19 May

the final five

The most familiar name on the list of finalists for the 2022 Ferriss Trophy is Tim Elko, who is enjoying a monster fifth year in the Ole Miss program. The other four have put up numbers impressive enough to separate themselves from a huge field of candidates and merit recognition from the coaches and scouts who pick the final five. The Ferriss Trophy, named for legendary coach Boo Ferriss and first awarded in 2004, goes to the most outstanding four-year college player in the state. The winner will be announced in a ceremony on Monday at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum in Jackson. Joining Elko on the list are R.J. Yeager of Mississippi State, Southern Miss’ Tanner Hall, Delta State’s Harrison Haley and Brett Sanchez of Belhaven. Elko is batting .301 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs for the resurgent Rebels, who have seemingly recovered from a midseason slump. Yeager, in his first season at MSU as a grad transfer from Mercer, has been a consistent hitter for an inconsistent club, batting .328 with 17 homers and 55 RBIs. Hall is a sophomore right-hander who emerged as an ace in 2022 on a strong USM pitching staff that carried the team into the top 10 earlier this season; he is 7-2 with a 2.60 ERA. Haley, a former Hinds Community College standout from Madison, is in his first year at Delta State after transferring from Southeastern Louisiana. He is 10-1 with a 3.84 ERA for an NCAA Division II regional team. Sanchez has been at Belhaven for three seasons after starting his career at Dakota State. The right-hander went 8-1 with a 2.01 for the Division III Blazers, who went 28-16, most wins for the program in seven years. In 2009, Belhaven two-way star Craig Westcott won the Ferriss Trophy and remains the only winner from a school other than the “Big 3” D-I programs; BU was NAIA at the time. State’s Tanner Allen was the 2021 winner. Previous winners include current big leaguers Drew Pomeranz, Hunter Renfroe, Chris Stratton and Nick Sandlin.

18 May

playing the game

Comes a time for everyone, as the old scout says in “Moneyball,” when you’re told you can no longer play the children’s game. The time may have come for the likes of Mitch Moreland and Jarrod Dyson, veteran free agents in their late 30s with no team to suit up for. But as long as some team somewhere wants you, as long as you still dream of making the major leagues, you soldier on, as Ti’Quan Forbes is doing in 2022. Columbia native Forbes, a pro since 2014 without a big league look, became a minor league free agent last fall. The 25-year-old third baseman had signed with an independent club before the Arizona Diamondbacks came calling in mid-April. He is making good on this, perhaps final, opportunity, batting .283 with four homers and 18 RBIs for Double-A Amarillo. Forbes, who goes 6 feet 4, 225 pounds now, was drafted in the second round out of Columbia High by Texas and traded to the Chicago White Sox (for major league pitcher Miguel Gonzalez) after a productive 2017 season in High-A ball. He reached Triple-A Charlotte last summer but hit just .237 with two homers in 50 games. That trail ran out. He has picked up another. A player can still have an MLB breakthrough at Forbes’ age. Dyson didn’t make The Show until he was 27, and he played 12 big league seasons. Ex-Delta State star Trent Giambrone was 27 when he got the call last year in his sixth minor league season. Giambrone is back in the minors now, playing the children’s game, like Forbes. They haven’t been told they can’t. P.S. William Carey’s fine season ended Tuesday with a loss to Hope International in the NAIA Opening Round at Lawrenceville, Ga. The SSAC Tournament champion Crusaders (37-17) went 2-and-out in the regional.

17 May

shuckers v. m-braves

A trio of former Biloxi Shuckers pitchers did a number on the Atlanta Braves on Monday night. The number was 16, as in 16 punchouts in Milwaukee’s 1-0 win at American Family Field. Former Mississippi Braves Ian Anderson and Spencer Strider pitched well in defeat. The series between National League rivals, who met in a memorable postseason series in 2021, continues today with Shuckers and M-Braves alums matched up as starters in each of the remaining two games. Coincidentally, the Double-A teams meet in a six-game series starting tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Both clubs are under .500 in the Southern League South, though the Shuckers (16-17) come in on a three-game win streak. The M-Braves (14-19) have dropped their last two and are just 6-9 at home. Whether there is a feeling of rivalry between the teams — or their fans — is debatable. (Remember Jackson-Shreveport from the old Texas League days?) But Biloxi took five of six when the teams met in early April at MGM Park, and it’s a safe bet M-Braves players remember that. Both clubs feature highly regarded prospects that are likely to clash in the big leagues someday in the near future. The M-Braves trot out Michael Harris II, Jesse Franklin V, Freddy Tarnok and tonight’s starting pitcher, Jared Shuster. Four of Milwaukee’s top 11 prospects (per MLB Pipeline) populate Biloxi’s roster, with a fifth on the injured list. No. 1 Sal Frelick is batting .231 with seven steals, and No. 2 Joey Wiemer is at .309 with nine homers and 27 RBIs. Former Ole Miss star Thomas Dillard is a catcher/first baseman for the Shuckers, hitting .200 with three homers and 16 RBIs. In the clubs’ all-time series, which began when Biloxi entered the SL in 2015, the Shuckers lead 77-68. But Mississippi owns two league pennants, including last year’s, and Biloxi has yet to claim one.

