Of all the wins racked up by Mississippi colleges over the weekend, none was more significant than Millsaps College’s conquest on Sunday of nationally ranked Birmingham-Southern. The Majors, coming off the worst season in coach Jim Page’s long tenure, were 5-7 heading into their Southern Athletic Association opening series on the road against the No. 8 team in NCAA Division III. BSC is the defending SAA champion and D-III College World Series runner-up. The teams split a doubleheader to begin the series, setting up Sunday’s rubber game that the Majors won in blowout fashion, 12-7. Behind home runs from Fritz Walker III and Chris Hart, the Majors bolted to a 10-1 lead. Erstwhile football player Walker, batting .362, leads the team with four homers and 18 RBIs. Hart, a Northwest Rankin High product, entered the game just 5-for-45 on the season. He banged out three hits, including a grand slam that was his first homer of the year. An unsung hero for the Majors was freshman Brady Davis, who recorded the last five outs to snuff out any BSC comeback hopes. … Meanwhile, tough times continued for Mississippi Valley State, which was swept in a home SWAC series against Alabama State to fall to 0-13. Two of the Delta Devils’ six SWAC losses were by one run and two were by two runs. Valley hasn’t scored more than four runs in any game and has managed that total only twice.
The all-time series is rather lopsided between Delta State and Mississippi College. The Statesmen lead 122-44-2. More telling about the rivalry is the recent history: 5-5 over the last 10 games, 3-3 in 2018. And MC won the two biggest games last year, eliminating DSU in both the Gulf South Conference Tournament and NCAA Division II South Regional. The schedule brings them together again in Clinton on Saturday (doubleheader) and Sunday to conclude the regular season. Buckle up. MC, ranked No. 4 in the South Region, is 19-5 in the GSC and first in the standings. DSU, No. 3 in the South Region, is 18-8 and third. Delta State’s pitching (see Dalton Minton, Hunter Riggins, Melvin Frazier, et al.) has been outstanding; the Statesmen lead the league (by a wide margin) in ERA with a 2.50. Can MC’s hurlers (Chris Crosby, Garrett Hollinghead, Ryan Lane, et al.) keep pace? … Blue Mountain College and William Carey University get their final tuneups this weekend for next week’s Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, with BMC playing a three-game set at Bethel (Tenn.) and Carey hosting Loyola of New Orleans. The Toppers are 25-21-1 and 14-9 in the SSAC, third behind NAIA powerhouses Faulkner and Middle Georgia State. The Crusaders are 20-24 and 12-11, seventh in the league. … A tough year for Millsaps College will likely end this weekend in Conway, Ark., where the Majors will play in one of the Southern Athletic Association’s two four-team tournaments that decide the championship series teams. The Majors (9-31) are the 8-seed overall and face No. 1 Hendrix in Friday’s opening round. Rhodes and Centre, the 4- and 5-seeds, are also in this bracket. Hendrix (28-12) swept the Majors three straight by a cumulative score of 28-5 during the season. Pitching (7.28 ERA) has been Millsaps’ biggest issue, though the defense (102 errors) has been shaky, as well. But, upsets do happen in postseason baseball. Teams go on improbable runs. Millsaps has done it before. … MUW’s second season ended on Tuesday with a pair of losses to Stillman in Columbus. The Owls are 16-11 and may get an invitation to the USCAA championships as they did in 2018. MUW, a non-scholarship program, went 3-1 vs. Rust, 2-0 vs. Tougaloo and 1-3 vs. Blue Mountain. … Belhaven University hired Kyle Palmer, formerly director of baseball operations at California Baptist University in Riverside, as the retired Hill Denson’s replacement for 2020. The Texas Lutheran graduate will be a first-time head coach. BU, completing its transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III, is expected to be eligible for the American Southwest Conference championship next season.
Millsaps College’s postseason path will start in Rome, Ga., on Thursday in the Berry bracket, one of the Southern Athletic Association’s two mini-tournaments. The Majors (22-17, 10-11 SAA) concluded their conference schedule in grand fashion, blasting Centre 21-10 Sunday on the road. After a Maloney Trophy Series game against Belhaven on Tuesday at Twenty Field, the Majors will shift their full attention to Birmingham-Southern. Fifth-seeded Millsaps lost two of three last month to fourth-seeded BSC (21-14, 11-10). Berry (25-11, 15-4) won the SAA regular season title and is the top seed. No. 2 Rhodes is hosting the other four-team bracket. Jim Page’s Majors last made the NCAA Division III Tournament in 2015. They’ll have to get through the double-elimination Berry bracket and then a best-of-3 league championship series to get there this season. An at-large bid appears unlikely. Andy Page is the Majors’ leading hitter at .401 and has a team-best 41 runs. Chase Callaway, a .321 hitter, leads in RBIs with 27. Several others stepped up on Sunday with some big numbers: Cavan Breland (3-for-7, five RBIs), Jimmy Johnstone (three RBIs) and Wes Lassere (four runs). The team’s top arms include Jacob Mardick (2-4, 3.74 ERA, two saves in 15 games) and Barret Kaul (4-3, 4.18 in 11). … The Majors already have clinched the Maloney Trophy, having beaten D-III rival Belhaven in the first two games. The Blazers will bring an 11-21 mark into the game.
