Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of the 2003 Jackson Senators’ home opener, which proved to be a harbinger of a special season. The Senators, playing before a Smith-Wills Stadium crowd of 3,474 (announced, of course), beat the Springfield/Ozark Mountain Ducks 10-3. Antoine Cameron drove in four runs, Purvis’ Kenny Rayborn pitched a strong five innings and Southern Miss product Danny Stout struck out the side in the ninth. It was a memorable game. That team, managed by Dan Shwam, would go on to win the independent Central Baseball League championship, the sixth pennant for a Smith-Wills based pro team. That season was sort of a last hurrah for the Sens, who struggled the next two years and then faded away after 2005, the year the Mississippi Braves moved into Trustmark Park. P.S. Millsaps is headed to Millington, Tenn., for NCAA Division III regional play, while Delta State will head to Tampa, Fla., for its D-II regional. Both of these teams are capable of deep runs in the postseason. Stay tuned.
It was probably small consolation — well, more likely, no consolation at all — for Delta State that it had five players make the Gulf South Conference All-Tournament team. The Statesmen, the top seed, did not take home the championship in the weather-plagued event; they lost in today’s deciding game to Valdosta State. DSU, which is 42-9-1 and was ranked No. 1 at times this season, now awaits an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. It’ll get one. The Statesmen, who made a remarkable run to the D-II World Series final last season, showed some of that same spunk in the GSC event. After falling into the loser’s bracket, they won elimination games over West Florida, West Alabama and West Georgia to make the title round, where they lost a 5-4 heartbreaker to Valdosta. In the three elimination-game wins, Jordan Chovanec, DSU’s center fielder and leadoff batter, earned tournament MVP honors by going 8-for-15 with six runs and four RBIs. He was joined on the all-tourney team by Brent Langston, Sam Kidd, Josh Crowdus and Josh Branstetter. P.S. William Carey opened NAIA Tournament play with a 7-3 win today over Oklahoma Baptist at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. The Crusaders, with their pitching, will be a tough out in that regional.
The trophy case at Millsaps College is getting crowded. The Majors won the inaugural Southern Athletic Association championship series on Wednesday (after also winning the regular season crown) and now have claimed nine conference titles in coach Jim Page’s 25 years in the purple and white. The SAA, as a new league, doesn’t have an automatic postseason bid, so the Majors must wait and hope for an at-large invitation to the NCAA Division III regionals on Sunday. A bid would be the school’s seventh. Don’t bet against them. The Majors are ranked No. 25 in the latest D-III poll and No. 3 in the South Region (one of eight). Also of note: The school record for wins is 37. The current club is 34-11, with eight wins in the last nine games. The Majors have been consistently good all season and might be playing their best at the perfect time. Perfect, that is, if they get to keep playing.
If you haven’t already been doing it, it’s time to pay attention to the Mississippi Braves. They’re in first place in the Southern League’s South Division. They’ve won 17 of their last 20 games to reach 20-11. They’ve had an eight-game win streak and a five-game win streak and are currently on a four-game roll. On Tuesday, at Montgomery, an archrival of sorts, the M-Braves put up a team record 19 runs. That’s the fifth time they’ve scored eight or more runs. But they’ve also been clutch, winning eight games in their last at-bat. The M-Braves have not been to the postseason since 2008, but this bunch just might be on track for a first-half title. Quite a few members of this club were on last year’s Carolina League championship team at Class A Lynchburg. That experience can’t hurt. There also are quite a few older players acquired from other organizations mixed in, including the team’s leading hitter, Jose Martinez. At .297, he is the only M-Brave among the league’s top 20 batters. As a team, they are hitting .259, not an eye-popping figure but second in the league. More important, they are third in the league in runs. Not a power club, they do lead the league in stolen bases. Mycal Jones, while hitting just .207, is 10-for-10 on steals. Manager Aaron Holbert couldn’t ask for much more from his pitching staff, which leads the league in ERA, strikeouts and shutouts and ranks second in fewest walks allowed. Alex Wood, one of several top prospect pitchers on the club, is 1-1 with a 0.58 ERA in six starts. He has 38 K’s and just seven walks in 31 innings. There aren’t many prospect types among the position players. Catcher Christian Bethancourt, currently on the disabled list, is the only one in the top 15 of Baseball America’s preseason ratings, though Edward Salcedo (.267, two homers, 12 RBIs, six steals) may be one to watch. Sometimes there’s just no accounting for chemistry. Some teams just have it. This might be one. P.S. What a Double-A debut for Tommy LaStella, who contributed to the M-Braves’ 19-hit attack on Tuesday with three extra-base hits and five RBIs.
