring 27 runs in a two-game sweep at Oglethorpe over the weekend) play 5-seed Hendrix in one of the two four-team pods in the Southern Athletic Association Tournament. Also in Millsaps’ bracket are No. 1 seed (and pod host) Birmingham-Southern and 8-seed Sewanee. The survivors from the double-elimination pods meet in a best-of-3 series for the conference title. Millsaps won both the regular season and postseason championships in 2013 en route to the NCAA Division III World Series. Keith Shumaker beat Birmingham-Southern in the title clincher at Twenty Field last May. The preseason All-American is still around, sporting a 5-1, 2.39 pitching ledger and a .344 batting average. But Shumaker and the Majors have their work cut out for them in their quest to repeat as league champs and return to the D-III regionals.
The threat of more wet weather on Tuesday has prompted Mississippi College and Millsaps to postpone their scheduled Maloney Trophy Series clash in Clinton to April 29. Tough break. One imagines that both teams were eager to get back on the field. Millsaps swept a doubleheader from NCAA Division III nationally ranked Rhodes on Saturday to improve to 16-15 (6-8 in the Southern Athletic Association). MC swept a pair from D-III nationally ranked Concordia-Texas on Saturday to improve to 14-12 (12-9 in the American Southwest Conference). The Choctaws, ineligible for the ASC postseason as they transition to D-II, have won nine of 10 games as they chase a bid to the National Christian College Athletic Association regionals. Marty Stringfellow (.383), Spencer Wilson (.333) and Robbie Jernigan (.322) have been hot hitters for MC, and Blake Mcilwain (4-1, 3.43 ERA) and Brooks Fortenberry (3-2, 2.19) have been stalwarts on the bump. But the heroes on Saturday were Zach Evans, who hit a two-run bomb in a 2-0 win over Concordia, and Jayme Monroe, who threw eight innings of one-hit ball in that game. They were named ASC player and pitcher of the week. For Millsaps, Keith Shumaker, who batted .470 with nine RBIs in four games last week, was selected as SAA player of the week. P.S. In MLB, Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian Community College standout, has been sent down by Colorado, while Tyler Moore, another MCC alum who also played at Mississippi State, is back up with Washington.