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.
Talk about dialed in. Itawamba Community College’s Tyreque Reed went 11-for-12 in four games last week. The sophomore from Houlka hit four home runs, drove in 10 runs, scored eight times, stole three bases and walked four times to boot. A 6-foot-1, 260-pound third baseman/outfielder, Reed helped the Indians sweep doubleheaders from Blue Mountain’s JV team and Snead State, improving to 11-3 on the season. Reed is batting .512 overall with five homers and 19 RBIs. … For the record, Reed is not the MACJC’s top hitter. According to the NJCAA Division II stats page, Coahoma’s Zachary Gilder, a freshman from Olive Branch (Center Hill), is batting a robust .577 through 11 games. Not far behind Reed is East Central’s Luke Yancey, a sophomore from Morton (East Rankin Academy) who is at .500 through 14 games.
Top-ranked Jones County Junior College has rolled out to an 8-0 start and is the only Mississippi juco still unbeaten. The defending NJCAA Division II national champion plays host to Kaskaskia (Ill.) today in Ellisville. Fred Franklin is batting .346 (.485 on-base percentage) with 11 runs and four steals for Chris Kirtland’s Bobcats, and Ben Stiglets is 2-0 with a 1.93 ERA. … Coahoma started 6-0 but lost a doubleheader on Wednesday to the Rhodes College JV. Latalo Newson was batting .667 with three homers and 15 RBIs through six games for the Tigers, and Hunter Wilson, a star from Star, was at .472 with two bombs and 12 RBIs. … East Central’s Cole Gray, a freshman from Meridian, was named the NJCAA D-II pitcher of the week on Thursday after earning MACJC honors earlier in the week. Gray went six innings, allowing one run on two hits with 10 strikeouts in a win last week against Coastal Alabama. The Warriors, ranked eighth in preseason, are 5-1. … Hinds, ranked No. 17 in the NJCAA preseason poll, is 4-4. … Southwest’s “T Tez” Cole was the MACJC hitter of the week after going 4-for-7 with five RBIs and five runs. The freshman from Monticello is 8-for-16 on the season for the 5-1 Bears. … Gulf Coast, sparked by Tyler Evans (.381, four RBIs, eight runs) is 5-1 with five straight wins. The Bulldogs, playing exclusively on the road while Farris Field in Perkinston undergoes renovation, take on Dyersburg (Tenn.) State and Kaskaskia in d’Iberville on Saturday. … Mississippi Delta is 4-2 under first-year coach Dan Rives, the longtime Hinds assistant, and Pearl River, under new coach Michael Avalon, is 0-2 heading into a twinbill today against Dyersburg.
Smith-Wills Stadium, approaching its 42nd birthday, will crackle to life again today for Belhaven University’s season opener. BU takes on Berry College at 4 p.m. at the Jackson ballpark, which opened in April of 1975 as the home of the Double-A Jackson Mets. The Blazers have called Smith-Wills home since 2006 – after the last pro tenant departed — and the big yard with the artificial surface has been a good fit. They went 12-7 at home in 2016 en route to a disappointing 20-18 overall record. Two key players return from that team: Terrell Hodges, a former Northwest Rankin High and Holmes Community College star, and Tanner Cable, an ex-Delta State pitcher. Both made the American Southwest Conference preseason watch list. Hodges, an outfielder, had a monster year in 2016, batting .397 with seven homers, 26 RBIs, 43 runs and 30 stolen bases in 38 games. Cable, a right-hander, was 5-0 with a 2.70 ERA in an injury-shortened campaign. Also back is third baseman Daniel Ammirati, a .331 hitter last year. Belhaven is still in transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III and is not yet eligible for the ASC Tournament or D-III postseason play. P.S. Jones County Junior College also opens today with a considerable target on its back. The defending NJCAA Division II national champs were ranked No. 1 by the NJCAA and Collegiate Baseball magazine and were pegged as the team to beat in D-II by Baseball America. The Bobcats, 54-9 in 2016, return a wealth of talent, featuring the power of Erick Hoard and Tanner Huddleston, the speed of Shelton Wallace and Fred Franklin and an armada of arms. JCJC starts with a twinbill today against Southwest Tennessee at Community Bank Park in Ellisville.
The best performance by a state college in 2016 was delivered by Jones County Junior College, which won its first national championship. Do the Bobcats have an encore in them? The editors of Collegiate Baseball magazine apparently think so. CB’s comprehensive 2017 preseason issue is out, and it’s got JCJC ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II. Chris Kirtland’s Bobcats lost a few key players from last season (most notably Mason Irby, now at Southern Miss) but return a strong core from a 54-win squad. Mason Strickland, Ben Stiglets and Logan Robbins were a combined 28-0 on the bump. Erick Hoard batted .409 with 19 homers, Tanner Huddleston .392 with 12 homers and Fred Franklin .378 with 22 steals. The Bobcats may be challenged for state supremacy by Meridian CC, ranked 18th in CB’s poll. … Ole Miss is ranked No. 22 in the NCAA Division I poll. The Rebels, 43-19 and a regional host in 2016, return the likes of Tate Blackman, Colby Bortles and Will Stokes, and Mike Bianco reeled in what CB ranked as the No. 2 recruiting class in the country. Mississippi State, which won the SEC regular season title and hosted a regional and Super Regional last year, is picked fifth in the SEC West. New coach Andy Cannizaro has some rebuilding to do, as does Southern Miss’ Scott Berry. USM, which won the Conference USA Tournament in 2016, is pegged for a third-place finish in the league. … In the SWAC, Jackson State is picked second, Alcorn State third and Mississippi Valley fifth in the five-team East Division. JSU’s Cornelius Copeland emerged last year as one of the league’s best players. … In NAIA, William Carey checks in at No. 23. The Crusaders won 40 games last year, made the postseason and welcome back top hitters Tyler Odom and Adrian Brown, slugger James Land and pitcher Devin Smith. Believe it or not, Carey opens Feb. 3.
Junior college teams in the state have played in the considerable shadow of the big schools this season. For one day at least, Jones County Junior College owns the spotlight. The Bobcats won the NJCAA Division II national championship on Saturday night, beating GateWay College of Arizona 7-1 in Enid, Okla. Ben Stiglets, a freshman from Gulfport, threw an eight-hitter with eight strikeouts, and World Series MVP Erick Hoard, a freshman from Brandon, led a 15-hit attack with a 3-for-6 effort as the third-ranked Bobcats (54-9) rolled to their first national title. Jones reached the championship round in 2011. Jones got homers from Mason Irby, Tanner Huddleston and Shelton Wallace in the clincher, its second win of the day. Stiglets (10-0) was knocked around by GateWay in the Bobcats’ loss on Monday but bounced back with a sterling outing on Saturday, continuing a string of such performances by Bobcats hurlers in Enid. “It kinda helped to get slapped in the face,” first-year coach Chris Kirtland told the Enid News & Eagle. Calder Mikell, Mason Strickland and Will Brand also stepped up as JCJC won its last four games in Enid by a 40-11 count. P.S. Elsewhere, Mississippi State is in fine shape for a regional title, Southern Miss faces an uphill battle and Ole Miss is done. The Rebels bowed out in shocking fashion Saturday in the Oxford Regional, when Will Stokes gave up a two-run homer in the ninth inning against Tulane. USM, after a 7-2 loss to Florida State in the Tallahassee Regional, will have to beat South Alabama today and then take down FSU twice to win the region crown. State is 2-0 in the Starkville Regional, needing only one win to advance to a Super Regional.