12 May

high praise

Mitch Moreland, who spent parts of four seasons in a Red Sox uniform, returned to Boston Tuesday as a member of the Oakland A’s and got a standing ovation as he dug in for his first at-bat. Before the series between the two division leaders began, the former Mississippi State star from Amory was showered with high praise from the other clubhouse. “Mitch is a good player, man, and a great person, and what he brought to the equation in the clubhouse was kind of like a sense of calmness, you know?” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said in a story on nesn.com. “He’s one of my favorites, to be honest with you.” Moreland helped Cora and the Red Sox win a World Series in 2018. Cora said the left-handed hitting first baseman “was probably one of the most important players that we had in ’18.” Moreland went 1-for-4 in Tuesday’s game as the A’s took a 3-2 win. He is batting .220 with four homers and 15 RBIs as Oakland’s primary DH. A 12-year veteran, Moreland is a .251 career hitter with 180 homers and, befitting his “2-Bags” nickname, 210 doubles. P.S. Ole Miss product Bobby Wahl is on a rehab assignment with the Biloxi Shuckers, Milwaukee’s Double-A affiliate, and likely will pitch in this week’s series against the Mississippi Braves. The oft-injured Wahl has pitched in 17 MLB games over parts of three seasons stretching back to 2017. He was a fifth-round pick by Oakland in 2013.

11 May

who’s it gonna be?

When you’ve got three NCAA Division I programs ranked in the Top 25 and a fourth with an unbeaten conference season, an NAIA program with a conference title under its belt and a D-II team currently battling for a league crown, you’re going to have a bunch of players with great numbers. Only one can win the Ferriss Trophy, given annually to the state’s best. The finalists have been named: Tanner Allen and Landon Sims from Mississippi State and Kevin Graham, Gunnar Hoglund and Doug Nikhazy of Ole Miss. Outfielder Allen is having a monster year for a top five team: .379, eight homers, 46 RBIs, 50 runs. Sims, the Bulldogs’ closer, is 3-0 with six saves and a 0.56 ERA in 14 appearances. Outfielder/first baseman Graham is batting .339 with 10 homers, 41 RBIs, 44 runs for UM, and pitchers Hoglund (4-2, 2.87, 96 punchouts) and Nikhazy (6-2, 2.47), both highly rated MLB draft prospects, have been outstanding, though Hoglund is now shelved with an arm injury. Consider for a moment the players who didn’t make the final five: Bulldogs pitcher Will Bednar has eye-catching stats: 5-1, 3.31 ERA, 80 strikeouts in 49 innings. And he’s a highly rated draft prospect, too. Rebels reliever Taylor Broadway has nine saves, four wins and a 2.73 ERA in 19 games. Reed Trimble has been Southern Miss’ most productive hitter — .306, 10 homers, 45 RBIs, 43 runs – while Walker Powell (8-2) and Ben Ethridge (6-1) have sparkled on the mound. Jackson State (24-0 in the SWAC), which has never had a Ferriss winner, rolls out Ty Hill (.431), Chenar Brown (.357, eight homers, 45 RBIs), Nik Galatas (9-2) and Anthony Becerra (8-1). Then there’s the small schools. NAIA William Carey, SSAC champion, features two-way star Sloan Dieter (.331, 15 homers, 52 RBIs and an 8-2, 1.89 pitching ledger). And at D-II Delta State, Jake Barlow is hitting .314 with 17 homers, most in the state, and 58 RBIs. The winner will be named on May 24. Only one can win. It’s a tough call. P.S. A future Ferriss winner or two might be playing in this week’s MAIS Class 5A championship series, which will be loaded with NCAA Division I talent. The pitching staffs alone feature Riley Maddox (Ole Miss signee), Mason Nichols (Ole Miss) and Will Gibbs (Mississippi State) of Jackson Prep and Bryce Chance (Mississippi State), Niko Mazza (Southern Miss) and Brayden Jones (Ole Miss) of MRA. Prep (33-3) is No. 2 in MaxPreps’ state rankings, MRA (27-9) No. 7.

11 May

party of one

A Mississippi product took the field in each of the five big league games played on Monday night. Only one enjoyed a postgame celebration. Mike Mayers, the former Ole Miss standout, worked a clean eighth inning and earned his sixth hold in the Los Angeles Angels’ gritty 5-4 win against Houston. Pitching for the third straight day and 18th time this season, Mayers trimmed his ERA to 4.58. Three Mississippi State alumni were on the losing side: Adam Frazier went 1-for-3 in Pittsburgh’s 14-1 loss to Cincinnati, Hunter Renfroe went 1-for-3 in Boston’s 4-1 loss to Baltimore and Nate Lowe put up a 1-for-3 in Texas’ 3-1 defeat against San Francisco. And ex-Meridian Community College star Corey Dickerson had a 1-for-4 in Miami’s 5-2 loss to Arizona. … Dickerson’s average slipped to .316, but he still leads all Mississippians in the majors in batting; Frazier is at .308. P.S. In the Double-A South, the Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers begin a six-game series at MGM Park tonight. It’s the Shuckers’ home opener. Lefty Hayden Deal (0-1, 1.80), the M-Braves’ opening day starter, is expected to get the nod in Game 1. Former State star Ethan Small is likely to start in the series. The 2019 first-round pick made his Double-A debut on May 7, allowing four runs in three innings in a loss at Birmingham.

