04 Jun

power rangers

For Nathaniel Lowe, the ex-Mississippi State slugger, it’s gotta be fun showing up for work each day. He checks in to a Texas Rangers lineup that ranks first in MLB in runs, first in batting average and first in on-base percentage and stands first in the American League West at 37-20. In a 16-6 home win over Seattle on Saturday, Lowe cranked out three of the Rangers’ 19 hits and hit one of their four home runs. The Rangers have scored 10 or more runs 15 times and 15 or more five times. Lowe, who has six bombs on the year along with a .281 average and 35 RBIs, typically bats third, behind Marcus Semien (.304, nine homers) and Corey Seager (.340, 10 homers) and in front of Adolis Garcia (.257, 14 homers) and Josh Jung (.285, 12 homers). “It’s a deep lineup. These guys throw out at-bats throughout the order,” manager Bruce Bochy told The Associated Press. A 2016 draftee out of MSU by Tampa Bay now in his fifth big league campaign, Lowe won a Silver Slugger for the Rangers in 2022 when he belted 27 homers. That team finished a fairly miserable 68-84. This year has been much more fun. P.S. East Central, behind the pitching of Brason Owenby (five shutout innings), and Amory, riding the arm of Jackson Howell (6 1/3, 2 runs), won MHSAA state championships on Saturday in Classes 5A and 3A, respectively. Perhaps it was no great surprise that great pitching performances were abundant in the games last week at Trustmark Park: Landon Harmon, East Union (five-inning perfect game); Cayden Baker, Lewisburg (6 2/3, one run); JoJo Parker and Eli Love, Purvis (combo four-hitter); T.J. Dunsford, East Central (two-hitter); Cole Tingle, Resurrection Catholic (two-hitter); Talon Haley, Lewisburg (six innings, three hits); Ben Basil, East Union (6 1/3, no earned runs); and Gavin McCoy, Saltillo.

03 Jun

old-school artist

Power is all the rage in baseball. Check the box scores. Who hit one out? Blaze Jordan, Joe Gray Jr. and Colt Keith, all products of Mississippi high schools, blasted home runs in the minors on Friday, as did former Mississippi State star Hunter Stovall. Cheers all around. The art of hitting a single, of just putting a ball in play that results in a base knock, doesn’t have the wow factor. It’s kind of a shame. Here’s a tip of the cap to a guy who seems to have mastered that old-school art. Davis Bradshaw, former McLaurin High and Meridian Community College standout, hit a single on Friday for High-A Beloit in the Miami organization. It was his 33rd single among his 37 hits; he has no homers. The lefty-hitting Bradshaw is batting .398; he was at .415 in mid-May. He was out for a couple of weeks last month, so he doesn’t have enough at-bats to qualify for the Midwest League leaderboard, but he would be second in hitting in all of the minors if he did. Bradshaw has struck out just 16 times and walked eight in 93 at-bats over 29 games. Drafted out of MCC back in 2018, Bradshaw, now 25, carries a .307 career average — but has only two home runs. The lack of power is no doubt holding him back. He is not a rated prospect. He got a look in Double-A last year and hit .286 but was back in A-ball to start 2023. And he went right back to banging out singles, keeping that old-school art alive. P.S. Southern Miss and Auburn might have anticipated meeting on Day 2 of regional play, but they surely didn’t expect the clash to come in the losers bracket. The top two seeds in the Auburn Regional were upset by Samford and Penn. That’s baseball. BTW, Josh Rodriguez, who hit that massive 10th-inning homer for Samford on Friday, was a first-team All-MACCC pick at Hinds Community College last year. … Props to East Union (Class 2A) and Purvis (4A) for winning MHSAA state titles Friday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Amory plays St. Stanislaus for the 3A crown and Saltillo battles East Central for the 5A title today.

