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.
Mississippi is having a heck of a year on the college diamonds, and it ain’t over yet. Southern Miss’ Dylan Burdeaux won Conference USA player of the year honors today, giving the state four such honorees. Burdeaux joins Mississippi State’s Brent Rooker (SEC), Delta State’s Zack Shannon (Gulf South) and William Carey’s James Land (SSAC) as top dogs in their league. (Rooker beat out Burdeaux and Shannon for the Ferriss Trophy that goes to the state’s best player.) For what it’s worth, Jackson State’s Bryce Brown had a pretty good case for SWAC POY, and Itawamba Community College’s Tyreque Reed (a State commit) led NJCAA Division II in hitting with an amazing .504 average. DSU, Carey and Hinds CC are all bound for the World Series at their respective levels. The NCAA Division I schools are only just beginning their quest for Omaha, with USM looking like it might have a realistic shot.
While top-ranked Jones County Junior College and LSU-Eunice sit and watch, eight MACJC teams will duke it out this week for four spots in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament. Four teams tied for second in the MACJC regular season (behind runaway champ Jones) and they’ll be the host schools in the best-of-3 playoffs that start on Thursday. Second-seeded Northwest will host Copiah-Lincoln; No. 3 Hinds gets East Mississippi; No. 4 East Central welcomes Mississippi Delta; and No. 5 Itawamba hosts Pearl River. The four series winners advance to Ellisville next week for the region tournament. Worth noting: ICC’s Tyreque Reed leads NJCAA Division II in hitting at .504. The Indians are batting .338 as a team. … Jones tops the nation at .372, with East Central (.334) and Delta (.329) also ranking among the leaders. … Northwest’s J.G. Lipscomb rates third in the nation in saves with 10. The Rangers’ offensive spark has come from David Herrington, batting .435 with seven homers, 32 RBIs and 27 steals. … PRCC’s Simon Landry has 14 homers, second among state hitters to ICC’s Reed, who has 15. ECCC’s Cole Prestegard has 10. … Hinds’ Caleb Morgan is 6-1 with a 1.70 ERA, eighth-best in the nation. … Delta’s Cole Marsh is 9-1 with a 1.79, ranking 11th in the country. … Co-Lin is the only team still playing with a losing record (20-25). The Wolves are second in the state (behind Jones) in stolen bases with 108, which ranks 13th in the nation. Matthew Mordecai leads four players in double figures with 17.
The way Jones County Junior College is barreling along, it appears that everyone else is playing for second place in the MACJC. Today, in Poplarville, Pearl River and Hinds actually will play for second place in the standings. Pearl River, under first-year coach Michael Avalon, currently sits at No. 2, 12-4 in the league, 21-9 overall. Hinds, led by veteran skipper Sam Temple, is third at 11-5 and 22-10. Lucas Scott, a George County High product, is PRCC’s leading hitter at .366, and Taylorsville’s Austin Moffett is batting .323 with 18 steals. But the Wildcats’ scariest offensive threat may be Simon Landry, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound freshman from Louisiana who has 11 home runs. Peyton Lee (4-0, 1.78 ERA), from Picayune, and Colby White (3-1, 1.83) have been PRCC’s best pitchers. Hinds has an ace in Caleb Morgan (4-0, 1.60), a Grenada product, and several well-credentialed hitters: Kyle Shimpf (.385, five homers), Brandon’s Jackson Mitchell (.373), Hernando’s Will Craft (.357) and Natchez’s Quinton Logan (.353, 30 RBIs, 32 runs). While the Wildcats and Eagles are battling it out at Wildcat Field, Jones (15-1, 33-1 overall and ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II) will host Gulf Coast for a twinbill in Ellisville.