Props should go out to: Pearl River Community College, East Central, Northeast and Northwest for winning first-round series and advancing to the MACJC Tournament, which starts Thursday in Poplarville. … Mississippi Braves right-hander Gus Schlosser for earning Southern League pitcher of the week honors after posting two wins last week. … Former M-Braves star Andrelton Simmons for registering his first two-homer game for Atlanta on Monday and ex-Mississippi State ace Paul Maholm for breaking a three-game losing streak with a W in that same game. … Southern Miss product Brian Dozier for his first home run of 2013, a game-tying shot in the ninth inning Monday for Minnesota (though the Twins lost to Boston in 11). … Millsaps sophomore Keith Shumaker of Jackson for being named the Southern Athletic Association player of the year; he batted .393 with 58 runs and 51 RBIs and posted a 5-0, 2.68 ledger as a pitcher. … Port Gibson High’s Silento Sayles, the latest base-stealing sensation from Mississippi, for making Sports Illustrated’s Faces in the Crowd section after swiping a national record 103 bases this season. P.S. The field is set for the NAIA opening round tournament in Hattiesburg: On Thursday, Central Methodist plays South Carolina-Beaufort, host William Carey meets Oklahoma Baptist and top-seeded Northwood gets the winner of Game 1 in the nightcap.
Tyler Moore of the Washington Nationals had struck out three times already on Sunday when he came to the plate to face Pittsburgh’s Bryan Morris in the eighth inning. The Nats led just 3-2, and the Pirates had intentionally walked Adam LaRoche with a man on first base to get to Moore. “It fires you up a little bit, but you can’t blame them,” Moore, the former Mississippi State standout from Brandon, told mlb.com. Moore responded by belting a three-run homer, his first of the season, avoiding the dreaded Golden Sombrero (four K’s) and securing Washington’s win. Moore, who hit 10 homers as a rookie last year, hasn’t had a lot of at-bats in 2013 — and hasn’t done a lot with ones he’s had. He is hitting just .179 and has fanned 18 times in 39 ABs. But, of course, strikeouts don’t seem to matter much in the big leagues anymore, especially for hitters with great power, like Moore demonstrated in that eighth-inning at-bat. Ex-Ole Miss star Seth Smith also has considerable pop. And he’s also battling a strikeout bug. Smith registered two Golden Sombreros last week for Oakland, but he was in the A’s lineup again on Sunday against New York Yankees lefty Andy Pettitte. Smith, a lefty hitter, went 0-for-4 but did not add to his whiff total, which stands at 28 in 99 at-bats. Still, Smith has seen his average fall from .351 to .283 over a 10-game stretch during which he has struck out 17 times. Isn’t there something to be said for putting balls in play?
