The target is in plain sight now. Delta State, Mississippi College, William Carey University and five state junior colleges take aim this week on a spot in the World Series in their respective divisions. The state’s three SWAC schools are focused on the league’s tournament title and the NCAA regional bid — the only one the league will get — that goes with it. Delta State and Mississippi College — the Gulf South Conference Tournament champ — are bound for the NCAA Division II South Region tourney; they’ll find out tonight where they’re going and who they’ll play in the first round. It’s a good bet the event will be in Cleveland. The Statesmen won the regional in 2017 and went to the D-II World Series. Carey is hosting an NAIA Opening Round tournament — one of eight regionals — that begins Monday at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. The Crusaders, who made the NAIA World Series last year, open with LSU-Shreveport. Also in the five-team field are Westmont (Calif.), Indiana Southeast and top-seeded St. Thomas (Fla.). The NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament begins Wednesday at Eunice, La. A berth in the Junior College World Series is on the line. MACJC regular season champion Pearl River Community plays old rival Mississippi Gulf Coast in the first round, while Meridian hooks up with Itawamba and Hinds faces top-seeded and No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. Hinds, the defending region champion, reached this year’s event by upsetting No. 3 Jones County in a best-of-3 playoff. Gulf Coast, Meridian and Itawamba also won playoff series last week to advance. The eight-team SWAC Tournament starts Wednesday in New Orleans. Jackson State plays Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Mississippi Valley State meets Grambling and Alcorn State takes on Texas Southern in the first round. Alcorn, which finished fifth in the East Division, made the eight-team field because Alabama A&M is ineligible for postseason play. P.S. Greenwood native and former Pillow Academy star Louis Coleman made his first big league appearance since 2016 on Saturday when he threw 1 2/3 scoreless innings for Detroit in a game against Seattle. The veteran right-hander has a career 3.49 ERA.
Blue Mountain and William Carey face elimination games today in the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament in Montgomery, Ala. BMC plays Middle Georgia State in the first game of the day, while Carey gets Loyola (New Orleans) in the next game. BMC, which lost its opener on Wednesday, stayed alive with a 4-3 win over Martin Methodist on Thursday, getting a go-ahead RBI hit from Grayson Bowman in the eighth inning. Carey won its opening round game but was crushed by top seed – and NAIA No. 1 – Faulkner 17-2 Thursday. The Crusaders, 0-4 against Faulkner this year, committed six errors and allowed 13 hits and 11 walks. … The Gulf South Conference Tournament format offers a cool possibility: Delta State and Mississippi College will play at Ferriss Field on Monday, and the Pool A championship could be on the line. The four teams in each of two pools play a round-robin starting Saturday, with the two pool winners advancing to the league title game. MC (29-15) beat DSU (38-8) in Cleveland last week, one of only four home losses for the Statesman all year. DSU — seeded No. 1, ranked third in the nation and featuring conference player of the year Zack Shannon — should be favored to win a 15th conference title, but it won’t be a cakewalk. Four other teams in the field have 30 or more wins and six, including both DSU and MC, are ranked in the NCAA Division II South Region poll. … Jackson State still has a chance to win the SWAC East title but may need a little help this weekend from Mississippi Valley State. JSU has finished league play at 17-7. Alabama State is 15-6 heading into a league series at Itta Bena to face the Delta Devils, 9-12 in the league. JSU and ASU split six games in the regular season. The SWAC Tournament starts May 16 in New Orleans. … MUW named freshman pitcher/infielder Will Peters its Male Athlete of the Year at an awards ceremony this week. Peters went 7-2 on the mound and batted .349 as the Owls finished 19-13 in their inaugural campaign.
