Home runs just flew off Zack Shannon’s bat during his time at Delta State. He hit 50 in 110 games over two seasons at the NCAA Division II school. He blasted an all-division state record 31 homers in 2018, when he batted .406 and won D-II player of the year honors. A 15th-round pick by Arizona last summer, Shannon readily took off in pro ball, belting 14 homers while batting .354 in 54 games at the rookie level. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound slugger began the 2019 season in the Class A Midwest League and promptly hit some turbulence. He is batting .238 with 10 homers in 69 games for Kane County, and it’s been a struggle even to reach those modest numbers. “It’s all a roller coaster, and it’s just a matter of learning how to ride it the right way,” Shannon recently told the Aurora (Ill.) Beacon-News. He got a late start this season because of a hamstring injury in spring training and hit .162 with one homer in 10 April games. He was hurt again in May and finished that month at .190 with three homers. As recently as July 8, he was batting .193. But consider: Shannon has two three-hit games among his last seven, and he hit his 10th homer on Monday. Maybe he’s finally settled in for the rest of this ride.
Time to box up the 2018 college season. Put away the bats and balls for a few weeks and make a few acknowledgements:
If there were an award for Team of the Year, it would have to go to Mississippi State, which didn’t win as many games as Ole Miss or Southern Miss (or Delta State, for that matter) but made a captivating postseason run for the ages that ended one win short of the College World Series finals. The banana-powered Bulldogs finished 39-29 and should be nationally ranked across the board when the final polls come out. Gary Henderson did a great job as an interim coach, taking over in an adverse situation, and not retaining him seems a curious and possibly regrettable move in Starkville.
There are many other kudos to hand out. Ole Miss went 48-17, won the SEC Tournament and hosted an NCAA regional. USM (44-18) swept both C-USA titles and also went to a regional. Jackson State finished 34-18. Delta State went 42-11 and made an NCAA Division II regional, as did Mississippi College, which ended the year 36-17, one of its best seasons ever. William Carey went 36-25 and hosted an NAIA regional. Blue Mountain finished 29-23, Division III Millsaps went 25-19 and MUW, in its inaugural season, came home at 21-15 after participating in the USCAA Small College World Series. Alcorn State (13-39), Mississippi Valley State (11-35), Belhaven (12-27) and Tougaloo (19-23) were the only four-year schools to post losing records.
Among the jucos, MACJC champion Pearl River (No. 4), Meridian (14), Jones County (15) and Mississippi Gulf Coast (18) were ranked in the final NJCAA Division II poll.
Game of the year? If you limited it to games between state schools, it’d be hard to top the State-UM game at Pearl’s Trustmark Park on April 24, which the Bulldogs won on Luke Alexander’s two-run double in the bottom of the ninth before a crowd of 8,500-plus. Runner-up: MC beating Delta State 7-4 in an elimination game in the D-II South Regional at Lakeland, Fla. The Choctaws’ Billy Cameron drove in the go-ahead run with a two-run single in the seventh. Worth mentioning: Jackson State-Alcorn in Lorman on March 25. The Tigers rallied from 8-4 down in the sixth inning to win 13-8 and ended the game with a triple play.
No position player in the state had a better year than DSU’s Zack Shannon. He hit .406 with a record 31 homers and 93 RBIs and has picked up all kinds of national honors. USM’s Nick Sandlin, who also garnered national awards and beat out Shannon (and others) for the state’s Ferriss Trophy, was certainly the state’s pitcher of the year, going 10-0, 1.06 ERA in 15 starts. Gulf Coast CC’s Brandon Parker won a juco national player of the year award and both Shannon and Sandlin were semifinalists for the biggest of individual prizes, the Golden Spikes Award, a testament to the quality of ball played in the Magnolia State.
Three state schools (DSU, Carey and Hinds CC) made it to the World Series level in 2017. Only one did so this season, but it was hardly a down year.
