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.
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.
Tough call on the hottest spot this weekend. You could go with Hattiesburg, where Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic will face off for first place in Conference USA. Or you could go with College Station, Texas, where SEC championship contenders Mississippi State and Texas A&M are hooking up; the Aggies won Game 1 9-2 on Thursday. Of course, in Gainesville, Fla., you’ve got Ole Miss, battling for an NCAA regional spot, taking on Florida, also still in the SEC title conversation. Meanwhile, at Braddy Field in Jackson, Jackson State looks to secure first place in the SWAC East when it meets Alabama A&M. Cast a glance, too, at Montgomery, Ala., where William Carey plays Faulkner today in a winner’s bracket game in the SSAC Tournament. The loser will play Blue Mountain later today in an elimination game; the Toppers stayed alive on Thursday by whipping Martin Methodist 11-1. Carey already has earned an NAIA regional host bid. But hold on. Even with all of this other stuff going on, Cleveland wins. The Gulf South Conference Tournament begins Saturday at Ferriss Field with both top seed Delta State and seventh-seeded Mississippi College in action in separate four-team pools. The only way the two could meet again is in the championship game on Tuesday. DSU has won 13 tournament titles and, considering how the Statesmen dominated the regular season, is the odds-on favorite to win again. MC, officially back in the NCAA Division II GSC this season after 20-plus years, qualified for the tournament with an impressive late surge that included a win over Delta State last week. Second-year coach Jeremy Haworth’s team went 20-25 overall. MC’s last GSC Tournament appearance came in 1996, when the Choctaws went 2-and-out. The team’s best result came in 1984, when it won the South Division Tournament and lost to North Alabama in the championship series. P.S. Awards have been rolling in, including GSC player and coach of the year honors for DSU’s Zack Shannon and Mike Kinnison; SSAC player of the year for Carey’s James Land; and a national player of the week award for MC’s Blaine Crim. … The five finalists for the Ferriss Trophy will be named on Sunday, May 14. The announcement ceremony, featuring former Ole Miss star and big leaguer Don Kessinger, is May 22.
The Governor’s Cup is a big deal. There will be a big crowd tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Mississippi State’s surprising sweep of Ole Miss in Oxford last month will be a big topic of conversation. Fans will ooh and ahh as rival sluggers Brent Rooker and Colby Bortles take big swings for the fences. But in the grand scheme, tonight’s non-conference clash doesn’t mean a whole lot. There are much bigger things just ahead for both schools. For State, that would be Auburn. For UM, Arkansas. State, enjoying a remarkable first year under Andy Cannizaro, has the best record in the SEC at 13-5, including those three one-run wins over Alabama last week. The Bulldogs (28-14) have jumped into the top 10 in some of the polls. But State’s seat atop the league is about to be threatened: Here comes Auburn for an SEC series that starts Friday in Starkville. The Tigers, coached by former Bulldogs assistant Butch Thompson, are 30-12, 12-6 SEC and also highly ranked. It’s a series that will garner national attention. Ole Miss, meanwhile, will be at Arkansas this weekend (Thursday-Saturday) to face a nationally ranked Razorbacks team (32-10, 12-6) that is 24-3 at Baum Stadium. Mike Bianco’s Rebels (25-15) are just 9-9 in the SEC and fighting to stay in the picture for an NCAA regional bid. The winner of tonight’s game at the TeePee gets a fine feather in its cap, but both teams will move on with some urgency. P.S. Belated props to Cole Marsh, a freshman right-hander at Mississippi Delta Community College, and Bubba Stockstill, a sophomore lefty for East Mississippi CC. Marsh pitched a six-hit shutout against No. 1-ranked Jones County JC on Friday in Moorhead. The 3-0 loss was just the second of the season for JCJC (36-2, 18-2 MACJC), which is averaging nine runs a game. Delta is 24-14, 11-9. The 6-foot-7 Stockstill threw a six-inning no-hitter with 10 strikeouts against Pearl River CC in a 10-0 victory on Sunday in Scooba. He was named MACJC pitcher of the week.
A bunch of attention-grabbing stuff went down last week among the state colleges. There was Brent Rooker’s three-homer game for Mississippi State, which helped him earn SEC player of the week honors. William Carey’s James Land also won a player of the week award, getting the SSAC nod after batting .455 with seven RBIs in a hard-fought series win against Blue Mountain. Ole Miss swept Alabama. Jackson State swept Mississippi Valley State. Delta State took three games from Shorter, its fourth straight GSC series sweep. Southern Miss took two of three from Florida International to remain atop the C-USA standings. Jones County Junior College, now 31-1, won four more MACJC games by a cumulative 52-11. As impressive as any of that, however, was Millsaps’ sweep of Oglethorpe at Twenty Field. Three straight walk-off wins. Logan Patterson had a big series, going 6-for-14 with three runs and two RBIs, including a game-winner on Saturday. Wes Lasserre hit a walk-off grand slam in the first game on Saturday. But the play of the week came on Sunday, a squeeze bunt by Cavan Breland that scored two runs and gave the Majors a 7-6 win. Patrick Grumbley, a 5-foot-9, 165-pound junior inserted as a pinch runner, made a mad dash all the way from second base to score the game-winner. In 16 games, Grumbley is 1-for-5 with five walks and eight runs for the Majors, now 15-18 and 6-8 in the Southern Athletic Association.
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.
It should be posted in the dugouts at Oxford-University Stadium this weekend as a warning to hitters: “Danger: High Voltage.” Ole Miss and Vanderbilt pitchers have been dealing electric stuff. Their staffs rank 2-3 in the SEC in ERA, first and fourth in batting average against and second and fifth in strikeouts. Ole Miss pitchers have thrown five shutouts in the team’s last six games. Rebels starters have worked 43 2/3 scoreless innings over those six games, one of which Ole Miss (12-5) actually lost. Regardless of the competition, that’s strong. The UM staff ERA has shrunk to 2.40. Opposing batters are hitting .185. Eight pitchers with at least 11 innings of work have ERAs under 4.00. Five are under 2.00, including Andy Pagnozzi (0.82) and Will Ethridge (1.15). David Parkinson (3-1, 2.52) is the reigning SEC pitcher of the week after tossing eight scoreless innings against Furman last Friday. Vanderbilt (12-6), which has a reputation for trotting out quality arms, has a 2.58 ERA, led by freshman starter Drake Fellows, who is 3-0 with a 1.00. Neither team has been a behemoth with the bats, but Ole Miss has been particularly puny. The Rebels have scored only 79 runs and rank 13th in the league in batting and last in slugging. So, if you like good pitching, this series should be crackling with excitement. P.S. Mississippi State (12-6) visits Arkansas to open SEC play in a series that matches the top two home run-hitting teams in the league. The Razorbacks have 25, the Bulldogs 19. Arkansas’ Dominic Smith and Grant Koch are tied with State’s Brent Rooker for second in the individual ranking with five homers apiece. … Southern Miss (13-4) is at Louisiana Tech to start C-USA play. Tech’s first year coach, Lane Burroughs, is a Mississippi College alum and former Southern Miss assistant. He also played at Meridian Community College when current USM coach Scott Berry was an assistant there.