21 Mar

travel plans

It has been an impressive roll for Jackson State, which has ticked off 10 straight wins en route to a 14-6 record. The Tigers swept three from Alcorn State at Braddy Field over the weekend to reach 8-1 in the SWAC. Now, the Tigers take the show on the road, playing their next eight games away from home. This will be a test for coach Omar Johnson’s club. Included in this trip is a game tonight at Southeastern Louisiana, two against Florida A&M; and another at Ole Miss. Kendall Logan, from Natchez and Copiah-Lincoln Community College, has been JSU’s heavy hitter, batting .414 with six homers and 23 RBIs. Three other regulars are hitting .300: Charles Epperson (.338, four homers), Glenn Walker (.328) and Frank Solis (.300). Desmond Russell is 4-1 with a 1.77 ERA, and Quintavious Drains is 3-3, 4.54. It’ll be interesting to see what those stats look like after the road swing.
P.S. Ben Kingsley is emerging as a Ferriss Trophy candidate at Delta State. The junior out of Meridian CC has a 17-game hit streak and is batting .397 with 22 RBIs and 17 runs for the 16-5 Statesmen, who haven’t had a Ferriss winner. … Another potential Ferriss candidate is Belhaven’s Anthony Doss, a former Southern Miss player who had a monster day (two homers, six RBIs) against Mississippi College on Tuesday. Doss is batting .424 with five bombs, 30 RBIs and 31 runs for a 22-12 team. … With its 15-7 win on Tuesday, BU is now 2-1 in Maloney Trophy Series play; MC is 1-2. … Shouldn’t make too much of USM’s 10-0 win at Ole Miss on Tuesday. It ain’t football. One game doesn’t mean a lot, though the Golden Eagles may have built some needed momentum for their Conference USA opener this weekend against Houston. UM was — and still is — smarting from losing its first SEC series to visiting Auburn.

19 Mar

twinkle, twinkle

It should be fun to watch Desmond Jennings this season. His star is definitely rising. The former Itawamba Community College standout, who’ll break camp as Tampa Bay’s left fielder and leadoff batter, is batting .381 this spring after banging out two more hits on Sunday. The former football player (see previous posts) apparently suffered no ill effects from a nasty collision with Rays teammate B.J. Upton on Wednesday. Major League Baseball Yearbook projects Jennings’ 2012 numbers like this: .269, 15 homers, 50 RBIs, 96 runs and 45 steals. With his speed, he could hit much better than .269. Tampa Bay gave the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jennings a look in 2010 and a much longer one last summer. He cooled after a hot start and wound up at .259 with 10 homers and 20 steals in 63 games. He might be an All-Star come July.

17 Mar

gotta have it

Pitching is the thing in baseball. Starting pitching. You cannot win without it. There were four excellent outings from Mississippi college hurlers on Friday, though only three of them were rewarded with a W. Raise a glass to Ole Miss’ Bobby Wahl, Mississippi State’s Chris Stratton, Jackson State’s Desmond Russell and Mississippi College’s Ian Underwood. Wahl went six innings in the Rebels’ SEC opener and allowed one unearned run in the 2-1 victory against Auburn to improve to 4-0. Stratton made Bulldogs coach John Cohen look like a genius when he chose the junior right-hander from Tupelo for his first start of the season. Stratton allowed just one run over 8 2/3 innings with 17 strikeouts at LSU, which rallied in the 10th for a 3-2 win. Stratton had worked 21 innings in four relief appearances, notching four wins, before Friday’s outing. JSU’s Russell, a sophomore from the Bahamas, threw nine innings to beat Alcorn State in the opener of a key SWAC series at Braddy Field. Russell, now 4-1, allowed six hits and fanned seven in the 7-3 win that moved the Tigers to 6-1 in the league. MC won an American Southwest Conference road game, beating LeTourneau 5-1, as Ian Underwood tossed a complete game five-hitter. Underwood, a senior from Pascagoula, is 3-2 for the 9-10 Choctaws.

