The contrast is striking. Delta State has won 96 postseason games, 68 in region play, and claimed 12 regional titles, including the 2017 NCAA Division II South Region, and one national crown. Mississippi College has been playing baseball a long time and had some good years, but the Choctaws had never played in an NCAA D-II regional before this season. The longtime rivals are meeting today in Lakeland, Fla., in the first round of the D-II South Region Tournament. Delta State is 40-9 and seeded third in a loaded field. MC, which won the Gulf South Conference Tournament for the first time ever, beating DSU along the way, is 33-15. This is MC’s best run since 2010, when it played in a Division III regional. The school left Division II and the GSC in the mid-’90s and returned in 2015. … What else is going on? Lots. In Pearl, at Trustmark Park, the MHSAA state finals continue today. … In New Orleans, Jackson State opened SWAC Tournament play on Wednesday with a 13-3 pounding of Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Four Tigers drove in three runs, including Jesus Santana, who hit his ninth homer of the year. JSU moves into a winner’s bracket game today against defending SWAC champ Texas Southern. Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State both lost on Wednesday and face elimination games today. … In Hattiesburg, William Carey stayed alive in the NAIA Opening Round tourney with a 6-2 victory against Indiana-Southeast but then saw its season end with a loss against top-seeded St. Thomas. … In Eunice, La., in the opening round of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament, Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College beat MACJC champ Pearl River, Itawamba topped Meridian and Hinds fell to No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. The double-elimination event continues today. … MUW went 2-2, bowing out Wednesday, in something called the ASCAA World Series in Dubois, Penn. Matt Wolfenbarger’s Owls finished their inaugural season with a 21-15 record.
Give J.T. Wright some credit for good timing. The senior DH, who did not hit a home run during the regular season, hit a clutch one in the ninth inning today that boosted William Carey to a 3-2 win against Bethel in the first game of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament at Montgomery, Ala. Wright’s homer broke a 2-2 tie and Dylan Spiers got a game-ending double play in the bottom of the ninth for the fourth-seeded Crusaders (33-21). Starter Hunter Speer worked eight strong innings and was the winning pitcher. Christian Smith, named first-team All-SSAC on Tuesday after hitting .337 with 49 steals, went 2-for-3 and scored a run for Carey, which already has earned an invitation to the NAIA national tournament. The Crusaders, who reached the NAIA World Series last year, will host an Opening Round tournament starting May 14. In today’s second game at Montgomery, Blue Mountain (28-21), the sixth seed, faced 3-seed Middle Georgia State. No. 1-ranked Faulkner is the tourney’s top seed. … BMC’s Caleb Leach also was named first-team All-SSAC. He batted .382 this season.
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.
As much as baseball aficionados love to throw around statistics, there’s only one that really matters. Runs. Score more than the other guy and you’ll never lose. Delta State has done a pretty good job of that and has a 13-1 record to show for it. The Statesmen, currently ranked No. 2 in NCAA Division II, have scored 128 runs (9.1 per game, which is tough to beat) to their opponents’ 71. Zack Shannon, the highly decorated senior slugger, has impressive Triple Crown numbers: .431 average, eight homers, 23 RBIs. He also leads the team in runs with 20. He is one of seven DSU players with double-digit runs. They get on and they get in. DSU’s D-II rival Mississippi College also gets around the bases at a good clip: 124 runs in 15 games. The Choctaws are 13-2. They have eight double-figure scorers, led by Kyle Smith with 19. William Carey has scored enough (114 runs to its opponents’ 74) to post a 16-4 record. Ranked No. 8 in NAIA, the Crusaders are led by Christian Smith, who has 20 runs – plus a .354 average and 20 steals. Interesting note: Tyler Reid, a .220 hitter for WCU, has reached base safely 18 times (11 hits, six walks, one HBP) and has scored 17 runs. That’s efficiency. D-III Millsaps, averaging 7.2 runs per game in an 11-5 start, has three players with 16 runs: Chase Callaway, Andy Page and Connor Woodall. The Majors’ top hitter, Brennan Ducote (.431, four homers, 22 RBIs) has scored 14 times. Among the D-I schools, nationally ranked Ole Miss, off to a 12-1 start, has scored 93 times (a healthy 7.2 runs per game), led by Thomas Dillard with 13. The red-hot Grae Kessinger (.353) has tallied 12 runs. Scoring alone isn’t enough, of course. You’ve also got to hold down the other team. Southern Miss, also nationally ranked, has been a prolific scoring club, averaging 9.6 runs a game even after Wednesday’s 3-0 loss at Alabama. Newcomer Luke Reynolds, batting .426 with four homers and 18 RBIs, leads the team with 19 runs. But the Golden Eagles have lost four times (against eight wins) and in three of those losses, they’ve allowed nine or more runs, losing by scores of 10-9, 13-10 and 9-6.
