Round 1 of the Battle Royale that is the junior college postseason begins today at four schools around the state. The best-of-3 playoffs feature Hinds at Jones County; Northeast at Meridian; Gulf Coast at Northwest; and Itawamba at East Central. Pearl River, which claimed the MACJC championship on the regular season’s final day, has clinched a spot in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament, along with region host – and No. 1-ranked – LSU-Eunice. The other eight schools are battling for four spots in that double-elimination event set to begin on May 16. Jones County, ranked third in the nation, lost its grip on the state title when it was swept by Meridian – 16-8 and 13-12 – last Sunday. The Bobcats (37-9) are led by Luther Woullard (.427, five homers, 52 RBIs) and pitchers Cooper Brune (11-1, 3.69 ERA) and Tyler Spring (8-1, 2.52). Other players of note in the postseason include: Hinds’ Andrew Beesley (.488, seven homers), Northeast’s Colt Chrestman (.431), Meridian’s Davis Bradshaw (.444, eight homers), Gulf Coast’s Brandon Parker (.422, 20 homers, 71 RBIs) and Josh Lewis (8-1, 2.11), Northwest’s Brant Blaylock (.381, 17 homers, 58 RBIs), Itawamba’s LaBryant Siddell (.381) and East Central’s Wyatt Ball (.366, seven homers). … PRCC (37-9) is ranked sixth in the new NJCAA D-II poll, and Meridian is 19th. Other than Northeast, every other MACJC school still playing was ranked at one time this season. Hinds is the defending region champion.
Jones County Junior College, ranked No. 1 in preseason and still there after a 13-1 start, veered off course in mid-March, losing six times in a 12-game stretch. The team’s ranking in the NJCAA Division II poll tumbled to 12th on April 3. Well, don’t look now, but it seems the Bobcats have rediscovered their way. Jones has won six straight games in MACJC play to climb into second place in the league at 12-4, a notch behind Pearl River CC (12-2). The Bobcats, 25-7 heading into a twinbill at Baton Rouge CC today, put on an impressive showing at Wesson on Tuesday, blasting Copiah-Lincoln 12-2 and 18-6. Luther Woullard, a sophomore from d’Iberville who has been the club’s big bat, had eight hits in the two games and knocked in seven runs in Game 2 alone. He is batting a robust .448 with 17 doubles, five home runs, 40 RBIs and 22 steals. Trace Henry also has been a key offensive player, with a .392 average and 28 steals. Cooper Brune (7-0, 2.37 ERA), Will Freeman (5-1, two saves, 4.19) and Tyler Spring (5-1, 1.89) front coach Chris Kirtland’s pitching staff, which has a 3.11 ERA. JCJC’s next conference games are Wednesday at Mississippi Gulf Coast, another nationally ranked team that features the nation’s top homer and RBI man, Brandon Parker (18 and 63). A potential showdown with Pearl River, currently ranked No. 6, looms on April 24.
Focus on Wildcat Field in Poplarville. This should be good. Itawamba Community College makes the long trip south to meet Pearl River CC today in a battle of two of the top three teams in the MACJC standings. ICC is 19-3 and ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA Division II poll, the school’s highest ranking ever. But the Indians, at 5-1, aren’t in first place in the league. PRCC is – at 6-0. (East Central is actually second at 7-1.) The 18th-ranked Wildcats (20-4) are pumped up from a hard-fought sweep of rival Gulf Coast earlier this week. PRCC’s Connor Lewis, a sophomore from Corinth, has been a sparkplug, batting .329 with four homers, 17 RBIs and 10 stolen bases. Justin Medlin leads the team in hitting at .373, and Kyle Crigger follows at .361. The ace of the staff is lefty Houston Harding, who is 5-0 with a 2.78 ERA and 43 strikeouts. For PRCC, Simon Landry, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound sophomore from Louisiana, brings the thunder: .420, nine homers, 34 RBIs. The Wildcats are deep in arms, topped by Shemar Page (5-0, 1.75), Camden Dusang (5-0, 2.49) and Miles Smith (3-1, 3.20).