02 Jun

the babe chronicles

On this date in 1935, Babe Ruth announced his retirement at age 40. He was the game’s preeminent slugger at the time — “the Sultan of Swat, The Colossus of Clout, the King of Crash” — with 714 home runs, a record that would stand for 39 years. By weird coincidence, a collection of Mississippi natives have significant links to Ruth’s big league career. To wit: When Ruth debuted as a 19-year-old pitcher for the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on July 11, 1914, the opposing starter was Pleasant Grove native Willie Mitchell of the Cleveland Naps. Mitchell struck out Ruth in his first at-bat, but Ruth won the game and Mitchell took the loss. After the 1919 season, his first as a full-time hitter, Ruth was famously traded by Boston to the New York Yankees, where he became the right fielder in 2020, displacing Batesville native Sammy Vick at that position. The two reportedly became fast friends, but Vick’s playing time decreased dramatically and he was traded after the season. In the 1932 World Series, when Ruth gestured and then smacked his legendary “Called Shot” home run at Wrigley Field, he was responding to abuse from the Chicago Cubs dugout, where Aberdeen native Guy Bush was among the most vocal bench jockeys. Three years later, on May 25, 1935, an aging Ruth, playing for the Boston Braves, hit the last three home runs of his career. Nos. 713 and 714, both massive clouts at Forbes Field, came against Bush, then pitching for Pittsburgh. Five days later, Ruth played his final game. At the Baker Bowl in Philadelphia, in his lone at-bat in the top of the first inning, he was retired on a ground ball by Jackson native Jim Bivin, pitching in his one and only big league season. Ruth was then replaced in left field by Ludlow native Hal Lee, who would go on to bang out three hits that day. Ruth was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1936.

02 Jun

number crunching

Anything can happen on the field in a double-elimination tournament, but there are numbers on the stat sheet that bode well for Southern Miss’ chances in the Auburn Regional that starts today. In terms of run differential — a good measure of a team’s balance — USM, at plus-113, is far better than top seed Auburn (plus-69) or No. 3 Samford (plus-30), the Golden Eagles’ first-round foe. Penn, the 4-seed, has a plus-137, but the competition the Quakers faced in the Ivy League doesn’t compare to what the other three see in the baseball-crazy South. (The bottom three teams in the Ivy this season won a combined 24 games.) USM also has a far better staff ERA (4.60) than either Samford (6.00) or Auburn (5.80). Pitching coach — and head-coach-in-waiting — Christian Ostrander does a masterful job with young arms. Tanner Hall, the staff ace, is 12-3 with a 2.23 ERA. The junior right-hander, a virtual unknown at the start of the 2022 campaign, has won back-to-back conference pitcher of the year awards and has been a first-team All-America pick both years by Collegiate Baseball Magazine. But you gotta have some depth. USM can trot out four pitchers with sub-4.00 ERAs, an accomplishment in NCAA Division I ball. One of those four is closer Justin Storm, an intimidating (6 feet 6, 225 pounds) lefty who is 5-1 with eight saves, a 2.52 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings. Samford’s ace is Jacob Cravey (9-2, 3.19, CB second-team All-America, Southern Conference pitcher of the year), and the Bulldogs closer is Ben Petschke (14 saves, 4.29). Auburn’s top arm is starter Tommy Vail (5-1, 3.46). For the record, Auburn and Samford have a significantly better fielding percentage number (.978) than USM (.970), though the Eagles, with 41 wins, are hardly considered a poor defensive team. For what it’s worth, the Eagles have proven their mettle on the road, going 15-12 away from Taylor Park, including winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title in Montgomery, Ala. P.S. Kudos to Resurrection Catholic (Class 1A) and Lewisburg (6A) for winning MHSAA state championships on Thursday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