15 Mar

bring it on

The appetizers have been consumed. The main course for Mississippi State and Ole Miss begins this weekend, when the first SEC games come out of the oven. Unranked Auburn will be served up to the Rebels in Oxford; State’s foe is a little less palatable — 10th-ranked (in one poll) LSU. And that three-game series, which starts Friday, is at the Tigers’ place. The Bulldogs are 14-5 but are 0-2 on the road and have some injury issues. Demarcus Henderson is hitting .405 (with just three RBIs), and Adam Frazier (.354) and Wes Rea (.329, 16 RBIs) have been steady contributors. But the Dogs’ hitting overall is still suspect, especially against an LSU staff that has posted six shutouts. State has an excellent staff ERA of 2.60, and yet there may be concerns about how the weekend starters will fare away from Dudy Noble Field for the first time. And the defense needs to tighten up: 27 errors are too many. It’s hard to find nits to pick with Ole Miss (14-3). Zach Kirksey has eight home runs and 30 RBIs. Alex Yarbrough is batting an eye-popping .471 with 45 runs accounted for. Matt Snyder is hitting .410. Starting pitchers Bobby Wahl (3-0, 1.96) and R.J. Hively (3-0, 2.08) have been stellar, and closer Brett Huber has four saves in four chances. The Rebels have outscored their opposition 146-54. Ole Miss may really fatten up on Auburn, which brings a 10-7 record to Oxford-University Stadium.
P.S. Mississippi’s four nationally ranked junior colleges began division play on Wednesday. No. 4 Hinds Community College and No. 19 Pearl River split an MACJC South doubleheader in Poplarville. The Eagles (16-3) had a 12-game win streak stopped in Game 2 when ex-Sumrall High star Brandon Pennington (4-0) tossed a shutout for PRCC (15-5). No. 13 Itawamba (14-3) swept Mississippi Delta in a North matchup, and No. 20 Copiah-Lincoln (13-4) split a South twinbill against Southwest. Jones County JC, which was ranked No. 2 in the NJCAA preseason poll, skidded to an 11-7 start and is playing Gulf Coast today in South Division action.

13 Mar

anybody worried?

The Atlanta Braves got a ninth-inning home run from Christian Bethancourt (a likely 2012 Mississippi Braves catcher) and salvaged a 2-2 tie with Miami in spring training play today. The Braves have won just once in 12 games. Once. Former M-Braves and expected regulars Brian McCann (.200), Jason Heyward (.143), Freddie Freeman (.136) and Tyler Pastornicky (.100) are scuffling. Heyward supposedly is healthy this spring and has made swing adjustments. But the results haven’t been there. That goes for the whole team, really. Will things pick up for this bunch when the real games start? Or is it time to start worrying that the 2011 collapse will linger into 2012?

13 Mar

stepping up

There were several job openings in the Mississippi State lineup heading into this season, and Demarcus Henderson certainly seems to have latched onto one. The redshirt freshman outfielder out of Waynesboro is hitting a team-best .414 with an eight-game hit streak. The 5-foot-11, 174-pound Henderson was named the SEC freshman of the week on Monday. He might have been better known in high school as the Wayne County quarterback, but he had solid baseball credentials. He batted .455 with 10 homers as a junior in 2009 and was an All-State pick in 2010 after batting .492. Houston drafted him in the 43rd round in 2010. He played some at State early last season but then had corrective eye surgery and was shut down. He has been a revelation for the Bulldogs, who, despite some key injuries, are 14-3 and play their first road game of the season tonight at Southeastern Louisiana in Hammond. They open SEC play this weekend at LSU.
P.S. Mississippi College’s use of 10 pitchers in its 8-6 win over Illinois Wesleyan on Monday was, for the most part, by design. Coach Brian Owens used one pitcher for one inning each until the ninth, when Andy Roberts ran into trouble and Scott Trousdale was summoned to get the last out. The Choctaws tied an NCAA record with the 10 pitchers. MC has a big American Southwest Conference trip coming this weekend at LeTourneau and Owens apparently is still trying to get his pitching staff (5.40 ERA) in order. Everyone should be well-rested, at the least. The Choctaws are 8-10, 1-2 ASC.

12 Mar

it ain’t braggin’ …

Tony Sipp, the Pascagoula native and former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star, was interviewed during MLB Network’s delayed broadcast of today’s Arizona-Cleveland game. Sipp, a lefty reliever who put up a 3.03 ERA in his third big league season in 2011, talked about last year’s Indians relief corps, which was nicknamed the “Bullpen Mafia.” He likes it. “When you give it a name, you have some responsibility,” he said. Sipp also commented on his “low-key” off-season and his shaky golf game. He was asked if he was frustrated that Indians pitchers cannot swing the bat during plate appearances this spring. Sipp was a pretty good hitter as well as a pitching prospect at Moss Point High, MGCCC and Clemson. “I’m settling for telling guys what I WOULD do,” Sipp said with a laugh. On the mound, he’s been unspectacular this spring, allowing four runs in three innings of work.