Big day for the junior colleges. The new NJCAA Division II poll comes out later today, and several MACJC schools are poised to move up. And there are games of note, in particular first-place East Central Community College at Jones County JC and Mississippi Gulf Coast at Pearl River. ECCC, currently ranked 13th, stayed unbeaten in league play (6-0) by sweeping Holmes on Saturday. No. 3 Jones (17-5, 4-2) beat Northwest twice on Saturday. PRCC, ranked 14th, is 4-0 in the league (18-4 overall) as it braces for the arrival of No. 18 Gulf Coast (20-4, 4-2) and national homer and RBI leader Brandon Parker (13 and 47). Itawamba (19-3, 5-1), off today, was ranked No. 5 in last week’s poll and is coming off an impressive sweep of No. 19 Meridian in Saturday’s biggest showdown. ICC’s Houston Harding, a freshman lefty from Walls, struck out 14 in picking up his fifth win in a 5-0 victory in Game 1, and Trey DeSantis, a freshman outfielder from Laurel, threw out a runner at the plate to seal a 4-3 win in Game 2. ICC next plays on Friday at Pearl River. Meridian (16-6, 3-3) welcomes Hinds today; unranked (at the moment) HCC is 17-3, 3-1 (including two wins over Jones).
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 Harding 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.
Jones County Junior College slipped out of the top spot in the new NJCAA Division II poll, replaced by LSU-Eunice, which beat the Bobcats 3-2 last week. Jones is 13-3. Rising on the chart was East Central CC, up to No. 5 from 10th in the previous poll. The 11-1 Warriors have won seven straight. Wyatt Ball has led the charge, batting .500 with two homers, 14 RBIs and 14 runs. George Farid is hitting .441, and Southern Miss signee Jacob Edwards is at .390 with 16 RBIs. On the bump, Delta State-bound Payton Griffin is 2-0 with a 2.93 ERA, and Kolby Crowley has a 0.84 in six appearances. Four other MACJC schools are ranked, though each slipped a bit from last week. Itawamba (12-2) is eighth, Hinds (11-2) 13th, Gulf Coast (16-2) 16th and Pearl River (9-3) 19th. Holmes, at 11-2, isn’t in the Top 20, nor is Copiah-Lincoln (10-2). Only two of the 15 teams in the league are under .500. Conference play, which starts this weekend, will sort a lot of this out.
Feb. 10. That’s a date worth circling. Jones County Junior College, ranked No. 2 in Collegiate Baseball’s NJCAA Division II poll, will make its 2018 debut on that date against Southwest Tennessee CC in Ellisville. It’s truly a testament to the tradition established by the Bobcats – the 2016 national champs – that they are so highly ranked. The 2018 team will look very different from the 2017 version, which started the year ranked No. 1, went 46-4, won the state championship and saw its brilliant season end in heartbreaking fashion at home in the Region 23 Tournament. (Hinds CC won the region title and advanced to the juco World Series.) Gone from the Bobcats roster are hitting stalwarts Tanner Huddleston, Erick Hoard, Fred Franklin and Shelton Wallace and ace starters Ben Stiglets, Mason Strickland and Logan Robbins. Luther Woullard (.326, six homers), a New Orleans signee, is the top returning hitter, and Alabama-bound Will Freeman (1.80 ERA, five saves) is hailed by coach Chris Kirtland as the MACJC’s “most dominant” pitcher. Freshmen will play significant roles. Ones to watch: outfielders Luke McKenzie (Columbia Academy) and Trace Henry (Mooreville) and right-hander Payton Harris (Oak Grove). While you’re circling dates, go ahead and do May 15. That’s the first day of the Region 23 Tournament. It’s a good bet that JCJC will be in it.