The start of William Carey’s season will have a very different feel than a year ago. The Crusaders, ranked sixth in the NAIA preseason poll, open Friday against Georgetown College at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. They’ll also play Ave Maria University later that day. Those are the first of 18 straight home games. Carey didn’t get to play a game at home in 2017 until the end of February – 16 games into the season – because of tornado damage on its campus. No matter, Bobby Halford’s resilient crew went 45-20 last year and made it to the NAIA World Series for the first time since 1978. Right-hander Cole Edgens (10-1, 4.13 ERA last year), outfielder Christian Smith (.322, 18 stolen bases) and shortstop Wes Brown lead a small group of returnees. … Also opening on Friday – on the road — are Delta State, the No. 1-ranked NCAA Division II team by Collegiate Baseball; D-III Millsaps; and NAIA Tougaloo. DSU returns decorated slugger Zack Shannon – plus just about every other lineup regular – and 10-game winner Seth Birdsong from a CWS participant. The Statesmen open at Lynn (Fla.) University. Millsaps, coming off a rare losing (19-23) year, plays at Huntingdon in Alabama, and Tougaloo visits Talladega. … D-II Mississippi College will host Lindenwood, a Missouri school, for a doubleheader on Saturday in Clinton. P.S. USA Baseball has announced the 16-team field for the 2018 National High School Invitational, and Hattiesburg High and star outfielder Joe Gray are in it. The seventh edition of the tournament will be held at USA Baseball’s National Training Complex in Cary, N.C., from March 28-31.
What can Brown do for you? Well, William Carey University’s Wes Brown delivered a single to score Adrian Brown from second base with the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth as the Crusaders beat Southeastern (Fla.) University 10-9 to claim a berth in the NAIA World Series. The event starts May 26 in Lewiston, Idaho. Carey last made the series in 1978 and won it in 1969. The Crusaders (42-18) rallied from an 8-3 deficit to beat Southeastern in the Opening Round tournament’s winner-take-all game at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. The Crusaders also beat the Fire on Wednesday to force the decisive game.
James Land of William Carey University is one of the top home run hitters in NAIA. Forgive Texas Wesleyan if it’s not particularly impressed. The first hurdle for Carey in the NAIA Opening Round tournament in Hattiesburg is Texas Wesleyan, a team that digs the long ball. Texas Wesleyan has 62 homers on the year, equaling the school record. Luis Roman leads with 15, and Kiki Menendez, a .409 hitter, has 11. Two others have nine. Land has 17 homers for Carey; the rest of the team 20. The 20th-ranked Crusaders (38-17) will play the No. 12 Rams (45-13) on Monday at Wheeler Field. The top seed in the five-team regional is Southeastern University of Florida, which is 48-9 and ranked ninth. The Fire is led by Luis Diaz (.406, nine homers, 12 triples) and John Jaeger (10 saves, 1.62 ERA). Lyon College of Arkansas (34-22) and LSU-Alexandria (33-22) play in the tourney opener on Monday, with the winner getting Southeastern in the third game of the day. The winner of this regional event advances to the NAIA World Series, May 26-June 2 in Lewiston, Idaho. Carey won an NAIA championship in 1969, one of only two national titles by Mississippi four-year schools.
Opposing pitchers must be hard-pressed to find a soft spot in Delta State’s lineup. Every regular is hitting .300 or better, and collectively the Statesmen are batting .336 with 212 runs in 30 games. Will Robertson, a senior from Falkner who missed 2015 with an injury, has been hot from the jump and is batting .409. Trent Giambroni and Ben Pickard have seven home runs each. DSU also throws out a pair of aces: Left-handers Tre Hobbs and Dalton Moats are a combined 12-3 with a 3.02 ERA and 117 strikeouts in 107 innings. The sum of these parts is also impressive. The Statesmen, unranked in preseason, are now ranked in two NCAA Division II polls, No. 14 in one, 24 in the other. They’ll take a 20-10 overall record and a 13-5 Gulf South Conference mark into this weekend’s series against Christian Brothers at refurbished Ferriss Field. … Cleveland isn’t the only hot spot in the state this weekend. In Hattiesburg, at Wheeler Field, William Carey plays host to NAIA No. 3 Faulkner in a Southern States Athletic Conference series. The Crusaders are 23-11 and coming off what amounted to a batting practice session against Tougaloo on Wednesday. WCU won 18-3 and 16-0; Tyler Richardson had a day, going 4-for-8 with nine RBIs. Things will be a little tougher against Faulkner, which is 29-7, 11-1 SSAC and was ranked No. 1 last week before losses to Georgia-Gwinnett and Bethel. Carey, 7-4 in the league, is 18-5 overall at home. Faulkner is 4-3 on the road. … Of course, the hottest spot in the state this weekend is Starkville. Tonight’s pitching matchup is a dandy: Mississippi State’s Dakota Hudson vs. Ole Miss’ Brady Bramlett in the opener of the three-game series at Dudy Noble Field. Strong arms and good hitters abound on these two nationally ranked rivals. State (18-7-1, 4-2 SEC) is hitting .317 as a team, third in the league. Ole Miss (20-5, 2-4) has a 2.73 staff ERA, fourth in the league. The Bulldogs roll out the likes of Jacob Robson and Jack Kruger and Austin Sexton, each of whom has sparkling stats. The Rebels feature Tate Blackman and J.B. Woodman and Wyatt Short, among other stars. But many times the hero in a big series is someone you might not expect. Here’s a couple of candidates: Nathaniel Lowe arrived at State as a touted slugger, coming off a 17-home run season as an NJCAA All-America in 2015. The 6-foot-3, 245-pound Lowe is hitting .306 and is third on the team with 22 RBIs, but he has just one long ball. Who better to break out against than Ole Miss? The Rebels, meanwhile, have been waiting for Errol Robinson to break out. A highly rated draft prospect who made some preseason All-America teams, the junior shortstop is batting just .213 with four extra-base hits in 24 games. He batted .297 in 2015, with 31 runs and 30 RBIs in 58 games. Robinson had a big hit in a win against State last year; perhaps he can summon another.