Tournament baseball is a different animal. White-knuckle moments are built in. But even then, you can’t anticipate the kind of high drama that Mississippi’s Big 3 experienced on Wednesday (and into the wee hours of today). Ole Miss, which can use some more wins, lost a late lead and fell in the SEC Tournament to Arkansas. Southern Miss, desperately needing more wins to make the NCAAs, pulled off a comeback for the ages in the C-USA Tournament against Rice. And Mississippi State, looking to pump up its NCAA Tournament resume, squandered an early lead, then rallied – twice – to beat LSU in the longest game in SEC tourney history. Ole Miss led 3-2 in the sixth inning at Hoover, Ala., fell behind 4-3, put the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the eighth but couldn’t get the clutch hit against Arkansas closer Matt Cronin. The Hogs won 5-3. At MGM Park in Biloxi, USM trailed 4-0 early, got a run in the seventh, three in the ninth to force extras and then won it 6-4 in the 10th on Matt Wallner’s walk-off home run. (You can almost feel Wallner’s MLB draft stock rising.) Back in Hoover for the SEC nightcap, State let an early 4-0 lead slip away, fell behind in the 16th inning, tied it and then won 6-5 in the 17th on a walk-off hit by Gunner Halter. The 6-hour, 43-minute emotional rollercoaster ended just after 3 this morning. Each of the Big 3 plays again today. There will be drama. That you can count on.
Bradley Roney, the former Southern Miss standout who reached Triple-A in 2016 in Atlanta’s system, pitched in an official game on Tuesday for the first time in almost two years. Roney, 26, worked two scoreless innings for Class A Florida. “It feels so goooooood to be back,” he tweeted after he was activated from the injured list on Monday. Roney, a 2014 draftee by the Braves, last pitched in July 2017 for the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He made 15 appearances that year, posting a 3.75 ERA, four wins and two saves out of the bullpen. If all goes well, he’ll likely get back to Pearl sometime this summer. … Ole Miss product and onetime big leaguer Aaron Barrett, who missed the 2016 and ’17 seasons with major arm injuries (see previous posts), has been effective in his ongoing comeback effort in Washington’s system. The 31-year-old righty has a 3.57 ERA and nine saves in 15 games at Double-A Harrisburg. He has 90 major league appearances on his resume, the last in 2015. … USM alum Cody Carroll, on the IL since the start of the season with a back issue, has begun throwing, according to reports. Carroll made his MLB debut with Baltimore in 2018, his fourth pro season. He was assigned to Triple-A Norfolk in spring training before he was shut down. … Former George County High standout Justin Steele, who is on the Chicago Cubs’ 40-man roster, has struggled since returning from a stint on the IL at Double-A Tennessee. A 23-year-old lefty, Steele has a 9.33 ERA in six outings this season. Steele had Tommy John surgery in 2017 and was limited to 11 games last year, plus some work in the Arizona Fall League.
At 6 feet 5, 280 pounds, Lance Lynn looks like a guy who could do some heavy lifting. On Tuesday night in Arlington, Texas, the former Ole Miss star did just that, throwing 120 pitches over seven innings to carry Texas to a 5-3 victory against Seattle. Making his 200th career big league start, the 32-year-old Lynn allowed just five hits, one walk and two runs while fanning 11. He took a shutout into the seventh, and Rangers manager Chris Woodward let him work out of a jam to finish that inning. Lynn is now 6-3, 4.67 ERA, and has won four of his last five starts, going seven innings – a rarity in today’s game — in four of those appearances. “If (Woodward had) told me I was going back out for the eighth, I would have done it,” Lynn told mlb.com. “That’s just who I am … .” Gotta like that attitude. P.S. Three Mississippians went yard on Tuesday. Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland hit his 13th for Boston, ex-Southern Miss standout Brian Dozier hit No. 7 for Washington and Richton’s JaCoby Jones got his fourth for Detroit.
As we await the announcement on Monday of the 2019 Ferriss Trophy winner, it feels like a good time to check in on the last two winners of the state’s top college player award, both now in the minor leagues. Southern Miss product Nick Sandlin, last year’s honoree, is dealing at Double-A Akron in the Cleveland system. The sidearming right-hander, a second-round pick last June, has an 0.79 ERA in 10 games (11 1/3 innings) with 17 strikeouts. He earned his first save with a two-inning effort on Thursday night, fanning four of the eight batters he faced. Sandlin zipped through four levels of the minors in 2018, topping out at Akron, and posted a 3.00 ERA, two wins and five saves in 25 games. The Indians moved Sandlin back to the bullpen after he served as the No. 1 starter for USM last year. The 2017 Ferriss winner, Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, moved quickly up Minnesota’s ladder after being a supplemental first-rounder in June ’17, starting this season at Triple-A Rochester. But the righty-hitting outfielder/first baseman has scuffled at the new level, batting just .222 with six homers and 12 RBIs while striking out 43 times in 90 at-bats. Rooker hit 40 homers over his first two pro seasons and was a Southern League All-Star in 2018. P.S. Cody Reed, the veteran lefty out of Northwest Mississippi Community College, was recalled today by Cincinnati from Triple-A Louisville. He got into one game with the Reds earlier this season and has 40 appearances over the past four years.
