Jackson State has won six of seven to put an 18-8 shine on its record. The Tigers lead the SWAC standings and lead the SWAC stats by a wide margin in batting average, scoring and ERA. Three Tigers – Lamar Briggs, Bryce Brown and Wesley Reyes – are hitting .360 or better. Briggs, Cornelius Copeland and Jesus Santana have scored 22 runs apiece. Santana leads the league in RBIs with 29, and Briggs has 23. On the bump, Miguel Yrigoyen is 3-1 with a 2.08 ERA, and closer Jose Tirado has a 1.15. But this is no time for strutting. A stern test is at hand — a challenge and an opportunity. The Tigers are in Fort Myers, Fla., this weekend to face perhaps the best team on their schedule, one they’ve never met before. Florida Gulf Coast is 19-3 and ranked 12th by Baseball America. The Eagles beat then-No. 1 Florida State last week and then-No. 2 Florida twice the week before that. The Eagles can hit (7.4 runs per game) and pitch (3.18 ERA), too. DH Nick Rivera is coming off a nine-RBI game against Rutgers. It’s a trip to the coast for Omar Johnson’s Tigers, but it’s certainly no day at the beach.
Big: Mississippi State beat Arkansas 5-1 on Friday in Starkville to keep pace with Texas A&M in the SEC. Both are 20-9, best in the West and overall with one game left in the season. State (39-14-1) last won a regular season title in the SEC in 1989. The Bulldogs go for the sweep of the Razorbacks today while also pulling for Ole Miss, which will try to salvage the series finale against Texas A&M at College Station. The Aggies are 5-0 against the Magnolia State this year.
Bigger: Delta State took down Tampa, ranked as high as No. 2 in NCAA Division II, on Friday to move to 2-0 in the South Region tournament at Tampa, Fla. There is still work to do, but DSU (40-15) is smelling what would be a 12th regional championship and a trip to the D-II World Series.
Biggest: East Central Community College topped Jones County Junior College 11-10 in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament on Friday at Decatur. The Warriors, MACJC champs, are in the championship round, awaiting the winner of an elimination game between No. 2 JCJC and No. 1 LSU-Eunice. The region champ gets a berth in the NJCAA D-II World Series.
P.S. The season ended on Friday for Jackson State and Alcorn State in the SWAC Tournament and for Northwest CC in the Region 23 tourney. William Carey’s season ended Thursday in an NAIA regional. … If you haven’t seen the catch made by former Mississippi Braves star Jason Heyward on Friday night in San Francisco, find the highlight. Playing right field for the Chicago Cubs, Heyward tracked down a fly ball into deep right-center, making what the Giants announcers on XM radio were calling the best catch they had ever seen.
Players roll out from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Canada, Curacao, South Africa, Venezuela, the Bahamas and the Virgin Islands. Sounds like a World Baseball Classic event has convened, but it’s just an everyday occurrence at Jackson State. Coach Omar Johnson’s multicultural team, which also includes eight players from good ol’ Mississippi, is showing signs of coming together after an uneven start. The Tigers, who take their show on the road to Biloxi tonight for an exhibition game with the minor league Shuckers, blew away Mississippi Valley State in a three-game series over the weekend. By beating the Delta Devils 10-3, 16-5 and 19-9, JSU moved its SWAC record to 6-3 (after an 0-3 start). Overall, the Tigers are 17-11. Jesus Santana (Puerto Rico) hit three home runs, two of them grand slams, in the Valley series and leads the team with nine homers and 37 RBIs. Such production was expected from Santana, a preseason player of the year candidate in the SWAC. Also contributing good stuff is catcher Carlos Diaz, another Puerto Rico product who is raking at a .451 clip; pitcher Miguel Yrigoyen, a Venezuela native who is 4-2; Canadian Jesse Anderson, who has three saves; and C.J. Newsome, who hails from Columbia, the city in south Mississippi. Newsome was drafted by Miami out of CHS last summer but elected to play at JSU. Tiger Nation should be thrilled. The 5-foot-9 outfielder, who had eight hits, six RBIs and six runs in the Valley series, is hitting .382 with 31 runs.
While the focus of the sports world this weekend will be elsewhere — in places like Las Vegas, Louisville, Ky., Chicago and Talledega, Ala. — there will be some relatively significant stuff going on in Jackson and Lorman, specifically at Braddy Field and Rat McGowan Stadium. Jackson State, third in the SWAC East with a 14-7 mark, hosts first-place Alabama State (16-5) in the final regular season conference series. The Tigers, led by Melvin Rodriguez (.448, 68 RBIs) could steal the crown (with some help) in this three-game set. JSU’s pitching hasn’t been so great (6.36 ERA), but the club has found compensation in a .310 team batting average. Meanwhile, Mississippi Valley State will visit Alcorn State in a battle for fourth place in the East Division — and a SWAC Tournament berth. Neither the Delta Devils (9.21) nor the Braves (8.82) scare you much with their arms, but they trot out some hitters of note. Valley’s Brady McBride is batting .352, and Alcorn’s Scotty Peavey is at .345. The Braves’ Collin Carroll has bashed 10 homers, tied for the SWAC lead with JSU’s Jesus Santana. P.S. William Carey was bounced from the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament on Friday and joins Belhaven, which went 2-and-out, on the sidelines. The Crusaders are 30-23 and the Blazers 33-25, but neither is going to get an NAIA postseason bid.
