Blue Mountain and William Carey are creating a nice little rivalry in NAIA land. They’ll play the rubber game of a three-game Southern States Athletic Conference series today at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg as they jockey for seeding positions in the upcoming league tournament. Carey won Game 1 8-2 on Friday behind the pitching of Hunter Speer (8-2), who threw a seven-inning three-hitter, and three RBIs from RBI leader David Pementel, who has 43. BMC bounced back with a 5-1 win in Game 2 as Josh Letson (6-4), Mason Woolridge and David Torres combined on a six-hitter over nine. Five different Toppers drove in a run. Both teams are trying to get their house in order as the regular season wanes. Carey (now 29-18, 13-7 SSAC) entered the series having dropped seven of 10 games in April; its ranking in the NAIA poll sank to No. 19 this week. BMC (now 26-18, 9-11) came in with a three-game win streak but had dropped five in a row prior to that. The SSAC Tournament is just around the corner, slated for May 2-5 at Montgomery, Ala., and it’s a bear. Four of the nine teams in the league were nationally ranked this week, including No. 1 Faulkner. Bobby Halford’s Crusaders marched all the way to the NAIA World Series in 2017 and had high hopes again entering 2018. They began the year ranked sixth by Collegiate Baseball. BMC, still a young program under Curt Fowler, made the league tournament for the first time last season.
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.
Rivals William Carey University and Blue Mountain College will meet Wednesday in the first round of the SSAC Tournament at Montgomery, Ala. NAIA No. 23 Carey (36-15) is the third seed, BMC (31-23) the sixth in its first SSAC postseason appearance. The Crusaders won two of three from the Toppers in the regular season. Middle Georgia State is the top seed in the eight-team, double-elimination event. … Delta State, regular season champion in the Gulf South Conference, will host the league tournament May 6-9 at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. DSU is 37-11 and ranked No. 1 in the NCAA Division II South Region. … With four games left in the regular season, Jones County Junior College has clinched the MACJC championship and a berth as host in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament set for May 17-20. Jones, ranked No. 1 in Division II, is 40-2, 22-2 MACJC. The Bobcats are the defending D-II national champs. … Millsaps went 2-1 in the weather-interrupted SAA Tournament in Memphis over the weekend and ends its season at 19-23. Rhodes, which didn’t play Millsaps, went 2-0 in the event and advanced to the league’s championship series. The Majors will miss the NCAA Division III postseason for the second straight year. … Belhaven, ranked seventh in the April 25 NCCAA poll, is still awaiting word on a bid to the organization’s national tournament. The Blazers, in their second year as a D-III program, are 26-14. … Three Mississippians are among the statistical category leaders after MLB’s opening month. Ex-Taylorsville High star Billy Hamilton (Cincinnati) is tied for the lead with 10 stolen bases, this despite batting just .213. McComb’s Jarrod Dyson (Seattle) is third in steals with eight, while hitting .229. Mississippi State product Mitch Moreland (Boston) has 12 doubles, obviously feeling right at home in his first year in Fenway Park. Former Ole Miss star Zack Cozart (Cincinnati) leads with four triples. His season-high is five, set in 2014. A career .249 hitter, Cozart is sitting at .352, eighth in the majors. … Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson (Tampa Bay) leads Mississippians in homers with six; he is batting .330 with nine doubles for the Rays.
It’s easy to get caught up in the offensive numbers on the William Carey University stat sheet. After all, there’s James Land batting .383 with 14 home runs and 49 RBIs. Tyler Graves is at .347 with a team-leading 55 RBIs. Adrian Brown is hitting .333 with 49 runs. But don’t overlook what right-handed reliever Lane Fazende has done for this team, which is 31-15 and 17-7 in the SSAC after a big series win at NAIA No. 2 Faulkner over the weekend. Fazende, a senior from Picayune, threw four scoreless innings to get the win in the opener of the series on Friday, then got the last out for a save in the first game of Saturday’s twinbill. Fazende has made 23 appearances for No. 23 Carey and worked 52 innings. He is 5-4 with six saves and a 2.25 ERA. He has 47 strikeouts. Yes, Carey’s hitters played a role in the two wins. Land and Tyler James homered in the opener, a 4-3 victory, and Brown went 2-for-3 with two doubles and two runs in Saturday’s 3-2 win. Starter Cole Edgens, now 7-0, got the victory for the Crusaders. Faulkner won the series finale. Carey is done with its SSAC schedule and now awaits its seeding in the conference tournament, set for May 3-6 at Montgomery, Ala. The Crusaders, currently third, could still win the regular season title with some help.