Friday is the main event in college baseball’s regular season. Typically, Friday means the conference series opener. It means the aces are out. It’s a night when the lights are brightest and the tension most palbable. It’s when momentum is seized for the best-of-3 series. Or is it? Mississippi State and Ole Miss open their annual SEC battle tonight in Oxford with their best starters on the mound. State left-hander Ethan Small has been dominant: 6-1, 1.85 ERA, 122 strikeouts and 18 walks in 73 innings. UM’s Will Ethridge doesn’t have that kind of stuff but has been solid: 5-4, 2.80. Meanwhile, Southern Miss, trying to keep a grip on first place in C-USA, visits Rice and will throw its most reliable starter, Walker Powell (5-2, 2-79). State (15-9 SEC) has won six of its eight conference series. Only once have the Bulldogs lost the opening game and won the series. Ole Miss (also 15-9 in league) has won five SEC series, three of those after winning Game 1. Like State, UM only once has lost a league series after winning the opener. (Notably, the Rebels lost the opening game at LSU last weekend but came back to win the series in a wild rubber game.) USM (18-6 C-USA) has won five of eight series, winning none after losing the opener. What’s it all mean? Friday is a pretty big deal.
Take a deep breath, Mississippi. On a Sunday that included Ole Miss’ all-time crazy win at LSU, Southern Miss’ huge walk-off win against Florida Atlantic, Delta State’s homer-fueled, elimination-game win in the Gulf South Tournament and the Mississippi Braves’ squeeze-bunt walk-off vs. Jacksonville, the scene-stealing moment from a state-connected player may well have been delivered by big leaguer Hunter Renfroe in San Diego. The former Mississippi State star hit a two-out, pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam to beat the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace closer Kenley Jansen 8-5. “This is my second walk-off home run, and there’s nothing like it in this world,” Renfroe, the pride of Crystal Springs, said in an mlb.com game story. It was the first pinch-hit walk-off slam in Padres history and salvaged the third game of the series for San Diego, which suffered tough losses in the first two. “These moments shape your season,” Padres manager Andy Green told mlb.com. The slam was Renfroe’s seventh homer of the season. Fighting a slump of late, he is batting .227 with 16 RBIs. He joins Tim Anderson – American League player of the month for April – and Jarrod Dyson as Mississippians with walk-off homers in MLB already in 2019. P.S. Cody Reed, the Northwest Mississippi Community College alum from Horn Lake, worked 2 1/3 scoreless innings Saturday in his 2019 debut for Cincinnati but was returned to the minors on Sunday. Reed has been up and down with the Reds since 2016. He has a 3.21 ERA at Triple-A Louisville.
It would be hard to find anyone in the minors swinging a hotter bat than Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High alum who is on a 13-for-24 roll with five home runs, nine RBIs and nine runs in this stretch. For the year at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system, Riley (see previous post) is batting .293 with seven homers, including a 492-foot blast he hit Wednesday. … At Double-A Mississippi, Drew Waters extended his hit streak to five games with a 2-for-4 effort and is at .327 with two homers, nine RBIs and 17 runs. Cristian Pache also went 2-for-4 to boost his average to .330 with two bombs and 17 RBIs. … Ole Miss product Chris Ellis may be experiencing a letdown back in Triple-A with St. Louis. After posting a scoreless inning in his MLB debut for Kansas City last month, the Rule 5 draftee was dropped from the Royals’ active roster and returned to the Cardinals. He has allowed nine earned runs in four relief appearances at Memphis. … Mississippi State product Hunter Stovall, traded by Colorado to Philadelphia last week, went 1-for-4 with a triple in his debut Wednesday at Class A Lakeland. He was batting .281 for Asheville in the same league. … Ex-UM and Pearl River Community College standout Braxton Lee, who briefly made the big leagues with Miami in 2018, is hitting .296 in Double-A with the New York Mets. … MSU product Brent Rooker has been out of the lineup for several days at Triple-A Rochester (Minnesota), where the highly rated prospect is hitting .214 with four homers. … Former Columbia High star Ti’Quan Forbes has heated up for Double-A Birmingham (Chicago White Sox), hitting .303 over his last 10 games to get to .243 for the year. … Petal’s Demarcus Evans and Houlka’s Tyreque Reed, two rising young stars in the Texas system, are holding their own at high-A Down East. Evans has a 1.64 ERA and 19 strikeouts in 11 innings, while Reed is batting .314 with three homers in his last 10 games. … Former Petal High standout Anthony Alford is skidding in the wrong direction at Triple-A Buffalo in Toronto’s organization. The onetime big leaguer is in a 2-for-32 slump that has dropped his average to .138. Also on that Buffalo club are UM alum Jacob Waguespack (2-2, 4.62 ERA as a starter) and ex-Southern Miss star Conor Fisk (6.00 ERA in 12 innings). … Stuart Turner, an Ole Miss product who spent the 2017 season in the big leagues with Cincinnati, was released this spring and then recently re-signed by the Reds. He is 2-for-16 in four games for Triple-A Louisville.