Both Mississippi State and Ole Miss popped up in various national preseason polls. Then the games started. Since winning its first 13 (all at Starkville) and rising in some polls, State has gone 9-16, a tailspin that seemed to start with a home loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff on March 3. The Bulldogs are 6-9 in the SEC West, a game back of Ole Miss (7-8). State has won just one SEC series (South Carolina), UM two (Florida and Vanderbilt). The Rebels, playing one of the toughest schedules in the nation, are just 18-18 overall, apparently missing the eight MLB draftees taken from last year’s College World Series club more than some people thought they would. There is, of course, lots of baseball still to be played in the SEC. But State and Ole Miss have lots of work to do to get back in the polls and, more importantly, back in the NCAA regionals. … Southern Miss is 20-12-1 (2-0 in the Trustmark Park College Series) and 8-6 (fifth) in Conference USA. The Golden Eagles, who have the league’s top hitter in Taylor Braley (.398), have won two straight C-USA series. … In the SWAC, Jackson State is 10-5 and third in the East, with Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State tied in the cellar at 3-14. JSU, the defending league tournament champ, is 21-14 overall. … Delta State is 17-13 and 12-8 (t-fifth) in the Gulf South Conference. The Statesmen celebrated Mike Kinnison’s 800th career win last week and then took two of three from Mississippi College in the renewal of their old rivalry. … MC, ineligible for the GSC title as it transitions to NCAA Division II, is 12-27, 4-22 in what will be coach Brian Owens’ final season in Clinton. … Millsaps, 25-7 and ranked 10th in NCAA D-III, is first in the Southern Athletic Association standings at 15-3. … In the NAIA Southern States Athletic Conference, William Carey (15-9) is third, Belhaven (10-16) seventh and Blue Mountain (7-18) 10th. Carey (24-19 overall) swept league foe Martin Methodist over the weekend. BU celebrated another Maloney Trophy Series championship by beating Millsaps last week, then got swept by No. 1-ranked Faulkner in the SSAC. … NAIA Tougaloo, under first-year coach Earl Sanders, is 5-30. … In the jucos, No. 1-ranked Hinds Community College (29-2) is tops in the MACJC at 16-2, having won its showdown with East Mississippi CC last Saturday. Northwest has moved to No. 2 in the league at 14-4, and EMCC is third at 13-5.
Alcorn State will get some national exposure today when the Braves play Grambling State in the MLB Urban Invitational to be televised live by MLB Network starting at 2 p.m. The Braves lost their opener in the four-team event 5-0 to New Orleans on Friday at UNO’s Maestri Field. Alcorn is 1-4; the one win, against Savannah State, was coach Barret Rey’s 100th in his six seasons in Lorman. The Braves won the SWAC Tournament and went to an NCAA regional in 2011 but have scuffled of late. They finished 11-42 last season. They managed just three hits and committed three errors in the loss to UNO. Maybe they’ll rise to the occasion of playing on national TV. One player to watch: Collin Carroll, a junior transfer from Ridgeland via Southwest Mississippi Community College who is batting .400 with a homer and three RBIs. He is the lone Alcorn batter hitting over .250. P.S. The Urban Invitational is a Major League Baseball initiative aimed at growing the game among inner-city youth and providing exposure for historically black colleges.
It’s a quiet day at college ballparks around the state — except in Ellisville, where fireworks are in the offing. No. 1-ranked Jones County Junior College plays East Central and Hinds tangles with No. 2 LSU-Eunice in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. … Belhaven University’s season ended Wednesday at Smith-Wills Stadium when the Blazers lost for a second time to NAIA No. 3 Oklahoma Wesleyan. No shame in that. BU (42-21) went 2-2 in the NAIA regional, including a win over Houston-Victoria, coached by former major leaguer Terry Puhl. … At Tampa, Fla., Delta State takes on Florida Southern in the NCAA Division II South Regional. … At New Orleans, Jackson State and Alcorn State, both upset winners in the SWAC Tournament’s opening round, are back on the field today. JSU, coming off a win over West Division champ Arkansas-Pine Bluff, plays Alabama A&M; Alcorn gets tourney favorite Alabama State. … The Division I Big 3 are all on the road to finish conference play. League tournaments are next week. Southern Miss, third in Conference USA, is at Charlotte. Ole Miss and Mississippi State, which rank 1-2 in the SEC West standings, play at Texas A&M and Alabama, respectively.
