30 Apr

the hardest part

Well, rest is certainly no longer a concern for Delta State. Rust, however, might be. The Gulf South Conference Tournament has been pushed back two days; the Statesmen won’t play now until Monday night, in the last of the four first-round games. That’s an eight-day layoff. DSU coach Mike Kinnison said this week that his club needed a break, physically and mentally, after what has been a taxing season of ups and downs. But after taking two of three games from then-No. 1 ranked Southern Arkansas last weekend, the Statesmen had a wave of momentum to ride into the GSC tourney. That wave may have petered out by the time DSU gets on the field in Millington, Tenn. DSU, ranked sixth in the NCAA Division II South Region, needs a good tournament run to ensure a national tourney invitation. If the Statesmen go two-and-out … it gets dicey.
P.S. Expect Mississippi College to win its best-of-3 series in Clinton this weekend and reach the American Southwest Conference Tournament. And don’t be surprised if the Choctaws, with their strong pitching, win that, too. … It’s always big when Mississippi State and Ole Miss collide, but there is some major pressure on the Bulldogs to win this series — if for no other reason than to show they’ve got some fight in them. They’ve struggled for two years under John Cohen. Taking resurgent Ole Miss down a peg in Starkville this weekend won’t solve all their ills, but it would be a big lift. Bulldog Nation needs one.

28 Apr

down the stretch

They’ve got the whips out in the MACJC races. Tuesday’s results, which included four notable sweeps, set up some major showdowns on Saturday, the regular season finish line for most of the schools. Jones County Junior College swept Hinds — despite another big day by Zach Polzin — to bolt into first place in the South at 15-7, a game ahead of HCC (14-8) and East Central (14-8). Jones and ECCC hook up in a Saturday twinbill at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. Hinds, meanwhile, will visit Gulf Coast (11-11). Pearl River (12-12) is still in the chase for the fourth and final division playoff spot after sweeping Southwest on Tuesday. In the North, the big move was made by Holmes, which took two Tuesday from faltering Northeast to move to 14-7, trailing only Itawamba (17-5). Holmes and ICC meet Saturday. Northeast (13-9 with four straight losses) plays Mississippi Delta (11-11) on Saturday, and Northwest (13-9) meets lowly Coahoma. Tiebreakers could be involved in deciding playoff berths and seedings, which is never a good thing. But the best-of-3 playoff series set for next weekend should be a lot of fun.
P.S. On the subject of jucos, how about that Rhyne Hughes? The former Pearl River star is hitting .385 with three RBIs in his first three big league games for Baltimore.

27 Apr

streaming …

A brain that’s wired for baseball does funny things. For instance: While looking at the MLB standings, a thought occurs. Man, Houston sure has turned it around. They’ve won eight of the last 10. They started like 0-8? … Doesn’t hurt that former Jackson General Lance Berkman is back in the lineup. … Didn’t he homer on Sunday? … Saw a replay of Berkman’s shot off the head of that Pirates pitcher. Ouch. … Who was the Generals pitcher who got nailed in the noggin? … Oh yeah, Brian Sikorski. Ball bounced into left field. Left stitch marks below his right ear. Whatever happened to him? … Sometime later, surfing a Japanese baseball website, a name jumps out. Brian Sikorski. Got his Pacific League-leading 11th save today for the Seibu Lions. … Wow.
P.S. Wondering what will happen to former Mississippi Brave Brandon Jones, designated for assignment by Pittsburgh on Sunday. He was playing at Triple-A Indianapolis. Surely the Pirates will keep him if he clears waivers. Atlanta doesn’t have roster room to bring him back.