16 May

developing situations

Suddenly, Ole Miss looks like a juggernaut. Again. Buried at the bottom of the SEC standings a couple weeks ago, the Rebels have won seven in a row, including their first (as in ever) sweep at nationally ranked LSU over the weekend. Three home runs and clutch pitching by closer Brandon Johnson carried UM (31-19, 13-14 SEC) to an 8-5 win Sunday. Ole Miss was a consensus top 10 team at the season’s outset.
It was bombs away in Hattiesburg as Southern Miss, in dire need of a big win, blasted six homers — three by Christopher Sargent — and got clutch pitching from closer Landon Harper in a 9-5 victory against Texas-San Antonio that clinched the weekend series. The Golden Eagles (38-14, ranked No. 18 by Baseball America) are 2 games up in first place in C-USA with a 20-7 record. An NCAA regional host role may still be in play.
The stunning freefall by Mississippi State continues, as the Bulldogs’ losing streak stretched to nine after a sweep at the hands of nationally ranked Texas A&M. MSU pitching yielded 8, 9 and 8 runs in the three losses. The defending national champion Bulldogs, at 9-18 in the SEC, are in real danger of missing the conference tournament.
Jackson State, seeking to right a listing ship, swept Florida A&M at Braddy Field over the weekend, winning the finale 13-2 as Jaelen Williams went 3-for-4 with three RBIs. The Tigers climbed back over .500 at 26-25 and are 13-14 in the SWAC with a road series at fading Mississippi Valley State (on a 12-game losing streak) remaining before the league tournament.
William Carey’s “reward” for winning the SSAC Tournament is a trip to Lawrenceville, Ga., to meet defending national champion Georgia Gwinnett today in an NAIA Opening Round game. Gwinnett is 42-14, Carey 37-15. Hope International (Calif.) is the top seed in this four-team regional. The winner of the double-elimination tourney goes to the NAIA World Series, which WCU won way back in 1969.
Delta State is off to Saint Leo, Fla., for an NCAA Division II South Regional matchup on Thursday against Rollins College. DSU, making its 35th regional appearance, is 32-15. The winner of this four-team bracket moves into a Super Regional series to play for a berth in the World Series. The Statesmen won the D-II national title in 2004.
The NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament starts today in Poplarville with MACCC champ Pearl River Community College playing Northwest, East Mississippi taking on Jones and Hinds tangling with LSU-Eunice. PRCC (36-10) is ranked No. 1 in the nation. LSU-E, the defending national champion, is No. 4. The winner of the double-elimination event gets a trip to the juco World Series.