Jackson State rules the SWAC. At this moment. JSU will have to prove itself again in the SWAC Tournament next month, but there can be little debate about whether the Tigers are the SWAC’s best team right now. Omar Johnson’s club has won 11 straight games to improve to 29-11 overall and 15-3 in the conference heading into a weekend series against Alcorn State at Lorman. Tigers hitters and pitchers lead the SWAC in just about everything. They’re batting .327 with an amazing 338 runs. The 3.45 staff ERA is almost two runs better than the second-best number in the league. JSU hitters also lead the SWAC in slugging, steals, doubles and triples, and the pitchers lead in strikeouts, shutouts, complete games and saves. All-SWAC candidates abound: Lamar Briggs, Miguel Yrigoyen, Jesus Santana, Bryce Brown, Cornelius Copeland. Two of the Tigers’ three SWAC losses came against Alabama State in early March; JSU got some payback by sweeping the Hornets three straight on the road last weekend. The other loss was to Alcorn in Biloxi on March 17. Johnson has rather quietly built a nice resume at JSU with well over 300 wins in 11 seasons, two SWAC championships and several division titles. More hardware may be coming. Baseball America projects the Tigers as SWAC champs and an NCAA regional participant. With an RPI that likely will be around 200, they’ll have to win the tournament to get in. P.S. William Carey University, ranked 23rd in the latest NAIA poll, gets a crack at No. 2 Faulkner in a three-game SSAC series this weekend in Montgomery, Ala. Faulkner, which had been No. 1 the previous six weeks, is 39-8, 14-4, just a notch ahead of the Crusaders (29-14, 15-6) in the league standings. Faulkner’s T.J. Condon leads the SSAC in home runs (18) and RBIs (57). Carey’s James Land, who has 15 homers, is the league’s top hitter at .392. Faulkner’s Israel Fuentes and Ivan Pelaez rank 2-3 in ERA, with Carey’s Lane Fazende and Cole Edgens at 4-5. … Belhaven is ranked 10th in the NCCAA poll released this week and may be positioned for an invitation to the organization’s national tournament. The Blazers are 23-14 heading into their last American Southwest Conference series of the season at LeTourneau. BU, in transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III, is not eligible for the ASC Tournament.
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 started on March 12 in an unlikely place against an unlikely opponent. Mississippi College limped into Union University’s Fesmire Field in Jackson, Tenn., with a 2-17 record and seven straight losses. The host Bulldogs were 17-3, leading the Gulf South Conference with a 7-2 record and freshly ranked 24th in NCAA Division II. But just when it seemed as if “Taps” had become the anthem for their season, the Choctaws changed the tune. In the opener of a twinbill played on a chilly Sunday, MC’s Hunter Lacefield, a Northwest Mississippi Community College transfer, and Zack Ingram, a true freshman, combined to hold Union to three hits. Clutch knocks by Hunter Wilson and Casey Echols put the Choctaws up 4-2 in the fifth inning, and they rolled on to win 7-2. Union’s Game 2 starter was Teddy Christie, who sported a 5-0 record. Cue up the “Rocky” music. MC beat Christie 5-4. The Choctaws capitalized on four Union errors and the stout pitching of Hunter Mullis and Tommy Taborda. MC has lost only one game since; the 12-inning win against nationally ranked Southern Arkansas on Wednesday was the team’s ninth straight. At 10-10 in the GSC, they’ve climbed to seventh (of 12) in the standings. They’re fourth in the league in hitting, and the staff ERA, so bad early on, is trending in the right direction, a hair above 4.00 over the last nine games. North Alabama, 13-8 in the league, comes to Frierson Field this weekend for a series that could be very big for the Choctaws in their charge to make the GSC Tournament. Is that “Reveille” playing in the background? P.S. William Carey has dominated its series against Blue Mountain, beating the Toppers 15 times in 16 meetings. They meet again this weekend in an SSAC series at the new BMC SportsPlex, and it could get interesting. Nationally ranked Carey is 25-10, 11-4 in the league. BMC is 25-15, 6-6. James Land and Tyler Graves carry the big bats for the Crusaders, and the Toppers’ Caleb Leach has emerged as one of the SSAC’s best hitters. Three of the conference’s top base stealers also will be on hand: Carey’s Tyler James and Adrian Brown and BMC’s Miciah Heard. … As part of Hinds Community College’s centennial celebration, the school is hosting a tribute to the baseball program tonight in Raymond. Hinds was the first Mississippi school to reach the Juco World Series back in 1989, the year the program was merged with Utica’s. The 2014 Eagles were one win away from claiming the NJCAA Division II national title, which also would have been a first for the state. Jones County JC pulled off that feat last summer.
