25 May

dsu’s big day

Three former Delta State stars appeared in big league games on Sunday, not bad for a small-town Division II school. Catcher Eli Whiteside made his 2009 debut with the San Francisco Giants, going 1-for-3 with an RBI. Edwin Maysonet, recently recalled by the Houston Astros, played some third base in Sunday’s game, and pitcher Brent Leach worked a third of an inning for the Los Angeles Dodgers.
P.S. Former Mississippi Brave Diory Hernandez got his first big league hit on Sunday in Atlanta’s win over Toronto. He went 2-for-4 and scored a pair of runs while filling in at shortstop for Yunel Escobar. Hernandez can play; we haven’t seen the last of his impact for the Braves.

23 May

oh yeah …

Lost: the SWAC Tournament. Actually, it was just overlooked. It was played this week, somewhere in Baton Rouge. It’s still going on, in fact. The three Mississippi schools were there, though two have been sent home. Mississippi Valley State and Jackson State, both of which seemed to have a chance at winning the event and making the NCAAs, are done, while Alcorn State remains alive today. The Braves, led by the savvy baseball veteran Rat McGowan, are to face Texas Southern in an elimination game. Don’t know much about the Braves. They’ve got two pretty good hitters, numbers-wise, in Jabari Graham and Eduardo Gonzales. And they picked a good time of the year to be clutch. Maybe we’ll see them in the Oxford Regional.
P.S. Amazing. There’s really no other word for it. With the debuts of Kris Medlen and Diory Hernandez with the Atlanta Braves on Thursday, the number of Mississippi Braves alumni advancing to The Show stands at 37. In less than five full years! Fans at Trustmark Park may not fully realize the quantity and quality of talent they have seen since the park opened in Pearl. And to think, there’s another big wave of talent on the way very soon. … From the That’s Cool Dept.: Former Ole Miss stars Chris Coghlan and Matt Tolbert hit their first big league homers within a five-day span of each other this week.

19 May

bottom nine

So here we are with only two teams still standing in the college season. Ole Miss is in the SEC Tournament that starts Wednesday (and will also play in an NCAA regional down the road) and Southern Miss is in the C-USA tourney that also begins Wednesday. The Golden Eagles, playing at home, will have to win their event to get in the NCAAs. We arrived at this point, sort of a bottom of the ninth for the Magnolia State, in an abrupt fashion. Millsaps, which looked like a team capable of a nice run in the NCAA Division III Tournament, was sailing along in the winners bracket of its regional with a 2-0 record and a 5-4 lead in the eighth inning against Carthage on Saturday. Then came a disastrous eight-run inning fueled by three Majors errors. The Majors lost that one and were dismissed from the tournament the next day in a 10-4 loss to Wisconsin-Whitewater. Ding. The last junior college team still playing was surprising Holmes CC, which reached the title round of the Division II Region 23 Tournament but was spanked — and eliminated — by No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice 19-5 on Monday. Ding. Holmes, which finished fourth in the MACJC North Division this season, had put out both Itawamba and Hinds, two powerhouse clubs with high expectations. Ding. Ding. Another juco with big dreams, Meridian, got bounced quickly from the D-I South Central District playoffs, losing 18-2 to Maple Woods (Mo.) and 6-4 to Seminole (Okla.) State over the weekend. Ding.
P.S. Kudos to Belhaven’s Craig Westcott for winning the Ferriss Trophy. The two-way star had a monster year for a championship team. The other finalists were Ole Miss’ Scott Bittle and USM’s Brian Dozier, both injured for several weeks. Yes, it seems odd they would be finalists at a time when they weren’t even playing. Among the overlooked in the voting, carried primarily by pro scouts: Ole Miss leadoff batter Jordan Henry, the catalyst for the Rebels’ attack, and Millsaps slugger Will Hawkins, who was the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference offensive player of the year.