26 Apr

hot spots

Sunday was quite the eventful day on diamonds across the state. In Hattiesburg, Southern Miss completes a much-needed sweep of Houston, finally showing some signs of life in what has been a rough season. In Oxford, Ole Miss, another club struggling to meet high expectations, completes a sweep, in dramatic fashion, of rival LSU. In Cleveland, Delta State 10-run rules Southern Arkansas, the No. 1 team in Division II, to win a series the Statesmen really needed. In Booneville, Itawamba Community College, behind Joseph Koon and Will Irvin, shuts out Northeast twice in a showdown for first place in the MACJC North Division. And in Wesson, Hinds CC’s Zach Polzin hits four home runs as the Eagles sweep two from Copiah-Lincoln to remain tied for first in the MACJC South.
P.S. Postseason dates have been set for DSU and Mississippi College. The Statesmen, a 3-seed in the Gulf South Conference Tournament, will play Valdosta State on Saturday in the first round of the GSC Tournament at Millington, Tenn. MC will host Mary Hardin-Baylor in a best-of-3 American Southwest Conference playoff series that starts Friday in Clinton.

25 Apr

a full day

Former Southern Miss star Jarrett Hoffpauir, now in the Toronto system, hit for the cycle today in a Triple-A game with the Las Vegas 51s. Hoffpauir homered first, then doubled and tripled, saving the single for last. He got it in the sixth inning. He also scored five runs in the 51s’ 14-11 victory over Sacramento. Hoffpauir, an infielder claimed on waivers by the Blue Jays from St. Louis in the off-season, is hitting .333 with two homers and nine RBIs. He’s done nothing to hurt his chances of getting another big league call-up.

25 Apr

debut alert

Rhyne Hughes, the former Pearl River Community College slugger out of Picayune, went 2-for-5 with an RBI in his big league debut with Baltimore on Saturday. Hughes had a chance for a storybook finish but struck out against Mississippi State alum Jonathan Papelbon with the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the ninth inning. The woeful Orioles fell to 2-16 with the 7-6 loss. Maybe Hughes, a lefty-swinging first baseman with decent power, can help. Baltimore claimed Hughes on waivers from Tampa Bay during the off-season. He passed through Trustmark Park as a member of the Montgomery Biscuits and had some big moments there. … Jonathan Van Every, the former University Christian and Itawamba CC star, made his return to Boston in Saturday’s game. He was reacquired from the Pittsburgh Pirates, who signed him as a free agent in the off-season and sent him to Triple-A. Van Every told mlb.com that he was happy to be back with the BoSox, for whom he hit his only big league homer last April 30. Boston has two outfielders on the disabled list and Nettleton native Bill Hall is hitting .158, so Van Every likely will get his fair share of at-bats. He fanned as a pinch hitter on Saturday.
P.S. Delta State will honor the 50th anniversary of Boo Ferriss’ first season as its coach in Cleveland today. Ferriss, the former major league pitcher, won 639 games and made three Division II College World Series trips with the Statesmen from 1960-88. Current DSU coach Mike Kinnison played for Ferriss. The Statesmen split a twinbill with top-ranked Southern Arkansas on Saturday; they could use another W today. With the much-loved and respected Ferriss on hand at Boo Ferriss Field, expect them to play inspired.

23 Apr

early returns

The personality of the 2010 Mississippi Braves is emerging. They’ve got a strong rotation, even if it’s young. Mike Minor, last year’s top pick, is on a fast track, and for good reason. There is no shortage of quality arms in the bullpen, which has been sensational to date. Forget the early strikeout problems — this team will hit. The lineup is stocked with players who have been — should be? — in Triple-A. They’ve experienced it all. They’ll probably hit with more power than they’ve shown so far. Cody Johnson and 26-year-old Cuban Donell Linares, both prospects of some caliber, certainly have double-figure home run capability, as does Mauro Gomez, another first-year Double-A player who’ll turn 26 in September. It’s not a great defensive club. Veteran shortstop Luis Bolivar has been surprisingly shaky. The outfield has turned a lot of routine fly balls into extra-base hits. It’s also not a team blessed with speed, which manager Phillip Wellman says he takes as a challenge. He likes to run. With this club, he said, he’ll have to make adjustments in strategy and pick his spots. Like Thursday night, when he called for a double steal that worked and produced a run. Wellman is a good manager. He can make this work, even with this club’s shortcomings.