Delta State, celebrating the 10th anniversary of its 2004 NCAA Division II national championship, will begin its quest for another title on Thursday against Florida Southern in the South Regional at Tampa, Fla. The Statesmen (38-11) are the No. 3 seed. The top seed is No. 1-ranked Tampa, which is 47-2. Also in the regional are Lynn, Stillman and Alabama-Huntsville, which beat DSU in the title game of the Gulf South Conference Tournament. … MACJC champion Jones County Junior College opens NJCAA Region 23 Tournament play on Thursday against East Central; Hinds and LSU-Eunice meet in the other first-round game at Community Bank Park in Ellisville. JCJC (43-9) is ranked No. 1 in Division II; LSU-E (41-11) is No. 2. Jones overcame a challenge from Hinds in Saturday’s state championship final, winning the clincher by run rule (14-3) with an eight-run seventh inning. Trent Giambrone’s three-run homer ended it. Jones last won the state title in 2011 and also claimed the region crown — and a Juco World Series berth — that season. LSU-E has won four national championships since 2006 and was national runner-up a year ago. But the Bengals were just 10-8 away from home this season. So there is hope for the Mississippi schools. … As of Sunday night, the SWAC still had not released the bracket for its tournament, which starts Wednesday in New Orleans. Alcorn State and Jackson State are in the field as the Nos. 3 and 4 teams from the East Division. JSU (27-23) won the tournament last year but has had a rough season, one made even more stressful when the team bus, with much of their equipment, caught fire during a road trip on May 5. The trip was aborted; JSU last played on May 3. … Belhaven University begins play today against Oklahoma City in the NAIA regional (opening round) it is hosting at Smith-Wills Stadium.
The weekend started with a bang Thursday night in Oxford, where LSU beat Ole Miss 4-3 in 13 innings in a collision of top 10 teams. More fireworks are sure to follow. Mississippi State is at Missouri for a three-game SEC set, and Southern Miss is hosting Louisiana Tech in a three-game C-USA series. But the more compelling games may involve the smaller schools. To wit: Jackson State vs. Mississippi Valley State in Moorhead. JSU, the defending SWAC champ, sits in third place in the SWAC East at 6-9 (23-17 overall). Time to get healthy in this three-game set with 1-28 Valley. Player to watch: JSU’s Tilur Smith, who has picked up the slack for slumping Charles Tillery (.224) and is batting .347. Delta State at Shorter. The Statesmen are in the midst of playing 10 straight road games, but they are 15-5 away from Cleveland’s Ferriss Field, so no worries there. In fact, DSU seemingly has few worries at all. The Mean Green is 28-8, 19-4 Gulf South Conference and ranked in the top 10 in NCAA Division II. Player to watch: Landon Thibodeaux, hitting .351 with five homers and 25 RBIs. Mississippi College vs. Howard Payne in Clinton. The Choctaws are 15-15 after dropping Thursday’s series opener 6-3. They are chasing a bid to the National Christian College Athletic Association regionals, and they need more wins. Player to watch: Blake Mcilwain, (5-1, 2.91 ERA) who threw a no-hitter last weekend and is slated for one of today’s two games. Millsaps at Oglethorpe. The Majors, ranked in NCAA Division III in preseason, are 19-16 and 9-8 (fifth) in the Southern Athletic Association. They need to build some momentum for league tournament play, which starts next weekend. Player to watch: Keith Shumaker, rocking along with a .340 batting average and a 4-1, 1.56 pitching ledger. Belhaven vs. Bethel in Jackson. The Blazers (34-14) have been guaranteed an NAIA postseason berth as host of a regional, but they certainly don’t want to limp through the last two weekends of the regular season. They’re just 14-10 in the Southern States Athletic Conference. Player to watch: Reagan Rutledge, who is batting .313 and has 51 stolen bases in 55 attempts. William Carey vs. Auburn-Montgomery in Hattiesburg. The Crusaders began the year ranked in the NAIA poll but are just 27-22 and 13-11 in the SSAC, fighting for one of the eight tournament berths. A 13-15 record at Wheeler Field is hard to figure. Player to watch: Jeremy Ferguson, who has a .423 on-base percentage and a team-best 32 runs.
Coming this weekend: the battle at the bottom in the Southwestern Athletic Conference. Mississippi Valley State, 0-18 and 0-7 in the league, visits Alcorn State, 1-19 and 1-5, for a pair of games Saturday and a solo Sunday at Rat McGowan Stadium in Lorman. Who knows what might happen? Valley coach Doug Shanks and Alcorn’s Barret Rey have had success with their programs in the recent past, but things have gone off the rails in 2014. Valley is hitting .197 (last in the league) and has an 8.24 ERA (ninth of 10) and a .938 fielding percentage (also ninth) with 41 errors. Alcorn is hitting .242 (tied for seventh) but is averaging just three runs a game with an ERA of 8.98 (last) and a fielding percentage of .932 (last) with 50 errors. The winner of this series will feel a little better about itself. Not sure what the loser might feel … . P.S. Also scuffling this year is Blue Mountain, 2-18 and 1-14 in its first year in the Southern States Athletic Conference. Last weekend, the Toppers lost a home series to William Carey by the scores of 12-2, 7-1 and 11-1.