01 Jun

banging on door

Sent back to the minors despite going 6-for-6 in his last two games for Minnesota, Matt Wallner has responded by banging out six hits, including two home runs, in his first two games for Triple-A St. Paul. He had a double, triple and homer on Tuesday, a homer and two singles on Wednesday. The former Southern Miss standout has crushed the ball with such ferocity that a St. Paul broadcaster called him “Judge-like.” A 6-foot-4, 220-pound lefty-hitting outfielder, Wallner is batting .298 with six homers and 21 RBIs for the Saints. He was at .368 in 19 at-bats for the Twins when they optioned him out to make room for Max Kepler, who came off the injured list. The Twins, clinging to first place in the American League Central, surely can’t keep Wallner down on the farm for long. … There are several other Mississippi products in Triple-A seemingly banging on the big league door. At Norfolk (Baltimore system), Mississippi State alum Jordan Westburg is batting .311 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs. The Orioles’ No. 3 prospect, who has played shortstop, third base, second and the outfield this season, hit nine homers in May. At Sugar Land (Houston), Oxford native and Ole Miss alum Grae Kessinger is batting .286 after a 3-for-7 effort in a pair of games on Wednesday. He hit his sixth homer and has 31 RBIs. At Louisville (Cincinnati), ex-USM star Chuckie Robinson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs on Wednesday and is batting .331 with six homers and 29 runs driven in. Robinson got a brief look with the Reds last season. At Jacksonville (Miami), Flowood native and ex-MSU standout Jake Mangum is hitting .307 after an 0-for-3 Wednesday. The speedy outfielder has two homers, 22 RBIs and seven steals. At Round Rock (Texas), Mississippi College product Blaine Crim is batting .255 with four homers and 18 RBIs and former State star Justin Foscue is at .272 with seven and 23 plus seven steals. At Albuquerque (Arizona), MSU alum Hunter Stovall is batting .296 with 27 runs in 32 games. P.S. Kudos to ex-Ole Miss standout Nick Fortes, who got his second career walk-off hit for Miami, an RBI single in the ninth against San Diego closer Josh Hader. … Tough day for Lance Lynn and Justin Steele, starting pitchers for Chicago on Wednesday (see previous post). Ole Miss alum Lynn gave up eight runs in four innings in a loss for the White Sox and George County High product Steele was pulled with left forearm tightness after throwing three perfect innings for the Cubs, who would go on to lose. … William Carey University’s great season ended with a 15-6 loss to Lewis-Clark State in a semifinal game at the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. The Crusaders won the SSAC regular season title, climbed to No. 8 in the national poll and finished 49-11; their last win in Idaho was coach Bobby Halford’s 1,300th at WCU. … Congrats to East Central, Purvis and East Union for winning series openers in the MHSAA state championships at Pearl. East Union’s Landon Harmon tossed a perfect game.

31 May

spotlight on …

Chicago will be hoppin’ today with both the White Sox and the Cubs in town, and a pair of Mississippi products will be on the mound for the home teams. At Guaranteed Rate Field, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn looks to win his fourth straight start for the underachieving White Sox, scuffling along at 23-34. They meet the star-studded Los Angeles Angels. At Wrigley Field, former George County High star Justin Steele looks to recapture his early season form after going 0-2 in his last three starts for the disappointing Cubs (24-30). They play Tampa Bay, the best team in baseball. Lynn got off to an awful start in 2023, as did the ChiSox. He has improved to 4-5 and lowered his ERA to 5.83 by allowing just four runs in his last 19 innings. Today’s start will be the 297th career for the 36-year-old right-hander. For Steele, a 27-year-old lefty, today will be career start No. 45. He was 6-0 after beating St. Louis on May 10 but has been a bit wobbly of late. Cincinnati roughed him up for five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings on May 26, pushing his ERA to 2.77. P.S. No American League reliever has had a better May than Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman of the White Sox. He has not allowed a run in 11 outings, posting four saves and two holds. … In college ball: William Carey University lost for the first time Tuesday night in the NAIA World Series but will play on today against Lewis-Clark State, the home team in Lewiston, Idaho. … On the prep front: Kudos to Lewisburg, St. Stanislaus and Resurrection Catholic for winning series openers in the MHSAA state championships in Pearl.