Jonathan Holder, the Mississippi State product from Gulfport, got the last six outs and earned the win in the New York Yankees’ 4-3, 14-inning victory against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night. Holder, the fifth reliever called on by the Yanks, trimmed his ERA to 5.54 and struck out three, running his season total to 14 in 13 innings.
Jarrod Dyson, the former Southwest Mississippi Community College star from McComb, went 1-for-5 with a walk and scored twice as the leadoff batter in Arizona’s 12-4 win over Pittsburgh. Dyson scored in both the seventh and eighth innings as the Diamondbacks rallied for 11 runs to overcome a 4-1 deficit. Getting more regular playing time of late, Dyson is at .286 (.379 OBP) with three homers, seven RBIs, 10 runs and three steals.
Brian Dozier, the ex-Southern Miss standout from Fulton, hit his fourth home run, a three-run shot that gave Washington an early lead in a game the Nationals would ultimately lose 7-5 to Colorado. Dozier, who was batting .080 with no RBIs on April 6, has three homers in his last four games and has lifted his average to .188 with six RBIs.
The great home run race in Mississippi last season involved just one player. Delta State’s Zack Shannon chased and ultimately broke the record for homers in a single season by a state collegian in any division. Shannon’s 31 bombs eclipsed the previous record of 29 shared by ex-Mississippi State stars Rafael Palmeiro and Bruce Castoria. No one is threatening Shannon’s record in 2019, but there is quite a battle for the state long ball lead. State’s Justin Foscue and Mississippi College’s Blaine Crim have hit 11, and Ole Miss’ Tyler Keenan and Southern Miss’ Matt Wallner have 10. At nine are UM’s Thomas Dillard and Cole Zabowski, with State’s Dustin Skelton and Delta State’s Jake Barlow sitting on eight. Foscue hit his 11th against Arkansas on Friday; it was his only hit in the series in which the Bulldogs were swept. Crim, having a monster year, homered in both of MC’s wins at West Alabama; he drove in seven runs in the Friday game. Wallner, starting to heat up for USM, hit three homers over the weekend as the Golden Eagles swept Charlotte; with 45 career bombs, Wallner is tied with Fred Cooley for fourth on USM’s all-time list. UM’s Keenan hit his 10th in the Rebels’ lone win in a three-game set at Auburn. Zabowski also went yard in that game. Barlow leads a Delta State team that has 30 homers, one fewer than Shannon hit in 2018. P.S. Ex-State standout Mitch Moreland leads Mississippians in the majors in home runs with seven. Interestingly enough, McComb native Jarrod Dyson, whose outstanding tool is speed, has the same number – three – as Brian Dozier, the Southern Miss product and a more noted slugger.
Forget Yelich, Grandal and Cain. The hottest hitter for Milwaukee is Brandon Woodruff, the former Wheeler High and Mississippi State standout who is raking at a .714 clip and had a big two-run double in an 8-4 win against St. Louis on Tuesday. According to his baseball card, Woodruff is a pitcher, and he’s been pretty good in that role, too. He went 5 2/3 innings vs. the Cardinals, yielding two runs and fanning six. He is 2-1 with a 5.23 ERA in four starts for the 12-6 Brewers, who lead the National League Central. It is said that Woodruff, who bats lefty and throws righty, puts on quite a show when he takes batting practice. And who can forget the bomb he hit off Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs last year. … East Central Community College alumnus Tim Anderson went hitless for the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday but still leads the American League in batting with a .421 average. He slipped behind Cody Bellinger (.433) for the MLB lead. … After a good start with Kansas City, Billy Hamilton has skidded to .205 through 14 games. The Taylorsville High product has just three steals and six runs. … In the Ugly Numbers category, we find ex-Southern Miss star Brian Dozier (.152, one RBI in 46 at-bats for Washington) and Ole Miss alum Zack Cozart (.091, two RBIs in 44 ABs for the Los Angeles Angels). … Ugly also would describe the outing by the New York Mets’ Steven Matz, who gave up eight runs and failed to retire a batter vs. Philadelphia on Tuesday. He became just the fifth starter ever to do that. One of the others is McComb native Blake Stein, who suffered that indignity on Aug. 31, 1998, pitching for Oakland against Cleveland. To his credit, Stein (21-28, 5.41 ERA over five MLB seasons) struck out eight batters in a row in a 2001 game, also a remarkable feat. … Jacob Webb became the fourth Mississippi Braves alum to debut in the majors this season when he appeared in relief for Atlanta on Tuesday.