The scorebook has closed on Zack Shannon’s career at Delta State, which saw its season end with a loss to Mississippi College in the NCAA Division II regionals on Tuesday. In his two years with the green-and-white, the big man from Cincinnati stuffed that scorebook with some jaw-dropping numbers. Start with his home run totals – and take a deep breath. He hit his 31st of the season in the final game (Game No. 53); that’s not only a school record but also the most all-time by any player in any division in the state. That number also leads the nation, all divisions included. Shannon’s total of 50 career homers at DSU ranks second to Dee Haynes, who hit 69 over three seasons (1998-2000) in Cleveland. For the year, Shannon hit .406 with 93 RBIs (best in the nation) and a .955 slugging percentage (also No. 1). Also noteworthy, he struck out just 27 times and walked 35 times in 202 at-bats. Though he didn’t win a Ferriss Trophy, plenty of awards and accolades have poured in the last two years and more may be coming. Earlier this week, Shannon was named one of 25 semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which goes to the nation’s best player. He is the first D-II player to be named a semifinalist. He won Gulf South Conference player of the year both this year and last and received several D-II national player of the year awards in 2017. Surely he’ll get picked in the MLB draft. Regardless, he won’t soon be forgotten in the Magnolia State. P.S. Before Shannon broke it, the state’s college homer record was shared by former Mississippi State stars Rafael Palmeiro and Bruce Castoria, according to John W. Smillie’s Mississippi Baseball Record Book. Castoria hit 29 in 1981, Palmeiro in 1984. Will Clark smacked 28 for MSU in 1984 (and got 25 the next year). DSU’s Haynes hit 26 in 1999. Four Southern Miss players cranked out 23: Fred Cooley (1989), Bill Selby (1992), Jeff Cook and Clint King (2003). The Ole Miss single-season mark is 21 by Brian Pettway in 2005. … MC’s remarkable season also ended on Tuesday with a loss to Tampa in the rain-soaked South Region tourney in Lakeland, Fla. The Choctaws, who made their first D-II regional appearance, finished 36-17.
Tuesday was a test of resilience for three college programs that endured serious disappointment over the weekend. Ole Miss, William Carey and Millsaps all showed a little something. The No. 4-ranked Rebels, coming off an SEC series loss to scuffling Mississippi State, bounced back with an 11-3 win against No. 12 Southern Miss before a crowd of 5,772 at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Chase Cockrell and Thomas Dillard drove in three runs each and Houston Roth improved to 5-0 for the Rebels (28-6), who’ll take a 7-5 conference record to Vanderbilt this weekend. Carey, ranked 11th in the latest NAIA poll, was swept at home by top-ranked Faulkner in a big Southern States Athletic Conference series last weekend. The Crusaders rebounded Tuesday with a 7-1 win in the opener of a doubleheader at LSU-Alexandria behind the bat of Marcus Buckley and the arm of Lake Robertson. WCU lost Game 2 7-4. The Crusaders (26-14, 10-5 SSAC) travel to Loyola (La.) for their next league series this weekend. Millsaps, hoping to make a late push in the Southern Athletic Association standings, was swept at home by Sewanee over the weekend, falling to 8-10 in the conference. Fueled by the hitting of Christian Cooper and six innings of stellar relief from Chris Guerin, the Majors responded Tuesday with a 6-4 victory at East Texas Baptist. NCAA Division III Millsaps (20-16) finishes SAA play at Centre this weekend. P.S. On the day he was named to the Golden Spikes Award Watch List, Delta State’s Zack Shannon smacked his nation-leading 23rd home run in an 8-3 win vs. Harding. Shannon is batting .445 with 70 RBIs for DSU, 29-6 and ranked as high as fifth in Division II.
Arkansas-Monticello is next on Delta State’s schedule. Boll Weevils pitchers don’t need to pore over the Statesmen’s stat sheet too long to identify what should be their biggest concern, if not their biggest fear, in Tuesday’s game. Zack Shannon’s numbers are scary good. The DSU senior, an Ohio native, is batting .494 with 17 home runs and 48 RBIs for a 19-2 team. He has a 1.229 slugging percentage. He has struck out just 10 times in 83 at-bats. And pitchers have been challenging him: He has walked only 11 times and been hit by a pitch just four times. “He has the ability to look for a pitch, sit on it and get it,” DSU coach Mike Kinnison told The Bolivar Commercial. Shannon, 6 feet 3, 230 pounds, has been on a fearsome power trip of late, with homers in seven straight games and nine of 10. With 36 career bombs in one-plus years in Cleveland, he has equaled Barry Lyons’ total for fifth place on the team’s all-time list. Dee Haynes’ 69 is probably out of reach, but Jud Thigpen (41), Craig Newton (40) and Devin Goodwin (37) should prepare to be taken down a peg. Shannon reaped all kinds of honors last season, including the Tino Martinez Award as NCAA Division II’s most outstanding player, and he has been even better in 2018.