12 Mar

big 5-0

Darryl Strawberry turns 50 today. Longtime Jackson area fans surely must find it hard to fathom that it was 30 years ago when Strawberry played right field for the Jackson Mets. He arrived in the Capital City with tremendous fanfare. He was the No. 1 overall pick by the New York Mets in the 1980 draft and clearly was on the fast track to the big leagues. He showed he was ready during that ’82 season, batting .283 with a franchise-record 34 home runs, 97 RBIs and 45 stolen bases. His debut at Smith-Wills Stadium? Before a crowd of about 1,200 on a soggy April night, he doubled his second time up and scored the game’s first run on a single by none other than Billy Beane, the No. 23 overall pick in 1980 who went on to carve out some fame of his own. The Straw took National League rookie of the year honors in 1983, batting .257 with 26 bombs, and he helped the Mets win the 1986 World Series. He had Hall of Fame talent, but his various off-field transgressions cut into his potential. Strawberry finished with a .259 average, 335 homers and 1,000 RBIs. Here’s hoping he enjoys a nice, restrained celebration of the big 5-0.

11 Mar

spring has sprung

So much of the attention in Oakland’s spring camp has centered on free agent outfielders Manny Ramirez and Yoenis Cespedes that Seth Smith has been able to very quietly get off to a good start with his new club. The former Ole Miss standout is batting .294 in 17 at-bats and is a good bet to be in left field when the A’s open the season. Smith was acquired from Colorado in the off-season. He should play more regularly with the A’s than he would have with the Rockies, but he’s got to hit lefties better. Two weeks into spring training games, the stats are starting to mean something. That’s good for some Mississippians, not so good for others. Delta State product Eli Whiteside, hoping to stick in the big leagues as San Francisco’s backup catcher, is batting .364 with four RBIs in 11 at-bats. Ex-Ole Miss star Zack Cozart, coming back from shoulder surgery, appears to be settling in as Cincinnati’s regular shortstop and is 4-for-12. Ole Miss alumnus Alex Presley, battling for an outfield job with Pittsburgh, is off to a .400 start in 15 ABs. Former Rebels pitchers Lance Lynn (St. Louis) and Matt Maloney (Minnesota) have been strong. Lynn, a postseason hero for the champion Cardinals, has a 3.00 ERA in three innings, and Maloney, a newcomer to the Twins, has not allowed an earned run in four IPs. DSU’s Dusty Hughes has put up a 0.00 ERA in three innings for Atlanta; he’s trying to stick as a lefty in the loaded Braves bullpen. (Can’t help but notice that the Braves are 1-8 this spring.) Things are not going so well for Mitch Moreland, the ex-Mississippi State star. He homered in his second at-bat of the spring but that’s his only hit in 16 ABs (.063). He had wrist surgery in the off-season. Former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College standout Fred Lewis, in Cleveland’s camp on a minor league deal, has only six at-bats and just one hit. Nettleton’s Bill Hall, trying to make the New York Yankees as a non-roster player, is 1-for-11. Southern Miss alumnus Jarrett Hoffpauir, in a similar situation with Washington, is 1-for-10. There’s a crowd at catcher in Arizona’s camp, and MSU product Craig Tatum has gotten into only three games (0-for-3).

10 Mar

scatter shots

So far, so great for Bobby Wahl’s move from the bullpen to the rotation at Ole Miss. The sophomore right-hander beat Houston on Friday night to move to 3-0 (in four starts) with a 1.96 ERA. He fanned a career-high 10. He had a 4.80 ERA in 18 appearances last season. … Adam Frazier, replacing injured C.T. Bradford as Mississippi State’s leadoff batter on Friday against Mercer, led off the first inning with a single, stole a bag and scored a run — and the Bulldogs (13-2) went on to win their seventh straight. … Freshman Mason Robbins extended his hit streak to 11 games, but Southern Miss’ pitching let it down in a 12-5 loss at Louisiana-Lafayette. … Belhaven’s top two hitters, Anthony Doss and Bud Britt, weren’t in the lineup in the slumping Blazers’ loss to Auburn-Montgomery at Smith-Wills Stadium. … William Carey, which has won eight straight, hosts Mobile today and Sunday at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg in a weather-delayed Southern States Athletic Conference series. The Crusaders are 14-7, 6-2. … Mississippi College also pushed back its weekend series. The Choctaws will open American Southwest Conference play at Frierson Field in Clinton with a doubleheader today and a solo game Sunday against Texas-Tyler. … Hinds Community College, 14-2 with 10 straight wins, hosts Tyler Junior College in a twinbill today at Moss Field in Raymond. Tyler Akins, a sophomore from Madison, is 2-1 with three saves as a pitcher and has also hit two homers for the Eagles.