12 May

three to watch

In a recent online chat, a Baseball America scribe made a prediction for this summer’s college Team USA roster that included three players from Mississippi: State’s Konnor Pilkington, Ole Miss’ Dallas Woolfolk and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner. They are worthy candidates – and certainly worthy of keeping an eye on this weekend as the Big 3 charge toward tournament season. Pilkington, the sophomore left-hander out of East Central High, is slated to start today at Georgia. He is just 5-4 in 12 starts, but his wins have been big ones for the Bulldogs, 32-17 and 16-8, tied for best in the SEC. He has a 3.82 ERA with 84 strikeouts in 73 innings. Woolfolk, a sophomore out of DeSoto Central, has been a solid closer for Ole Miss, which faces a crucial series against nationally ranked Texas A&M in Oxford. While both State and USM are projected as regional hosts in Baseball America’s latest mock NCAA Tournament field, the Rebels (29-20, 11-13) aren’t in at all. Woolfolk has 10 saves, three wins and a 1.91 ERA in 23 appearances. USM (37-12, 19-5 C-USA) can clinch the conference title this weekend against UAB in Hattiesburg. Wallner, a freshman from Minnesota, has been just one of several mashers in the Golden Eagles lineup. The 6-foot-5 outfielder leads the team with 15 homers and is batting .328 (.447 on-base) with 47 RBIs. He also has three saves and a 1.84 ERA on the mound. P.S. East Central Community College has advanced to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament with a two-game sweep of Mississippi Delta in their best-of-3 series. Game 1 winners on Thursday were Hinds, Northwest and Pearl River. No. 1-ranked Jones County and LSU-Eunice received byes to the six-team region tournament, which starts next week at Ellisville.

23 May

pondering momentum

Whether momentum matters in sports is certainly subject to debate. In fact, whether it exists at all is questionable. But if it does exist, Jones County Junior College would appear to have it as the Bobcats move on to the NJCAA Division II World Series. Chris Kirtland’s club won three straight elimination games to capture the championship in the Region 23 Tournament. JCJC beat No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice twice in the regional. The Bobcats also snapped a three-game losing skid against MACJC champion East Central with a win on Saturday and then beat the Warriors again Sunday. In Sunday’s 6-5 title clincher, Mason Strickland, a freshman out of South Jones High, worked 3 1/3 scoreless innings in relief of starter Logan Robbins. Strickland beat LSU-E on Thursday to improve to 10-0; Sunday’s save was his first. Mason Irby, Erick Hoard, Fred Franklin and Tanner Huddleston supplied big hits. So with Big Mo now seemingly on its side, Jones (49-8 and ranked third in the latest D-II poll) plays McHenry College of Illinois on Saturday in Enid, Okla. Delta State appeared to have some momentum last week when it beat top-seeded Tampa for its second straight win in the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament and sixth straight W overall. But DSU’s mo then got derailed by Nova Southeastern in a 9-4 loss. A 13-5 victory against West Georgia on Sunday – fueled by Brandon Cummins’ three-hit, two-RBI game — kept the Statesmen (41-16) alive, but they’ll have to beat Nova twice today to claim the region title and make the D-II World Series. With 11 straight wins and an SEC regular season championship in tow, Mississippi State would seem to be riding a huge wave of momentum into the SEC Tournament. Ole Miss might have picked up a little mo, too, by beating Texas A&M in the regular season finale, denying the Aggies a share of the SEC title. But also in Hoover, Ala., this week are five other teams ranked in the top 12 of Baseball America’s most recent poll. Pitching depth might be a tad more important than momentum in the SEC tourney. If there is a state school still playing that would appear to lack momentum, it’s Southern Miss, which lost its last three C-USA games at Florida International and slipped to the third seed in the conference tournament. But, the tournament is in Hattiesburg, and the Golden Eagles are 24-4 in the friendly confines of Taylor Park. Comfort might matter more than momentum – if any such thing really exists.