With nine wins in its first 12 games and three straight blowout victories, Millsaps College heads into its first conference series of the year riding a wave of positivity. The Majors, who host Rhodes in Southern Athletic Association play at Twenty Field this weekend, have scored at least 11 runs in their last three games, including an 11-2 win against local rival Belhaven University on Tuesday. Brennan Ducote, a junior from Lafayette, La., has been the main masher, with a .500 average, two homers, 14 RBIs and 11 runs. He hit .279 with one homer last year. Jimmy Johnstone is batting .429 and former Northwest Rankin High star Chase Callaway .386 for the Majors, hitting .314 as a team. Connor Haynes is 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA on the bump. The Majors went 19-23 in 2017 after a 20-21 finish the year before, uncharacteristic campaigns for an NCAA Division III program that has won 64 percent of its games since Jim Page became the coach in 1989.
Millsaps College will play at Twenty Field this weekend without Keith Shumaker for the first time in five years. The Majors, hosting the three-team Millsaps Invitational, play LaGrange on Friday in their home opener. They went 1-2 in a tournament in Alabama last weekend. Shumaker, the team’s best all-around hitter and pitcher in 2015, was the Southern Athletic Association player of the year and an NCAA Division III All-America as a senior, leading the Majors to a 29-14 finish and an at-large berth in the D-III regionals. Among the familiar faces in purple and white this season is coach Jim Page, who typically finds a way to win. He has 701 career W’s. Page has some experienced talent back in the fold in Isaac Glenn, an All-America candidate who hit .425 last year; Andy Page, .331 in 2015 as a freshman; and Lee Ogletree, .305 last year. Those three combined for nine hits in an 11-7 romp against Southwestern last weekend. P.S. In case you missed it, Rust College opened its season last weekend at Loyola-New Orleans with three losses. The Bearcats, who play in NCAA D-III, were outscored by the NAIA Wolf Pack 54-8.
Only 14 at-large bids to the NCAA Division III Tournament were handed out. Millsaps got one. The Majors (28-12) will play in the West Regional, which starts Wednesday at Tyler, Texas. The regional features four conference champions, including host UT-Tyler, 34-10 out of the American Southwest. The Majors’ chances of getting a regional bid appeared slim when they were eliminated at home by Rhodes in the tournament phase of the Southern Athletic Association postseason. Rhodes and SAA regular season champ Birmingham-Southern also made the 56-team NCAA field. Under longtime coach Jim Page, Millsaps has made several regional appearances and reached the D-III College World Series in 2013. League player of the year Keith Shumaker leads the current club, hitting .395 and posting an 8-2, 2.39 pitching ledger. Isaac Glenn also had a huge year, batting .446 with four homers and 44 RBIs, and William Chenoweth hit .366 with five bombs. Smokey Ethridge (5-4, 2.35) is the Majors’ No. 2 starter. Another stat worth knowing: Millsaps is 6-6 away from home this season.
Millsaps College wears purple, which, oddly enough, is the color of royalty but also the color of a bruise. The Majors went into a weekend series at rival Rhodes sitting on the throne in the Southern Athletic Association. They came home late Saturday feeling a little beat up. The Lynx swept the Majors in three games, handing Millsaps as many SAA losses as it had accumulated all season to that point. Birmingham-Southern, at 15-4-1 in the conference with a game to play today, appears to have captured the regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference postseason. Millsaps (25-10, 15-6) will still host a four-team tournament next weekend at Twenty Field with a chance to advance to the best-of-3 championship series. BSC will also host a four-team double-elimination tourney. Millsaps stumbled in Game 1 at Memphis 5-4 on Friday despite out-hitting the host Lynx 11-7. Rhodes put up a four-spot, aided by an error, in the second inning against Smokey Ethridge (4-3) and the Majors couldn’t recover. In Game 2 on Saturday, Rhodes handed Keith Shumaker his first loss of the season (against eight wins). He allowed 11 hits and a walk in losing a 3-2 duel against Adam Putnam (7-2), who checked the Majors on six hits. In Game 3, a seven-inning nightcap on Saturday, the Lynx (26-11, 14-6) pounded out 18 hits against four Majors pitchers, blowing the game open with a six-run sixth and winning 11-2. Was the Majors’ confidence shaken by the lost weekend, or will they come out angry and motivated in the tournament next weekend?
In a much different position than it was in a year ago, Millsaps College starts postseason play on Friday. The fourth-seeded Majors (21-16 after scoring 27 runs in a two-game sweep at Oglethorpe over the weekend) play 5-seed Hendrix in one of the two four-team pods in the Southern Athletic Association Tournament. Also in Millsaps’ bracket are No. 1 seed (and pod host) Birmingham-Southern and 8-seed Sewanee. The survivors from the double-elimination pods meet in a best-of-3 series for the conference title. Millsaps won both the regular season and postseason championships in 2013 en route to the NCAA Division III World Series. Keith Shumaker beat Birmingham-Southern in the title clincher at Twenty Field last May. The preseason All-American is still around, sporting a 5-1, 2.39 pitching ledger and a .344 batting average. But Shumaker and the Majors have their work cut out for them in their quest to repeat as league champs and return to the D-III regionals.
There is a spotlight on Millsaps College’s Keith Shumaker this season. The junior third baseman/pitcher from Brandon was the Southern Athletic Association player of the year in 2013 and was named a first-team preseason All-America this year by d3baseball.com. Shumaker, who also figures to be a prime contender for the 2014 Ferriss Trophy award, hit .376 with four homers, 52 RBIs and 63 runs AND went 6-2 with a 3.01 ERA on the mound. Obviously, he was a major cog in the Majors’ 38-14 campaign that ended in the NCAA Division III College World Series, the school’s first trip there. Well, if Shumaker is feeling any heat, it didn’t show in Millsaps’ opener on Friday. He went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run in a 4-1 win over Randolph-Macon at Huntingdon (Ala.) in Montgomery. The Majors have two more games slated in the Alabama event before their home opener on Tuesday against Belhaven.