You don’t have to be a sabermetrician to figure out that this weekend’s Jackson State-Mississippi Valley State series doesn’t favor the host Delta Devils. JSU, which sits atop the SWAC East at 12-3, leads the league in batting. Valley ranks last. JSU leads the league in ERA. Valley ranks last (with a 9.40!). And yet, the Delta Devils have managed to scare up six wins in 12 conference games, including one against the Tigers in Jackson last month. So maybe the stuff on paper won’t mean that much when the two old rivals hit Magnolia Field in Itta Bena, where they’re slated for single games today, Saturday and Sunday. Still, it’s hard to get away from the numbers. JSU trots out a lineup that features the SWAC’s leading hitter, Raul Hernandez (.398), and several others over .300. (Valley has one.) The Tigers’ Jesus Santana is one of the top sluggers in the conference with eight homers and 33 RBIs. (Valley has three homers total.) JSU’s Kevin Perez tops the SWAC in wins with seven and Jose Tirado in saves with nine. (Valley has eight wins all told.) What the Delta Devils could use is another Aaron Barkley or two. (Or three.) The sophomore catcher from California is the team’s lone .300 hitter (at .303) and also carries a 1.59 ERA with a win and two saves in nine relief appearances. Go get ’em.
Presumably the dust has finally settled at Rat McGowan Field in Lorman, where Alcorn State and Jackson State played a three-game SWAC series which may have set a new standard for wacky. JSU won all three games, 17-10, 9-2 and 13-8. Alcorn committed a jaw-dropping 10 errors in Friday’s Game 1, and yet somehow led in the ninth inning. JSU’s Stephen Vidal tied it at 10-all with a two-run homer, and the Tigers proceeded to score seven times in the 10th, aided by three of the Braves’ miscues. There was some pitching in Game 2 on Saturday as JSU’s Kevin Perez (5-1) threw a seven-hitter. Dezmond Chumley and Wesley Reyes got three hits apiece in a 14-hit attack for the Tigers, who again benefitted from Alcorn’s shabby defense (three errors, five unearned runs). In Game 3 on Sunday, the Braves forged an early 8-4 lead, but the Tigers roared back with nine runs (four unearned) over the final four frames. Alcorn pitchers walked 12 batters (29 for the series) and JSU stole six bases on the day. Wacky, indeed. Chumley, a junior from Texas, had a great series, with seven hits, seven runs, seven RBIs and two homers. JSU is 17-6 overall and alone in first place in the SWAC East at 9-3. Alcorn (6-17) sank further into the cellar at 1-8. The rivals meet again in late April at Braddy Field in Jackson. We can’t possibly know what to expect.
There are several big series on tap this weekend in college baseball (see Ole Miss at Texas A&M in the SEC; Southern Miss at Florida Atlantic in C-USA; Jackson State at Alcorn State in the SWAC; first-place Millsaps at Birmingham-Southern in SAA play; and first-place Blue Mountain at NAIA No. 1 Faulkner (Ala.) in the SSAC). If the recent past is prologue, we could be in for a wild weekend. To wit: On Thursday night, Ole Miss rallied for three eighth-inning runs to upend Texas A&M 5-4 in a battle of nationally ranked SEC foes in their series opener at College Station. Rebels ace Ryan Rolison wobbled, but relievers Will Ethridge (three innings, six strikeouts) and Parker Caracci (two innings, five K’s) picked him up. … On Wednesday, Mississippi Valley State beat Delta State for just the 16th time in 103 meetings, getting a 10th-inning, tie-breaking double from Aaron Barkley – who also pitched two shutout innings – at Itta Bena. Division I Valley is 5-16, D-II No. 1-ranked Delta State 19-4. In Jackson, Tougaloo spanked Alcorn State 9-1 as Lige Mims threw a complete game and drove in two runs. The NAIA Bulldogs, who visit MUW on Saturday, are 12-11; D-I Alcorn, which might have been looking ahead to its series with JSU, is 6-14. In the juco ranks, unranked Hinds Community College went to Ellisville and handed third-ranked Jones County Junior College its first home defeats of the season. Staton Todd (homer, double) and Andrew Beasley fueled the 6-5 Game 1 win with their bats, and the Eagles (14-3, 3-1 MACJC) rode the arms of Caleb Morgan and Josh Banes to a 4-1 victory in Game 2. Jones slipped to 15-5 (10-2 at home) and 2-2 MACJC. Meanwhile, East Central, ranked 13th, moved to 4-0 in the league with a sweep of Southwest behind the hitting of Wyatt Ball, who cycled over the two games. Pearl River, at 2-0, is the only other team still unbeaten in league play.