18 May

here and there

Brian Snitker, the manager of the first Mississippi Braves team in 2005 and a veteran of 40 years in the Atlanta organization, deserved the opportunity to manage in the big leagues. Just not sure if he deserved this: a 9-29 team that can’t seem to do anything right. It was difficult to watch on Tuesday night as the Braves, in Snitker’s debut as Fredi Gonzalez’s replacement, gave up seven runs to Pittsburgh in the first inning. Atlanta battled back – thanks in part to two homers by former M-Braves star Mallex Smith – but still lost 12-9. The Braves are last in MLB in runs, 25th in ERA and 29th in fielding percentage. How much difference can Snitker make? … Hunter Renfroe, the former Mississippi State star from Crystal Springs, homered for the third straight game with El Paso on Tuesday night. Renfroe, a right fielder, is batting .313 with eight bombs and 28 RBIs in 36 games for San Diego’s Triple-A club. The Padres, the worst hitting team in baseball, are last in the National League West. Seems like they could use some help. … Jackson State, which begins SWAC Tournament play today against Texas Southern, leads the SWAC in hitting and homers, but the Tigers do have some arms. While Alabama State’s pitching is far and away the best in the league, JSU’s ERA of 5.31 ranks second. Miguel Yrigoyen, an All-SWAC second-team pick, is 8-3 with a 5.16 ERA, and Jevon Jacobs (3.99), Jamal Wilson (4.42) and Vincent Anthonia (4.73) can get people out. … William Carey University faces an elimination game today in its NAIA regional at Santa Barbara, Calif. The Crusaders beat College of Idaho 7-6 (on Mitch Little’s two-run hit in the seventh) but lost to top-seeded Westmont (Calif.) 14-1 on Tuesday. … At the Clark/Gay Baseball Complex in Decatur on Thursday they can say with literal certainty that it gets no better than this: No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice vs. No. 2 Jones County Junior College in the first round of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. The undercard isn’t bad either: MACJC champion East Central, ranked 14th, and Northwest.

15 May

moving on

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.

17 May

down to two

Only two Mississippi college teams are still standing after a generally rough weekend. Hinds Community College, the No. 1-ranked team in NJCAA Division II, was eliminated Saturday night in the Region 23 championship round by No. 2 LSU-Eunice. The Eagles (43-7) lost twice to the host Bengals in the regional. East Mississippi Community College went 2-and-out in the tournament, and Northwest Mississippi was flushed in its third game, losing an elimination game to Hinds on Saturday. Meanwhile, Mississippi State’s season ended with a whimper as the Bulldogs lost three straight to Tennessee, which claimed the 12th and final berth in the SEC Tournament. Jackson State and Alcorn State bowed out Friday in the SWAC Tournament, where both went 1-2. Millsaps, after winning its opener on Thursday, went down (and out) twice on Friday in the NCAA Division III West Regional. Still playing are Southern Miss, which will take a 13-game winning streak into its Conference USA Tournament opener against UAB on Wednesday at Taylor Park in Hattiesburg, and Ole Miss, which has won six of seven heading into an SEC Tournament clash with Alabama on Tuesday in Hoover, Ala.

15 May

one, meet two

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.

12 May

crunch time (again)

While undefeated Oxford High is the highest ranked Mississippi school in two different national polls, Northwest Rankin definitely rates attention. The Cougars, also ranked in the Top 25 by both MaxPreps and Baseball America, are 29-2 headed into the MHSAA Class 6A North championship series against DeSoto Central. The Cougars, coached by Jeff McClaskey, feature Shelton Wallace (.464, 25 steals), Ian Ladner (.409, five homers, 38 RBIs) and Hunter Smith (9-0, 0.96 ERA). They are 4-0 in the postseason and have won eight straight overall. Both of NWR’s losses were by one run. DeSoto Central (24-9) is led by the highly touted Austin Riley, hitting .456 with 11 homers and 6-2 with a 2.75 ERA as a pitcher. Keegan James hits .336, and Dallas Woolfolk is 7-1, 2.07. In the 6A South finals, defending state champion Oak Grove (24-7) meets Biloxi (21-11) in the best-of-3. The Warriors have the 1-2 pitching punch of Drew Boyd (9-0, 1.04) and J.C. Keys (8-0, 1.01) and a hot hitter in Matthew Guidry (.426). Biloxi counters with the arms of Austin Creel (7-1, 2.01) and Blake Johnson (7-2, 2.00) and the bat of Darrell Montiforte (.296, three homers). In 5A, Oxford puts its unblemished mark (32-0) on the line against New Hope in the North finals. P.S. The SWAC Tournament begins Wednesday in New Orleans. Jackson State, the two-time defending champion, meets Southern University and Alcorn State plays West Division winner Texas Southern in the opening round of the eight-team event. The tourney winner earns an automatic NCAA Tournament bid (though Southern is ineligible). With probable league MVP Melvin Rodriguez (.444, seven homers, 72 RBIs) in its lineup, JSU certainly has a shot at a three-peat. … In Tyler, Texas, on Wednesday, third-seeded Millsaps faces 4-seed Whitworth in the first round of the NCAA Division III West Regional. … At Eunice, La., on Thursday, Hinds Community College meets East Mississippi and Northwest Mississippi plays LSU-Eunice in the first round of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. No. 1-ranked Hinds is the defending region champ.