15 May

have a day

On Tim Anderson Bobblehead Night at Guaranteed Rate Field in Chicago, it was only fitting that the former East Central Community College standout would play a leading role in the White Sox’s walk-off 3-2 win against the New York Yankees. With the score knotted at 2-2 Saturday, Anderson got a one-out single in the ninth inning off Aroldis Chapman. Yankees broadcasters credited Anderson with distracting Chapman into walking the next batter and then falling behind 3-0 to Luis Robert. On a 3-1 pitch, Robert poked a single into right field and Anderson scored the winning run from second base just ahead of a throw by Aaron Judge. The bobblehead commemorated Anderson’s walk-off homer vs. the Yankees in the Field of Dreams Game last summer. The dynamic Anderson went 3-for-5 Saturday, boosting his average to .339, second in the American League. He was just the brightest star on a day filled with shining moments from Mississippians in the majors. To wit: In the ChiSox-Yankees game, Mississippi State alum Kendall Graveman pitched two scoreless innings (the sixth and seventh) for Chicago, registered his eighth hold and trimmed his ERA to 1.56 in 15 games. … In Atlanta, a scuffling Austin Riley, the ex-DeSoto Central High star, went 3-for-4 and delivered the game-deciding run in the eighth inning of a crazy 6-5 victory over San Diego. … In St. Louis, MSU product Dakota Hudson blanked San Francisco over five innings, picking up the win — he is 3-2, 3.06 — as the Cardinals stopped the Giants’ six-game win streak 4-0. McComb native Corey Dickerson went 1-for-4 for the Cards. … Former Southern Miss standout Nick Sandlin picked up a win for Cleveland, working 1 1/3 scoreless innings (in the eighth and ninth) in the Guardians’ 3-2, 10-inning win against Minnesota. Sandlin is 3-1 with a 3.65 ERA in 12 games in middle relief. … Chris Stratton, the MSU product from Tupelo, struck out two batters in the eighth inning and got his fourth hold for Pittsburgh in a 3-1 win against Cincinnati. … Hunter Renfroe, the former State star from Crystal Springs, belted his ninth home run in Milwaukee’s 9-3 loss to Miami. He is tied for the National League lead in homers. … Ole Miss alum Mike Mayers, who has found his form in recent outings, worked a scoreless ninth inning for the Los Angeles Angels in their 9-1 win vs. Oakland in Game 2 of a twinbill.

14 May

call him maybe

This much is clear from recent comments by Mitch Moreland: He is not retired. The ex-Mississippi State standout from Amory is home in Alabama enjoying the family life, but he has not stored away the bat and glove. On a podcast produced by WEEI radio in Boston, the 12-year major league veteran said he just hasn’t received any attractive offers since the 2021 season ended. “To be honest, I thought I would have more opportunities than were presented,” he said. Moreland is 36 and had a down year with Oakland in ’21, finishing on the disabled list with a wrist injury. But it would seem that some club might take a flier on a career .251 hitter with lefty power (186 homers) and a good glove at first base. He spent parts of four seasons in Boston, which has a serious need at first. “It’s my favorite place I have played,” said Moreland, who helped the Red Sox win the 2018 World Series. Maybe a reunion is in the offing.

12 May

here and there

Beyond the score — Ole Miss 4, Southern Miss 1 — three numbers jump out of the box from Wednesday night’s game in Hattiesburg: 1 — hits allowed by the Rebels’ bullpen over the last four innings of the game, backing up a strong start by Drew McDaniel; 15 — strikeouts by Golden Eagles batters, most in a game this season; 6,346 — the attendance, a record, at Taylor Park. (Can any other state match Mississippi’s passion for college baseball?) … Congratulations to Millsaps’ Jim Page, named coach of the year in the Southern Athletic Association. The Majors, 10-24 in 2021, went 24-21 and reached the league championship series. Page also won his 800th game in purple-and-white this season. … Christian Yelich hit for the cycle for Milwaukee on Wednesday, his third cycle since 2018. The last Mississippian to accomplish this neat feat was Fred Lewis, a Stone County High and Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College product who did it on May 13 — Mother’s Day — in 2007 for San Francisco. … Orlando Arcia’s first career walk-off home run boosted Atlanta past Boston on Wednesday night. Biloxi Shuckers fans will remember Arcia as one of the stars of the inaugural team back in 2015. He was Milwaukee’s No. 1 prospect at the time and was one of the first Shuckers alums to make the majors. … Left-hander Joey Wentz became the latest former Mississippi Braves standout to make the big leagues; he started and took a loss for Detroit. Wentz joins Bryce Elder and William Woods as M-Braves alums to debut in 2022; the list is approaching 160 all told. … Former Mississippi State standout — and Shuckers alum — Ethan Small, the International League’s pitcher of the month for April when he had an 0.77 ERA in four starts, makes his second May start tonight for Triple-A Nashville. The left-hander, Milwaukee’s No. 7 prospect, took a loss in his first May outing and is 2-1, 1.98 with 37 K’s in 27 1/3 innings. His MLB debut can’t be far off. … Harrison Central High alum Bobby Bradley, reassigned to the minors by Cleveland earlier this month, went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in his first game with Triple-A Columbus. … Blaze Jordan, the ex-DeSoto Central star, is heating up at Low-Class A Salem in Boston’s system. A nine-game hit streak (13-for-34) has lifted the young slugger’s average to .235; he hit his second homer of the year Wednesday night.