30 May

almost perfekt

The Kansas City Royals took a flier in the off-season on Mike Mayers, signing the former Ole Miss standout to a minor league deal after he had posted a 6.88 ERA in Triple-A last season. It is beginning to look like a smart move. In his third appearance for the Royals since a May 17 promotion, Mayers threw six perfect innings in relief on Monday before yielding a couple of hits in K.C.’s 7-0 win at St. Louis. The 31-year-old right-hander now has a 1.35 ERA in 13 1/3 innings. Coincidentally, Mayers made his MLB debut for the Cardinals at Busch Stadium in July 2016. He has good memories from his four years in St. Louis, but that outing — nine runs in 1 1/3 innings — wasn’t one of them. Waived by the Cardinals in 2019, he spent three seasons with the Los Angeles Angels, won a pitcher of the month award in September 2020, struggled mightily in 2022 and finished the year in the minors, becoming a free agent at season’s end. “My story hasn’t always been easy,” he told the Kansas City Star after Monday’s performance. He relieved opener Josh Staumont in the second inning and carried a perfect game into the eighth before a Nolan Arenado single broke it up. Two other relievers closed out the two-hitter. P.S. Kudos to Michael Soroka, the former Mississippi Braves ace who returned to the big leagues with Atlanta on Monday for the first time since 2020. The injury-plagued right-hander threw six relatively sharp innings, allowing four runs in the travel-weary Braves’ 7-2 loss at Oakland. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner was optioned to Triple-A for the third time this year by Minnesota. … William Carey University is 2-0 in the NAIA World Series after a 13-4 win against Southeastern (Fla.) on Monday. The Crusaders play Westmont (Calif.) tonight in Lewiston, Idaho.

29 May

buckle up

Trustmark Park in Pearl will be filled this week with Urchins and Hornets and Dragons and Knights. The MHSAA state championships begin Tuesday. Twelve teams from every corner of the state will decide six titles. Mr. Baseball picks from three classes are among the throng of players who will take the field. There will be players who’ll go on to bigger schools and bigger things, and there will be many for whom this is their last hurrah. Emotions will run high.
The best-of-3 battles begin Tuesday morning with a gathering of Eagles: The Class 1A finalists are West Union and Resurrection Catholic from Pascagoula. Greer Manning tops West Union with a .485 average and eight homers and a 1.62 ERA on the bump (per MaxPreps). Cole Tingle has been a sparkplug for Resurrection with a .414 average and six pitching wins.
The second feature on Tuesday is Amory-St. Stanislaus in 3A. Amory went 30-4 despite playing most of the season with no home field after the devastating March tornado. Walker Maranto and Bryce Glenn have led the Panthers through. The Rock-a-Chaws from the Coast are powered by Chesley Rhodes (.468, seven homers, 43 RBIs.)
Saltillo and East Central meet in Tuesday’s 5A nightcap. Drake Douglas and Baylor Roberts were clutch performers for Saltillo’s Tigers in the North series win against Ridgeland. Southern Miss signee T.J. Dunsford — chosen Mr. Baseball in 5A by the MHSAA and the Mississippi Association of Coaches — leads the East Central Hornets from Moss Point with .434 average.
On Wednesday, the Urchins from East Union battle the Dragons from Pisgah in 2A. East Union’s Rett Johnson, Mr. Baseball in this class, is hitting a sizzling .545. For Pisgah — just 20 miles down the road from Pearl — Colton Coleman hit .437, scored 33 runs and stole 12 bags.
In 4A on Wednesday, Mr. Baseball JoJo Parker, a Mississippi State commit, leads the Purvis Tornadoes with a .482 average, 15 homers, eight wins and a 1.66 ERA. West Lauderdale’s Knights feature Cannon Graham and Brett Busbea, who came up big in the North clincher vs. Mooreville.
The 6A final — Wednesday’s finale — matches Lewisburg and Gulfport, who knocked out Germantown and Northwest Rankin, respectively, in the North and South finals. Austin Hannigan, a .358 hitter with 20 steals, and MSU signee Gage Haley (.345) are among the leaders for Lewisburg’s Patriots. For Gulfport’s Admirals, Dawson Hall had a monster series against Northwest Rankin.
Game 2 in each series is set (in the same order) for Thursday and Friday. Any Game 3’s would start Saturday. Six celebrations are guaranteed.