10 May

juco brackets set

Five of the top 18 teams in the new NJCAA Division II poll will clash next week in a loaded regional tournament with a berth in the juco World Series on the line. Brackets are set for the first day of the double-elimination Region 23 Tournament in Poplarville. On May 17, Pearl River Community College, the host and No. 1 seed, opens with Hinds; No. 2 Meridian meets Itawamba; and 3-seed LSU-Eunice takes on East Central. PRCC (34-7), ranked third in the nation, won the MACCC regular season title with a 23-5 record, 3 games better than Meridian, which had to win a play-in series to make the regional. Hinds, ICC and ECCC also advanced via that route. LSU-E is 42-5 and ranked No. 2 in the national poll. Meridian, ICC and ECCC are also ranked. Hinds, the outlier, went 18-10 in the league, has won eight of its last 10 and owns victories against Meridian and ECCC. “All of the top seeds in the MACCC advanced this past weekend,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said in a school release. “Add LSU-Eunice to the tournament field, and again this will be one of the most competitive regionals in the NJCAA. There is no doubt fans will see good players, well-coached teams and enjoy the awesome atmosphere that Dub Herring Park provides.”

10 May

here and there

William Carey University earned a bid to the NAIA national tournament by winning its first Southern States Athletic Conference championship on Sunday. Blake Freeman hit a pair of three-run homers and John Snyder delivered some clutch relief pitching to pace the Crusaders past Faulkner 11-7 Sunday at Mobile, Ala. Carey (34-10) won four straight in the SSAC Tournament, beating top seed Loyola (New Orleans) twice. The NAIA field will be announced Thursday; the Opening Round is set for May 17-20. … Delta State, 2-0 in the GSC Tournament, plays Alabama-Huntsville today in Oxford, Ala., for a berth in championship series. … In the junior college playoffs, Meridian, Itawamba, East Central and Hinds advanced to the NJCAA D-II Region 23 Tournament, which will start May 17 at Pearl River’s Herring Park. PRCC, the MACCC regular season champion, and LSU-Eunice are also in the six-team field. … MUW (20-9) will play in the USCAA Small College World Series in Dubois, Pa., beginning May 17. … The Texas Rangers claimed former Mississippi State catcher Jack Kruger off waivers from the Los Angeles Angels. He goes on the 40-man roster and will likely be assigned to Triple-A Round Rock. Kruger made one appearance, on defense, for the Angels before being squeezed out of a roster spot because of a trade.

09 May

one crazy day

Why do we love this game? Crazy days like Saturday. Where to begin? In Hattiesburg, Walker Powell throws a no-hitter and Ben Ethridge follows with a three-hit shutout as Southern Miss sweeps Middle Tennessee State. In Columbia, S.C., Tanner Allen goes 4-for-5 with three RBIs to spark Mississippi State past South Carolina and clinch the big SEC series. In College Station, Texas, Tim Elko, in his third plate appearance since tearing an ACL in early April, hits a three-run homer to help Ole Miss beat Texas A&M and secure Mike Bianco’s 800th win in Oxford. In Jackson, Jackson State scores 19 runs in the third inning en route to beating hapless Mississippi Valley State 19-5, improving to 23-0 in SWAC play. In Oxford, Ala., Blayke Dendy hits a grand slam and Christian Day throws a complete game to pace Delta State to an upset of top-seeded Lee University in the GSC Tournament. In Mobile, Ala., Jorge Ramos tosses a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts to lead William Carey past top-seeded Loyola (New Orleans) and into the championship game of the SSAC Tournament. In Pearl, Atlanta prospect Shea Langeliers homers twice as the Double-A Mississippi Braves win their first game of the season by knocking off Pensacola. In Atlanta, former M-Braves star William Contreras belts a game-tying three-run double and then scores the winning run in the 12th inning as the Braves rally past Philadelphia. In Miami, former Biloxi Shuckers standout Adrian Houser goes six strong innings and hits a homer to drive Milwaukee past the Marlins. In Kansas City, East Central Community College product Tim Anderson singles twice and scores twice in an eight-run first inning that propels the Chicago White Sox past the Royals. Can’t wait to see what today brings.