11 May

whatever happened to …

Brent Rooker, after a lengthy layoff because of a shoulder injury, homered Tuesday night in his first game back with Triple-A El Paso in the San Diego organization. The former Mississippi State star had not played since April 17. Rooker, the 35th overall pick in the 2017 draft by Minnesota, was found wanting by the Twins (.212 in 208 MLB at-bats) and was traded in early April to the Padres in the Chris Paddack deal. In eight games for El Paso, he is batting .222 with three homers and 14 strikeouts in 27 ABs. Rooker won the SEC Triple Crown — and the Ferriss Trophy — in his last season at State but hasn’t hit consistently in pro ball (.262, 77 homers, 407 K’s in 329 games in the minors). The 6-foot-4, 225-pound outfielder/first baseman is on the Padres’ 40-man roster, can hit the long ball and may well get a call-up if a need arises. P.S. On this date in 2003, another ex-Bulldogs slugger and SEC Triple Crown winner, Rafael Palmeiro, hit his 500th career homer, becoming the 19th big leaguer to reach that milestone. Palmeiro finished with 569 bombs, far and away the most by a Mississippi college alum or state native.

10 May

next!

Eliminated on Monday from the Gulf South Conference Tournament, Delta State awaits a bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. The regional fields will be announced on Sunday. The Statesmen (32-15), regular season champs in the GSC under coach of the year Rodney Batts, lost to Alabama-Huntsville 7-3 on Monday in Oxford, Ala. DSU went 2-2 in the tournament. The Statesmen got a South Regional bid in 2021, Batts’ first full season at the helm, but went 2-and-out at Pensacola, Fla. … Also awaiting its postseason destination is William Carey, champion of the Southern States Athletic Conference. Bobby Halford’s Crusaders will take a 37-15 record into an NAIA regional. … Millsaps’ season ended Monday with a second straight loss to top-seeded Birmingham-Southern in the Southern Athletic Association championship series. Jim Page’s Majors won 10 of their last 14, including a pod title, to finish 24-21. … Belhaven’s season ended Sunday with two losses to UT-Dallas in a pod championship showdown in the American Southwest Conference Tournament. Kyle Palmer’s Blazers went 28-16, most wins for the program in seven years. … Rust College, under first-year coach John Bates, plays Edward Waters on Wednesday in the NAIA bracket of the Black College World Series at Montgomery, Ala. The double-elimination pod winner will meet the NCAA Division II bracket champ in a title game. … In the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament on Monday in Poplarville, MACCC champ Pearl River Community College plays Northwest, East Mississippi takes on Jones and Hinds gets LSU-Eunice. The winner of the double-elimination event gets a trip to the juco World Series.

09 May

fun while it lasted

On paper, it was a mismatch. On the field, for three innings at least, it was not. George County High product Justin Steele, making just the 15th start of his big league career, cruised into the fourth inning Sunday at Wrigley Field with a 1-0 lead against the Los Angeles Dodgers and ace Walker Buehler. A wonky fourth — two infield hits, two walks, a wild pitch — cost Steele and the Chicago Cubs the lead, and the young left-hander couldn’t answer the bell for the fifth, departing with a thumb injury after his warmup tosses. The Dodgers, with Buehler going seven innings, won the game 7-1. Buehler entered the game, his 100th career start, with a 3-1 record and a 2.12 ERA. Steele was 1-3, 5.50, winless since beating Milwaukee (and fellow Mississippi native Brandon Woodruff) in his first start of 2022. Originally set for a Monday start, Steele found out only hours before ESPN’s Sunday night feature that he’d be getting the ball against the National League’s best team, the one with three MVPs in the lineup. He struck out Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman to start the game and yielded just a lone hit (to Cody Bellinger) through three. The wheels started to come off in the fourth. Steele, 26, battled long and hard — eight years — to reach the big leagues in 2021. He’s now battling to nail down a role with a rebuilding Cubs club, and there certainly have been encouraging signs. P.S. Two other Mississippians made Mother’s Day starts and experienced mixed results. Konnor Pilkington, former Mississippi State standout, made his first career start — fourth appearance — for Cleveland and lasted 3 2/3 innings (two runs allowed) in a game the Guardians won 4-3 against Toronto. Ex-State star Dakota Hudson, having an erratic season for St. Louis, went four innings, yielding five hits, four walks and three runs in a game the Cardinals lost 4-3 to San Francisco.