22 Apr

son also rises

Drew Butera just got his first major league hit moments ago in a game televised by MLB Network. What’s his Mississippi connection? Well, step in the Way Back Machine a moment and hit 1994. Drew’s dad, Sal, also a big league player, was the manager of the Jackson Generals that season and again in ’95. He has also made some visits to Trustmark Park as a scout. Like his dad, Drew Butera is a catcher. And as the backup to American League MVP Joe Mauer with the Minnesota Twins, Butera’s playing time will be limited. But he’ll get opportunities, and if he keeps cashing in like he did today in his fourth big league at-bat, he’ll be a valuable commodity.

22 Apr

do or die

The postseason begins today for Mississippi colleges. Here’s a primer on what’s coming up: Millsaps plays Rhodes today in the opening round of the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament at Millington, Tenn. The Majors, in something of a rebuilding year, finished second in their division and had a shot at first place before their final series was washed out. The Majors (24-13) famously flamed out in two days in last year’s SCAC Tournament, which they hosted at Smith-Wills Stadium. But they recovered to make a nice run in the NCAA Division III playoffs. Maybe this team will find itself in the league tournament, which it needs to win to extend its season. Millsaps has a strong ace to play in Aaron Williams (6-0 this year, 18-5 career), and there is some thunder in the lineup with Jules Roussel, Tyler Berry and Will Hawkins. … Mississippi College, nationally ranked in D-III, likely will host a best-of-3 American Southwest Conference playoff series next weekend. The ASC Tournament proper, featuring the four playoff series winners, starts May 5. … Delta State, facing a huge series against D-II No. 1 ranked Southern Arkansas this weekend, will be either a 3- or 4-seed in the Gulf South Conference Tournament that starts May 1 in Millington. DSU, which missed the D-II playoffs last year, likely needs to win the tournament to get in this year. … NAIA nationally ranked Belhaven has a chance to clinch the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference regular season title at Smith-Wills Stadium against William Carey this weekend (two games Friday, one Saturday). The Blazers will also host the league tournament (May 5-10) and most likely an NAIA regional the next week. … The junior college races are getting interesting. The top four in each division get in the MACJC best-of-3 series set for May 7-8, and it appears that as many as 12 of the 14 teams still have playoff hopes. Hinds, East Central and Jones County are tied for first in the South, and Itawamba and Northeast are deadlocked in the North. The four-team state tournament starts May 13 at the home of the highest remaining North seed following the best-of-3 series. The NJCAA Region 23 D-II tourney is May 20-22. … And Meridian CC, the defending Region 23 D-I champ, is very much in the hunt to repeat.

18 Apr

bring the wood

Trustmark Park celebrates the fifth anniversary of its grand opening today, and the appropriate gift for a fifth anniversary is something in wood. A bat, perhaps, in recognition of all the hits that were banged out on April 18, 2005. In what has turned out to be a pitcher’s park, Montgomery and Mississippi combined for 29 hits in the Biscuits’ 11-6 win in that first game. There were no homers, but we did see three triples and nine doubles. Despite the crushing defeat — the Biscuits also beat the M-Braves in their inaugural game 11 days earlier — there were some memorable moments for the home team. An announced crowd of 7,062 turned out; that’s still one of the park’s largest numbers. Anthony Lerew struck out the first Biscuits hitter. Jonathan Schuerholz singled to start the M-Braves’ first inning, which included a double by Jeff Francoeur, an RBI hit by Scott Thorman and a sac fly by Brian McCann. The M-Braves led 5-4 after four, but the relentless Biscuits, led by Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes, just kept pounding away against the Mississippi arms. Six players in the M-Braves’ starting lineup that day made it to the majors, but only three are still with the Braves organization: McCann, Wes Timmons and Gregor Blanco. The current team returns home to Pearl on Monday. In tribute to that first game five short years ago, buy a mini-bat.