08 May

swing and a miss

Granted, the Mississippi Braves have run into some stout pitching in their season-opening series against Pensacola. But surely there is more pop in the bats than what they’ve shown so far at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The M-Braves are 0-4 and have scored just five runs. More troubling: They’ve struck out 46 times, 16 in one seven-inning game on Thursday. There are prospects aplenty at the top of the Double-A club’s lineup, but they’re not hitting their weight. Braden Shewmake, Atlanta’s No. 4 prospect, doesn’t yet have a hit. No. 3 prospect Shea Langeliers has one. Leadoff batter Justin Dean is at .167, 3-hole hitter Trey Harris .154, C.J. Alexander .143 and Greyson Jenista .200. The pitching has been OK, keeping the team in games for the most part. Victor Vodnik, the top-rated pitching prospect on the staff (No. 15), goes tonight against the Blue Wahoos’ Jeff Lindgren. Will the bats break out?

08 May

winner, winner

Hats off to William Carey University, which beat top-seeded Loyola (New Orleans) 9-6 on Friday in a winners’ bracket game in the SSAC Tournament at Mobile, Ala. R.J. Stinson drove in two runs and Patrick Lee scored four and the Crusaders profited from five Loyola errors. John Snyder got the last 11 outs for the win. Carey (32-10) will play tonight against the winner of an elimination game between the two teams it has beaten, Loyola and Mobile. … Delta State, behind the pitching of Hunter Riggins and the mashing of Kirkland Trahan and Jake Barlow, beat Valdosta State 12-2 in the GSC Tournament in Oxford, Ala. The Statesmen’s reward is a game against top-seeded Lee University today. … Jackson State moved to 22-0 in the SWAC with a 6-0 victory against visiting Mississippi Valley State. … Winners of the MACCC playoff openers were Meridian, Itawamba, East Central and Jones, the only visitor (at Hinds) to win. Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) are set for today. P.S. The season is over for Blue Mountain, which lost twice in the SSAC tourney, and Belhaven, which went 0-2 in the ASC Tournament in Marshall, Texas.

07 May

into the juco minefield

It’s do-or-die time for eight Mississippi junior colleges who battled through 28 regular season games to reach this stage. The four winners of the best-of-3 playoff series that start today will advance to the NJCAA D-II Region 23 Tournament, where third-ranked Pearl River Community College, regular season champion in the MACCC, and No. 2 LSU-Eunice, six-time NJCAA national champ, await. In the conference playoffs, Meridian hosts Copiah-Lincoln, Itawamba hosts Gulf Coast, East Central hosts Northwest and Hinds hosts Jones. Meridian (29-11), ranked 10th in the latest NJCAA poll, surged at season’s end to claim second place in standings and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The Wildcats lost their last game but won eight straight before that, including two big ones against Itawamba, the 3-seed. Meridian is hitting .352 as a team, best in the MACCC. Banks Tolley has carried a big stick, batting .429 with 12 homers. Alec Sparks has been the staff ace, with a 7-1 record and 3.16 ERA. Pearl River, the top slugging (87 homers) team in the state, also leads in pitching (3.90 ERA), but both Hinds and Jones also rank among the top 15 nationally in staff ERA. The six-team region tournament is set for May 17-22 at Herring Park in Poplarville. P.S. Three former major league players were inducted into the Mississippi Community and Junior College Sports Hall of Fame in ceremonies last week in Pearl. Hinds Community College alum Chad Bradford, Pearl River’s Wendell Magee and Meridian’s Tyler Moore were among a large group of inductees from various sports. Bradford, who also pitched at Southern Miss, posted a 3.26 ERA over 12 MLB campaigns and famously pitched for the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s in 2002. Magee, a two-sport star at PRCC and Samford, spent seven years in the majors and batted .247 with 24 home runs. Moore, a Mississippi State alum, belted 30 homers over his five-year career. Current Auburn coach Butch Thompson, who pitched at Itawamba CC, also entered the juco Hall.

07 May

another debut

The Los Angeles Angels made a flurry of roster moves on Thursday – you might’ve heard they cut Albert Pujols – and one of the new additions is former Mississippi State standout Jack Kruger. The 26-year-old catcher made his MLB debut in a loss against Tampa Bay, entering in the top of the ninth as a defensive replacement. He didn’t get to hit. Kruger was a 20th-round pick out of State in 2016 after an outstanding season with the Bulldogs: .344, eight homers, 40 RBIs. Over four minor league campaigns, Kruger is hitting .265 with 15 homers. He was with Mobile in the old Southern League in 2018-19. Kruger joins Justin Steele (George County/Chicago Cubs) and Nick Sandlin (Southern Miss/Cleveland) as Magnolia State products to debut in 2021. … Sandlin notched his first career hold on Thursday night, pitching two clean innings in the Indians’ 4-0 with over Kansas City, a victory that gave Cleveland sole possession of first place in the American League Central. Sandlin has yet to allow a hit or walk in 4 1/3 innings over three appearances.