29 May

road trip

Southern Miss will load up the bus and head east about 300 miles for its NCAA regional assignment. The Golden Eagles are the 2-seed in the Auburn Regional and will open Friday against Samford, another Alabama school. Top-seeded Auburn will play Penn on Friday. USM is 41-17 and champion of the Sun Belt Conference. Auburn (34-21-1) went 1-2 in the SEC Tournament. Samford, a 36-win team that won the Southern Conference Tournament, is led by John Anderson, who has 22 homers, and Jayden Davis, a .363 hitter. Also on the Bulldogs roster is Hinds Community College alum Josh Rodriguez (.271, 11 homers), an outfielder, and Kace Garner, a Northwest Rankin grad who played at Meridian CC and Mississippi State before landing at Samford. A backup catcher, he hit .143 in 19 games. One of Auburn’s big sticks is Bryson Ware, former Germantown High and Pearl River CC standout who was a second-team All-SEC pick this season. The Tigers are coached by Amory High and Itawamba CC alum Butch Thompson, a former Mississippi State assistant coach. The winner of the Auburn Regional will meet the winner of the Clemson Regional, which also includes Tennessee, in the Super Regional round.

29 May

top of the heap

The ride has been anything but smooth for Milwaukee, but the Brewers have reached Memorial Day — a traditional benchmark — in first place in the National League Central. They beat San Francisco 7-5 on Sunday to snap a three-game skid and move to 28-25, 1.5 games up on Pittsburgh in a weak division. Devin Williams and William Contreras — two of several Mississippi connections on the Milwaukee roster — were key figures in Sunday’s win. The remarkable Williams, a former Biloxi Shuckers star, got the last four outs for the save; he is 8-for-8 with an 0.54 ERA. Catcher Contreras, a former Mississippi Braves standout and a 2022 All-Star for Atlanta before being traded, contributed a two-run homer and an RBI single; he is batting .250 with five bombs and 16 RBIs. The Brewers have nine players from their opening day roster on the injured list, including ace Brandon Woodruff, the Mississippi State product, and promising rookie Garrett Mitchell, a Shuckers alum. The team has wobbled through a 10-15 May but still sits atop the division. “We keep grinding through it,” Williams told mlb.com. (Ex-State star Ethan Small was sent back to Triple-A after a rocky outing in his 2023 debut.) … For the record, there is a Mississippi thread running through all of the six teams currently in first place in the big leagues. In Tampa Bay, there is former M-Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt, a highly rated prospect when he passed through Pearl a decade ago. He has taken a winding path to Tampa. In Minnesota, ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner was recently recalled from the minors and might be sticking around, having gone 7-for-11 with a homer, four RBIs and two walks in his last four games. In Texas, MSU product Nathaniel Lowe continues to rake for the power-packed Rangers: .273, five homers, 29 RBIs. In Los Angeles (Chavez Ravine branch), there is a trio of former M-Braves: the irrepressible Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Evan Phillips (an unsung bullpen piece who has seven saves and a 1.77 ERA). And in Atlanta, the bulk of the club is M-Braves alums: Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Max Fried, Michael Harris II, Charlie Morton, Austin Riley, Spencer Strider, et al. And Orlando Arcia was on the first Biloxi club back in 2015. DeSoto Central High grad Riley hit his 10th homer in Sunday’s win against Philadelphia and is batting .357 over his last seven games. P.S. Shout-out to Scott Berry and Southern Miss, which won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship on Sunday, getting big homers from Dustin Dickerson, Danny Lynch and Slade Wilks and lockdown relief work from Justin Storm. Denied an NCAA regional host bid despite their 41-17 record (and 19-2 finishing kick), the Golden Eagles await the announcement today of their regional destination. Baton Rouge? Tuscaloosa? Fayetteville? … East Central Community College was eliminated from the NJCAA Division II World Series after an 11-10 loss to Frederick (Md.) CC in Enid, Okla. The Warriors won both the MACCC title and the Region 23 crown en route to the World Series.