15 May

carey on … not

A storybook finish just wasn’t in the cards for William Carey, though the Crusders made quite the run at it. Carey’s eventful season ended early this morning in an 8-7 loss to Southern Poly in the NAIA opening round tournament at Hattiesburg. The Crusaders (36-22) had dropped into the losers bracket on the first day of the event but battled back with three straight do-or-die victories. The Southern Poly game, which began about 10:30 p.m. on Thursday, was Carey’s fourth in two days. Down 8-2 in the ninth, the Crusaders scored five times, including a three-run homer by Josh Dannelley, but came up short of extending their tournament. Southern Poly, the top seed, advances to the NAIA World Series. Crusaders coach Bobby Halford won his 800th game this season, the Crusaders won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference regular season title, and the school was rewarded a host role for the regional at spiffy Wheeler Field. Carey also celebrated the 40th anniversary of its NAIA national championship earlier this season. It’s a shame they couldn’t make a return trip to the series. That would’ve been special.
P.S. Elsewhere in small college land: Belhaven’s season ended Thursday after a nice run in its NAIA regional. Millsaps, which won its NCAA Division III opener at the Central Regional, will have to wait until Saturday to play again because of rain in Moline, Ill. Hinds Community College beat Itawamba, the top seed, by an 8-7 count in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 tournament at LSU-Eunice on Thursday. LSUE, playing at home where it almost never loses, whipped Holmes 12-2. ICC and Holmes, who met for the MACJC championship last weekend, were to play an elimination game today. Meridian CC is scheduled to play today in a D-I district championship at Maple Woods, Mo.
P.P.S. ICC, the No. 4 team in the country, is done after a stunning 10-0 loss to Holmes, a team it had beaten six straight times this season. The Bulldogs scored all 10 runs in the sixth inning, eight of them unearned, according to the report from ICC.

11 May

on the move again

Wondered why the Chicago Cubs signed Joey Gathright as a free agent in the off-season. They didn’t really seem to have a need for the speedy outfielder from Hattiesburg. And as the season played out, they in fact didn’t have a need for him. After appearing in just 20 games (14 at-bats, 2 hits, 3 runs, 1 stolen base), Gathright was traded last Friday to the Baltimore Orioles for Ryan Freel. The Orioles promptly sent Gathright to Triple-A. The 28-year-old Gathright, who played high school ball in Louisiana, has come a long way since being drafted in the 32nd round by Tampa Bay in 2001. He has a .262 average with 79 stolen bases over parts of six big league seasons, only one of those as a regular player. To be truly effective, Gathright needs to play, if not everyday at least three or four starts a week. He can steal bases and run down balls in the outfield. But as a pinch runner and defensive replacement, which is how the Cubs were employing him, he was lost. Perhaps the move will open up new opportunities. Then again, the handwriting may be on the wall.

09 May

4 of a kind

Chris Coghlan’s recent promotion to the big leagues gives Ole Miss four alumni currently in The Show. (That has to grate on Mississippi State fans, who have only three former Bulldogs to cheer for in the big leagues.) Coghlan went 2-for-4 in his debut with the Florida Marlins on Friday, taking perhaps the first step toward earning a fulltime job with that club. It seems inevitable he’ll eventually displace Dan Uggla at second base. Coghlan joins fellow ex-Rebels Matt Tolbert (Twins), David Dellucci (Indians) and Seth Smith (Rockies) in the majors. State is represented by Jonathan Papelbon (Red Sox), Brandon Medders (Giants) and Paul Maholm (Pirates).
P.S. Itawamba Community College won the MACJC championship today, routing Holmes 17-6 in Raymond. The No. 4-ranked Indians flexed their considerable muscle with 19 hits. They put the game away with a nine-run second inning. ICC, Holmes and Hinds all advance to the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament at LSU-Eunice starting Thursday. That event is really the bigger deal for the jucos. The winner goes to the Juco World Series.

06 May

tolbert’s back

Former Ole Miss star Matt Tolbert was recalled from Triple-A Rochester today by the Minnesota Twins, who demoted erstwhile starting second baseman Alexi Casilla. Tolbert, who hit .283 in 41 games in the big leagues last season, was the Twins’ last cut in spring training. “(Tolbert) should have been on our club out of spring training, but it didn’t work out, numbers-wise. There was no doubt he was the guy I was calling up,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, the old Jackson Met, told The Associated Press.

04 May

got any threes?