The hitting hero of a busy weekend for the state’s small colleges was Brian Lane, a senior at Delta State. Lane went 6-for-12 with a home run and nine RBIs as the Statesmen rebounded from a season-opening loss with big wins on Saturday and Sunday in Florida. Shut out by Lynn on Friday, DSU – ranked No. 1 in NCAA Division II – erupted for 31 runs against Nova Southeastern and Palm Beach Atlantic. … Playing at home in Hattiesburg, William Carey, ranked sixth in NAIA, won its first three games behind a pitching staff that yielded only three earned runs. Cole Edgens threw a three-hit shutout against Georgetown College on Saturday. … Mississippi College opened with a doubleheader split against Lindenwood on Saturday; the rubber game was rescheduled for today at Frierson Field in Clinton. Kyle Smith sparked the Choctaws with five hits and four RBIs in the two games. … Millsaps got 20 hits in its two games at Huntingdon in Alabama but scored just four runs and lost twice. … Tougaloo went 0-3 at Talladega, though two of the losses were one-run defeats. … Blue Mountain took three of four from visiting William Woods to improve to 5-2. Miciah Heard is off to a hot start (10-for-25, six RBIs) for the Toppers. Jonas White is 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA in two starts.
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.
They had the best record in the league. They put up wow-inducing numbers, both with their bats and their arms. They’re the top seed in this week’s tournament and, even though wild and crazy things can happen in double-elimination play, it’d be foolish to bet against them. So, who are we talking about? Could be Jackson State, Delta State or Jones County Junior College. The description fits all three. JSU, which went 20-4 in the SWAC East and 36-15-1 overall, starts conference tournament play Wednesday against Southern University, the fourth-place team from the West, at Barrow Stadium in New Orleans. The Tigers hit .322 as a team with 421 runs and 132 steals; they posted a 3.46 ERA, a .252 batting average against and seven complete games. Tigers to watch: Lamar Briggs (.379), Jesus Santana (nine homers, 62 RBIs), Bryce Brown (.368, 25 steals), C.J. Newsome (50 runs), Miguel Yrigoyen (nine wins, 2.93), Jose Tirado (seven saves). Delta State, regular season and tournament champion in the Gulf South Conference, will start NCAA Division II South Region play on Friday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. It’s a strong, seven-team field, including defending national champ Nova Southeastern and GSC powers West Alabama and Valdosta State. But DSU (41-11) looks up to the task. The Statesmen are hitting .320 with 432 runs and 60 homers; the staff ERA is 4.57 (fifth in the hitter-heavy GSC) with five shutouts and just 25 homers allowed. Statesmen to watch: Ferriss Trophy finalist Zack Shannon (.451, 18 homers, 84 RBIs, 60 runs), Clay Casey (.358, 17 homers), Seth Birdsong (9-1, 2.82), Zach Osbon (six saves, six wins, 1.35). And then there’s Jones County JC, ranked No. 1 in the country in NJCAA D-II. The Bobcats (44-2) open Region 23 Tournament play on Wednesday against Pearl River at Community Bank Park in Ellisville. JCJC batters hit .370 with 437 runs and 44 homers; its pitchers had a 2.64 ERA with 9.3 K’s per game. Bobcats to watch: Erick Hoard (.417, 12 homers, 53 RBIs), Shelton Wallace (.452, 62 RBIs), Fred Franklin (40 steals), Ben Stiglets (11-0, 1.60), Logan Robbins (11-0, 2.34, 83 K’s in 61 2/3 innings). P.S. William Carey won its opener in the NAIA Opening Round tournament and plays top-seeded Southeastern (Fla.) University today at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Carey knocked off Texas Wesleyan 4-3 with a four-run ninth sparked by big hits from Tyler Odom and Cody Christian.