Only one small college player has won the Ferriss Trophy over its 13 years: Belhaven University’s Craig Westcott in 2009. The 2017 coronation is a long ways off, but there are a couple of NAIA players whose hitting exploits this season bear notice. James Land, a senior first baseman at William Carey, belted three home runs at Mississippi College on Tuesday, running his season total to 11. He leads the Southern States Athletic Conference in slugging at .807 and ranks near the top in homers, batting average (.404) and RBIs (38). Land, a former Harrison Central and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, was named the SSAC’s player of the week last week (after batting .591 with 11 RBIs in five games). The reigning SSAC player of the week is Caleb Leach of Blue Mountain. A junior infielder/outfielder from Florida, Leach batted .600 with a pair of homers, five RBIs and eight runs last week and is at .397, five homers and 27 RBIs for the year. He leads the Toppers in slugging (.612) and runs (33). It should help the cases for Land and Leach that both Carey and BMC are having strong years. The nationally ranked Crusaders are 23-9, 9-3 SSAC, and the Toppers are 23-15, 6-6, easily the best start in their short history.
Keep an eye on William Carey University, which jumped 11 spots in the NAIA poll last week and then validated the ranking by taking a series at Middle Georgia State, another Top 25 team. The 12th-ranked Crusaders crushed their hosts 13-3 in Friday’s series opener at Cochran, Ga., then bounced back from a tough loss in Game 1 of Saturday’s twinbill to take the rubber match 5-4. Tyler Odom and Tyler Graves hit homers for the Crusaders (17-5, 5-1 SSAC) in that game, Braden Smith notched his fourth win with six strong innings and Lane Fazende picked up the save. Carey, which has played only seven home games, in part because of the January tornado damage on campus, is batting .305 as a team with 189 runs. Graves, from Petal, leads the way with a .417 average and 35 RBIs. Tyler James is hitting .364 with 30 runs and 20 steals, McComb’s Adrian Brown .361 with four homers, 30 runs and 16 steals and Gulfport’s James Land .342 with six bombs. Fazende, a Picayune product, has three wins, two saves and a 0.76 ERA out of the bullpen, while Brookhaven’s Braden Smith (4-1, 4.91), Devin Smith (4-0, 4.99) and Cole Edgens (3-0, 2.68) have been solid starters. The Southern States Athletic Conference is one of the best NAIA leagues in the country. It has four teams currently ranked, including No. 1 Faulkner (23-3), which finished as national runner-up in 2016. Carey and Faulkner will meet in late April. … Blue Mountain is 14-10 and 2-4 in SSAC, having taken a series from Martin Methodist in the first games at the new BMC Sportsplex. The Toppers won the rubber game on Saturday 1-0, getting stellar pitching from Josh Letson and Jonas White and a walk-off hit from Blake Key in the ninth inning.
The number William Carey University got on Tuesday was 22. The Crusaders likely would have preferred a 30. On the same day it moved back into the NAIA national rankings at No. 22, Carey failed in a bid for its 30th win, losing to LSU-Alexandria at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. That setback aside, Bobby Halford’s Crusaders are a team on the march. They are 29-14 with nine wins in their last 12 games, including taking best-of-3 series from a pair of top 10 teams. Carey is 11-6 in the Southern States Athletic Conference heading into a series this weekend at Bethel (21-14, 7-8). Tyler Richardson and Adrian Brown have won the last two SSAC player of the week honors. Richardson is batting .329 and leading the team in homers (five), RBIs (38) and runs (42). McComb native Brown, son of the ex-big leaguer of the same name, is at .385 with 33 RBIs and 20 steals. Tyler Odom of Hattiesburg leads the team in hitting with a .417 average, Magee’s Stevie Hubbard is at .386, Cody Christian at .338 and Tyler James has 26 steals. Carey has outscored its opponents 339-170, getting strong pitching from Devin Smith (6-0, 2.25 ERA), Taylorsville’s Mason Woodrow (4-1, 3.46) and J.D. Little (5-1, 4.13). Carey has nine league games left as it jockeys for SSAC Tournament position. The Crusaders are fifth in the standings but have a 4-2 mark against the first- and second-place clubs, powerhouses Faulkner and Auburn-Montgomery. An NAIA postseason bid is well within the Crusaders’ grasp.