Conference play starts this weekend for the state’s Big 3 Division I schools. Each is playing at home, and there should be an upbeat vibe for all three. Southern Miss is nationally ranked, sports a 12-4 record and just blasted Tulane 12-3 on Wednesday night in New Orleans. And there’s even more good news for Golden Eagles fans: Matt Wallner is heating up. The 2017 national freshman of the year homered against the Green Wave, just his second of the year but second in the last three games. Wallner, a .336 hitter with 19 bombs in 2017, is batting .298. USM opens Conference USA play against Texas-San Antonio in Hattiesburg. Ole Miss, which welcomes Tennessee to Oxford to launch SEC play, is on an even steeper roll. The Rebels, a top 10 team, bashed Georgia State 16-2 on Wednesday in Atlanta to move to 17-1. Who’s hot? Cole Zabowski, to pick just one. He went 3-for-4 with a home run and four RBIs vs. the Panthers and is at .310 with three homers and 13 RBIs on the season. Mississippi State stumbled on Wednesday, losing to Southeastern Louisiana 11-5 in Biloxi. Jake Mangum continued to swing a hot bat, however, going 2-for-5. He is hitting .351 with 11 runs and seven steals. The Bulldogs take a 10-7 record into their SEC series against Vanderbilt in Starkville, but note they are 4-1 at renovated Dudy Noble Field, where the home-field edge is palpable. P.S. Jackson State, 5-1 in the SWAC, takes on Alabama State (4-2) this weekend in Montgomery in a key league series. JSU is 12-4 overall after a twinbill split at Morehead (Ky.) State. In a 4-0 win that was halted by snow on Tuesday and completed Wednesday, Jesus Santana hit his fourth homer of the year. Jarvis Warner has boosted his average to .364.
On Aug. 28, 1981, Kelvin Moore made his MLB debut for Oakland and went 1-for-4 in a loss to Bobby Ojeda and the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Moore’s first game in the big leagues was also the first in The Show for any Jackson State alumnus, a milestone worthy of note during Black History Month. Moore – one of those rare players who threw lefty but batted from the right side — played in 76 games over three seasons for the A’s and hit eight home runs. His debut seemed to open a door for JSU, an historically black school with a modest enrollment. Between 1981 and 1996, eight JSU products reached the major leagues, according to baseball-reference.com, and several had significant careers. The colorful and controversial Oil Can Boyd followed Moore in 1982; he went on to pitch 10 years in the majors. Then came Curtis Ford, Dave Clark (a first-round draft pick), Marvin Freeman, Howard Farmer, Wes Chamberlain and Mike Farmer. Dewon Day, who pitched in 13 games for the Chicago White Sox in 2007, is the only other Tigers alum to make it, an unfortunate sign of the times in MLB, which has seen a decline in the numbers of African-American players in recent years. All nine of the JSU big leaguers were coached by Bob Braddy, a recent inductee into both the College Baseball and Mississippi Sports Halls of Fame. Among SWAC schools, only Southern University, with 16, has produced more big leaguers than JSU. (Day played for both schools.) … The Tigers, now coached by Omar Johnson and coming off a 38-17 season, open their 2018 campaign tonight at the University of New Orleans and will then host Mississippi State at Braddy Field on Wednesday. Among the current Tigers, third baseman Jesus Santana and outfielder Lamar Briggs may have pro potential.
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.
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.
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.