It kinda figures that closers will play a significant role in this weekend’s Mississippi State-Ole Miss series in Oxford. The Rebels (16-9, 3-3 SEC) have been offensively challenged (.246) all season, but they’ll be up against a State staff that has the second-worst ERA in the SEC. The Bulldogs (16-10, 3-3), led by the mashing of Brent Rooker, are a .300-hitting team, but they’ll be up against a UM staff that ranks second in the league in ERA. All this points to close games and late-inning drama, which is what everybody – well, practically everybody – would like to see at Oxford-University Stadium. As a bonus, both teams are well-armed at the back of the bullpen. Ole Miss’ primary closer is Dallas Woolfolk, a sophomore right-hander out of DeSoto Central High. He has six saves, a 1-1 record and has yielded just two runs in 18 innings. Will Stokes, a junior right-hander out of West Lauderdale, also gets some save opps – as he did last year behind Wyatt Short. Stokes has four saves, a 1-0 mark and a 3.29 ERA in 13 2/3 innings. For State, Spencer Price, a Meridian Community College transfer from Olive Branch, has taken on the closer job. The big right-hander has six saves, a 2-1 record and a 1.93 ERA. Though neither has a save, Jacob Barton (2.00) and Riley Self (2.45) also have been effective out of the Bulldogs’ pen. … The first two games of the series will be televised: ESPNU has the Thursday game at 7 p.m. and SEC Network the Friday game at 6. P.S. The new NJCAA Division II poll has four Mississippi schools in the top 20. Ironically, Pearl River Community College, the only team with a spotless MACJC record, isn’t among them. PRCC moved to 6-0 (15-5 overall) with a doubleheader sweep at Gulf Coast on Tuesday. Jones County, which lost for the first time last week, is still No. 1. The Bobcats are 25-1 and 7-1 in the league after sweeping No. 6 East Central (20-6, 6-2) in Tuesday’s marquee showdown. Itawamba (18-4, 5-1), which hosts PRCC on Saturday, is ranked ninth, and Gulf Coast (15-9, 4-4), just swept by The River on Tuesday, is No. 20.
A gem of an outing by Jarod Wright of Northwest Mississippi Community College has shaken up the pecking order in the MACJC standings. Wright threw a four-hitter against previously undefeated, No. 1-ranked Jones County JC in Senatobia on Saturday as the Rangers took an 11-1 win. Jones (23-1, 5-1) bounced back to win Game 2 14-2 behind Logan Robbins’ strong start and a grand slam by Shelton Wallace. But first place in the league now belongs to East Central, which improved to 6-0 (and 20-4) with a jaw-dropping sweep of Holmes in Goodman on Saturday. The Warriors, ranked seventh in NJCAA Division II, won 30-1 and 11-2. They hit seven homers on the day, six in Game 1, including a Wyatt Ball grand slam. Cole Prestegard went deep in both games, and pitchers Dylan Marsh and Tanner Elders weren’t too bad either. As fate would have it, JCJC and ECCC hook up Tuesday in Decatur. Could be classic. … Pearl River is also unbeaten in the league at 4-0 (13-5 overall) after a sweep of Northeast in Poplarville on Saturday. New coach Michael Avalon’s Wildcats, who’ve won eight straight, are at Gulf Coast on Tuesday and at Itawamba next Saturday. … ICC moved to 5-1 in the league (18-4 overall) by battering Meridian 17-2 and 5-2 on Sunday. Keith Stepter hit three homers and Tyreque Reed two in the first game of that twinbill. … Sitting at 3-1 in the MACJC is Mississippi Delta, under first-year coach Dan Rives.
East Mississippi Community College, you’re up. Ten different teams have tried and failed to take down Jones County Junior College, which is 18-0 and ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA Division II poll. The Bobcats, the defending national champs, visit Scooba for a doubleheader today to start MACJC play. The Lions are 9-3 and ranked 14th. They are led by Marcus Ragan (.364) and Alex Knight (2-0, 3.38 ERA). They’ll face a JCJC team loaded with weapons. Start with the pitching trio of Logan Robbins (5-0, 2.25), Mason Strickland (5-0, 2.67) and Ben Stiglets (4-0, 2.13). The lineup features Shelton Wallace, a .451 hitter; Erick Hoard, .385 with six home runs; Jonathan Parker, .375 with 21 RBIs; and Fred Franklin, .349, 14 steals, 29 runs. Jones has registered its share of blowouts but also has won six games decided by one or two runs. So, go get ’em Lions. P.S. In other league openers of note: No. 8 East Central is at Coahoma; No. 11 Itawamba visits No. 13 Gulf Coast; 18th-ranked Hinds hosts Northeast; and No. 20 Northwest is at Pearl River. … Props to veteran Holmes coach Kenny Dupont, who notched his 500th victory with the Bulldogs on Wednesday. Dupont has guided Holmes to 17 straight winning seasons and has the team off to a 9-9 start in 2017.