Braxton Lee’s work with the bat has been impossible to ignore this season. The Picayune native is hitting .316 — best in the Southern League – and has scored 69 runs – second in the SL — for Double-A Jacksonville. His work with the glove also has gotten some attention. Lee was rated the Best Defensive Outfielder in the league in Baseball America’s annual poll of managers. Lee, listed at 5 feet 10, 185 pounds, can really run, a skill he demonstrated at Picayune High, Pearl River Community College and Ole Miss. He was the leadoff batter and left fielder on the Rebels’ 2014 College World Series team, batting .281 with 56 runs and 30 steals in 69 games. He plays center field now and, from all indications, is playing it very well. A 12th-round pick by Tampa Bay in 2014, Lee seemed to have hit a wall when he reached Double-A in 2016. He batted .209 for Montgomery. This season has been an about-face. He has been among the league leaders in hitting all season and was named to the SL All-Star Game in June. “I wouldn’t say anything is better other than my mindset every single day,” Lee recently told the Biloxi Sun-Herald. He was batting .321 on June 26 when Tampa Bay traded him to Miami in the Adeiny Hechavarria deal. Lee was SL player of the week in his first week with Jacksonville. Not yet on the Marlins’ list of top prospects, that likely will change this off-season. … Former Mississippi Braves star Ronald Acuna, now at Triple-A Gwinnett, was ranked as the SL’s Best Batting Prospect and Most Exciting Player.
There were two huge stunners in the opening round of the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament in Ellisville and upsets of considerable weight in Hattiesburg and Pearl, as well, on Wednesday. To wit: NJCAA Division II No. 1 Jones County Junior College squandered a four-run lead and fell to Pearl River 5-4 in the regional, and Hinds upended second-ranked LSU-Eunice 6-2. John Moore and Lucas Scott got clutch hits for PRCC and Colby White did the clutch mound work. Jones lost for just the third time all season and first time at home. The Wildcats and Hinds will play in a winner’s bracket game today. Jones meets East Central in an elimination game. … William Carey University won twice to stay alive in the NAIA Opening Round tourney at Wheeler Field. In their second game of the day, the Crusaders rallied to beat top-seeded and ninth-ranked Southeastern (Fla.) University 6-4, forcing a winner-take-all game today for a berth in the NAIA World Series. Carey scored twice in the ninth to tie the score, then went ahead in the 10th on a Christian Smith two-run single. Closer Lane Fazende worked the last three innings to get the win. … West Lauderdale High entered the MHSAA state finals at Trustmark Park with a 31-2 record and is the only Mississippi school ranked by Baseball America at No. 10. But Corinth (29-8) jumped on the Knights for three runs in the first inning and Kyle Crigger made the lead stand up with a complete game effort in a 5-3 win in Game 1 of the best-of-3 Class 4A series. P.S. There also was an upset of note in the SWAC Tournament in New Orleans as Alcorn State, the 4-seed from the East, beat West No. 1 Grambling State 7-6 in 11 innings.
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.
Beyond that big SEC series going on in Oxford this weekend – and Game 1 certainly moved the needle on the drama meter – there are other games of interest scattered around the state. In Lorman, at Rat McGowan Field, Alcorn State hosts Alabama State, the SWAC leader, in a three-game set. The Braves, 3-6 in the league, have a chance to climb the standings by taking down the 7-2 Hornets, who feature the league’s leading hitter, Cage Cox from Cairo, Ga. In Hattiesburg, at Wheeler Field, NAIA No. 9 William Carey, which has lost three straight games, tries to get back on track in an SSAC series against Bethel, which comes in at 18-12, 5-4. Carey is 23-9, 9-3. They are two of the top hitting teams in a league known for hitting. In Jackson, at Twenty Field on the Millsaps campus, the Majors, needing to make a stand in the Southern Athletic Association race, face off against Hendrix, which is in a similar situation. Millsaps (11-15 overall) is 2-6 in the league, Hendrix (9-16) 3-6. In Fulton, at Cresap Field, ninth-ranked Itawamba Community College hosts MACJC leader Pearl River CC for a Saturday doubleheader. ICC is 18-4, 5-1 in conference. Unranked PRCC is 15-5, 6-0, and has won 10 straight. The Wildcats have four regulars batting .327 or better – Lucas Scott leads the way at .436 — and five pitchers with two wins, including Colby White, who also has three saves. At Oak Grove High’s R.A. Clinton Park, the Warriors, ranked No. 15 in MaxPreps’ latest Xcellent 25, will look to beef up their 15-1 record when they host Meridian today and Seminary on Saturday (before a trip to Purvis on Saturday night). Oak Grove is led by Drew Boyd, a Southern Miss signee who is hitting .396 with four bombs and boasts a 4-0, 0.00 pitching ledger.
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.
From the You Never Know Department: In the 2015 MLB draft, Pittsburgh picked Pearl River Community College right-hander Jacob Taylor, considered by some the best prospect in Mississippi that year, in the fourth round. In the 25th round, Texas took Demarcus Evans, a right-hander from Petal High. Taylor, who was committed to LSU, signed with the Pirates for a reported $500,000. Evans, bound for Hinds CC, inked with the Rangers for $100,000, a nice sum for a 25th-rounder. Some 14 months later, the Pirates still can’t be sure what they have in Taylor. The Rangers, on the other hand, must be thrilled with their investment in Evans. Such is the nature of baseball – and the draft. Taylor has pitched in just three official minor league games. In August of last year, two months after the draft, he made his pro debut in the Gulf Coast League and left after two innings. He went on the disabled list with an elbow injury, then had Tommy John surgery a short time later. Taylor, 21, made his 2016 debut, also in the GCL, on Aug. 3, faced three batters and left after yielding a three-run homer. He didn’t pitch again until Monday, when he worked 2 2/3 innings and allowed another homer, though he did fan four batters. Taylor was All-State at Picayune High in 2013 and was a good if not great player at PRCC, posting a 3.14 ERA as a freshman and a 3.90 as a sophomore while also playing some outfield. He is 6 feet 3 with an upper 90s fastball and may yet do great things in pro ball. But at the moment, Evans has passed him on prospect road. At Petal, Evans could be dominant, fanning almost two batters per inning as a senior, and he is tapping into that same power as a pro. Pitching at short-season Class A Spokane, the 6-4, 240-pound 19-year-old struck out eight batters in a start on Tuesday and has 17 K’s in 13 2/3 innings. He fanned 44 in 29 innings in the rookie Arizona League. Evans’ walk totals are a little high, but batters have hit just .180 against him and his ERA at Spokane is 1.98. Not yet a ranked prospect, he is certainly one to watch.