Mississippi Braves manager Phillip Wellman wasn’t entirely joking the other night when he said he was about to go into the clubhouse and ask for volunteers to fill the No. 3 spot in his lineup. Twenty-two games into the season, he needs a 3-hole hitter to step forward. “There isn’t an obvious choice,” he said after Saturday night’s frustrating 3-2 loss to Montgomery at Trustmark Park. “I don’t have a Brandon Jones, or a Jeff Francoeur or Brian McCann.” At the moment, Wellman does’t even have a Reid Gorecki, who filled the bill as the No. 3 hitter quite capably last summer. Wellman has tried six different players in the 3-hole, which typically is taken by a club’s best all-around hitter. Willie Cabrera hit there Saturday and went 0-for-4, failing to get a ball out of the infield and hitting into two double plays. Eric Campbell has spent the most time at No. 3, with 12 starts there. But he’s hitting just .246 without a home run. Wellman’s search continues tonight, when the M-Braves play a doubleheader against Montgomery.
P.S. Hinds Community College will host the MACJC State Tournament later this week, thanks in part to Holmes’ upset of Gulf Coast in one of the four qualifying series. As the South champion, Gulf Coast was in line to host the four-team tournament. That role now falls to Hinds, the South runner-up. The Eagles (33-15) swept Northwest in their best-of-3 over the weekend. Two other series will be settled today: Pearl River at Itawamba and Jones County at Northeast. The two South teams, playing on the road, won the series openers. The big surprise was in Fulton: ICC is ranked No. 4 in the country; PRCC is the No. 4 seed from the South.

02 May

making the jump

Brent Leach, the Brandon native and former Delta State standout, could make his major league debut as early as today with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The left-handed reliever was summoned from Double-A Chattanooga on Friday. He had posted a 0.69 ERA in 13 1/3 innings with the Lookouts; he pitched at the TeePee last week against the Mississippi Braves. Leach had 15 saves for the Dodgers’ Double-A club last year, when it was in Jacksonville. DSU’s sports information office reports that Leach is the first former Statesman pitcher to make the big leagues since pitcher Matt Miller, now retired, was with Cleveland a couple of years ago. …
On an unrelated though not entirely disconnected topic, former M-Braves outfielder Josh Burrus signed with the Lincoln Saltdogs of the independent American Association on Friday. The Salt Dogs had acquired Burrus from another indy club last week. Burrus is one of those case-in-point stories that illustrates just how tough it is to make it to the major leagues. He was a first-round pick by the Braves in 2001, an all-everything star from Marietta, Ga. He had all the tools; he could run, throw and hit with power. During his time with the M-Braves, he would put on a show in batting practice that would compel you stop and watch. He had decent success in the low minors and arrived in Mississippi in 2005 to replace Jeff Francoeur when Frenchy was called up to the big leagues. But Burrus could not make the adjustment to Double-A. For whatever reason, his great tools weren’t enough. Something was missing. In three tours at the TeePee, he never hit better than .221 and he struck out a ton. It’s hard enough getting out of A-ball. Most don’t. But it’s even harder getting past Double-A. As former M-Braves manager Brian Snitker once said, “This is where we cut the herd.” Only the very best keep moving. Burrus was a good ballplayer, just not quite good enough. Now he’s playing indy ball, which is fine. But it’s not where Burrus or the Braves imagined he would be eight years after he was drafted.

01 May

feels so good …

There was something in the Mississippi air — besides rain — at Trustmark Park on Thursday night. Three Montgomery Biscuits with Magnolia State connections came back to the state and put on quite the show against the Mississippi Braves. Desmond Jennings, a former Itawamba Community College football star, went 2-for-3 with a walk and a sac fly. Rhyne Hughes, a Picayune native who played at Pearl River CC, was 3-for-5, including a line-drive home run into the cafe in right field. And J.T. Hall, from Port Gibson and Southwest CC, went 3-for-3 with an impressive homer to center field, a triple, two walks and a stolen base. Wow. It was a stunning display. For the record, the Biscuits won the game 9-2, the opener of a five-game series that continues tonight. What will the Mississippi boys do for an encore?
P.S. So much news … One night after hitting his first major league homer, Jonathan Van Every made his big league pitching debut. The former Itawamba CC star got the last two outs in the eighth inning of the Boston Red Sox’s 13-0 loss Thursday to Tampa Bay. … Former Ole Miss standout David Dellucci is back on the Cleveland Indians’ active roster. He was called back from his rehab assignment today, reportedly to replace the injured Travis Hafner as the Tribe’s DH. Dellucci went 4-for-5 in tonight’s game. … Chad Bradford, the Byram High, Hinds CC and Southern Miss product, is expected to throw batting practice for Tampa Bay on Sunday as he continues to rebound from elbow surgery.