Itawamba Community College won six of its last eight games to claim fourth place in the MACJC North Division and earn a 14th straight postseason trip. “It’s all about getting hot at the right time,” said Indians coach Barry Collier. Unfortunately for ICC, no team in the state juco league is hotter than Pearl River, which hosts the 23-21 Indians today in the weather-delayed first round of the playoffs. PRCC has won 11 straight games and is 36-10, ranked ninth in the most recent NJCAA poll. As South Division champs, the Wildcats will also host the four-team state tournament if they win the best-of-3 series against ICC. Pearl River, coached by former Southern Miss (and Jackson Senators) standout Josh Hoffpauir, has an array of talent, led by starting pitchers Christian Talley and Brandon Fry, both USM signees. Ole Miss-bound Braxton Lee is among a group of strong hitters that also includes Darius Knight, Darien Brown and Krisjon Wilkerson. Also today, North Division champion Northeast (28-15) hosts Gulf Coast (25-19); South runner-up East Central (26-19) hosts Delta (24-18); and North No. 2 Northwest (27-14) hosts Jones County (28-16). East Central shortstop Tim Anderson might be the state’s best juco player and top draft prospect, but there is plenty of other talent in action this weekend. ICC has Mississippi State signee Ben Hudspeth to throw at Pearl River. Northeast has three recent state player of the week winners: Justin Neal, Will Robertson and ex-MSU hurler Tanner Gaines. Northwest is led by slugger Dylan Castoria, a Mississippi Valley State signee who is batting .396 with five homers. Jones trots out Delta State signee Benji Sullivan and former Terry High star Westin Stringer, who is 7-0. Expect surprises in the juco postseason; there almost always are a couple. P.S. Delta State (39-8-1) faces an elimination game today against West Florida in the Gulf South Conference Tournament in Chattanooga, Tenn. Win or lose, DSU will get an NCAA Division II regional bid. … William Carey, which went 2-1 in pool play in the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, will host an NAIA opening round tournament next week at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. The Crusaders are 35-21. Belhaven, 1-2 in the tournament and 37-21 overall, is hopeful of receiving a bid when they are announced on Sunday.
The record for MLB wins by a Mississippi-born pitcher is 176, held by Aberdeen’s Guy Bush. Roy Oswalt, No. 2 on the list, took a step toward resuming that record chase on Thursday when he signed a minor league contract with Colorado. Oswalt, from Weir, has 163 W’s. He picked up four last year pitching for Texas but otherwise was not very effective. He had a 5.80 ERA, became a free agent at season’s end and went unsigned through the off-season. The 35-year-old right-hander reportedly is a few weeks away from joining the Rockies – if he gets back to the big leagues at all. He’ll go to extended spring training, then to Double-A. The Rockies, off to a good start in 2013, will decide then if Oswalt can help them. P.S. Whatever happened to Tim Dillard? The former Saltillo High and Itawamba Community College star, who pitched in 73 games over four years with Milwaukee, is now toiling in the independent Atlantic League. At last look he had not allowed a run in six appearances for the Lancaster Barnstormers.
Former Nettleton High star Bill Hall, derailed by an injury this spring in the Los Angeles Angels camp, is holding on for another chance in the big leagues. Hall, a onetime big league star in Milwaukee (see 2006), is in Triple-A with the Angels, batting .206 with a homer and five RBIs in nine games. It might take a rash of injuries in L.A. for Hall to get a call, but you never know. He is among a handful of pro veterans with Mississippi ties who are plugging away in Triple-A, waiting for a door to open. Hattiesburg’s John Lindsey, who had that one brief stint with the Dodgers in 2010, is 36 now and playing for Detroit’s Triple-A club. He has four homers in 22 games. Eli Whiteside, the former Delta State standout, is with Texas’ Triple-A team, sharing catching duties and hitting .255 with three homers in 15 games. Also with Round Rock is Pascagoula native Joey Butler, who has yet to play in The Show but is pleading for attention with a .341 average, three homers and 12 RBIs in 25 games. Alcorn State alumnus Corey Wimberly is at Triple-A Gwinnett in Atlanta’s system, batting .213 in 18 games. DSU product Dusty Hughes is also there and scuffling with a 6.52 ERA in nine appearances as a reliever. Picayune native and Pearl River Community College alum Rhyne Hughes is back in Double-A with the New York Mets; he’s batting .190 in 12 games. And just when we thought he was done, former Jackson Generals ace Freddy Garcia is flourishing in Triple-A for Baltimore with a 4-0 record and a 2.67 ERA in five starts. He certainly appears ready if Buck Showalter needs him.
Pitching has commanded our attention. Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn became the National League’s first five-game winner on Wednesday, when the St. Louis right-hander shackled Cincinnati on one run over seven innings in a 4-2 victory. Lynn, who started 6-0 last year, is 5-0 with a 2.75 ERA. “It’s early – but it’s fun so far,” he told The Associated Press. … On the subject of hot starts, MLB Network made note of Shaw native and former Delta State coach Boo Ferriss’ work in 1945. As a rookie with the Boston Red Sox that year, Ferriss started 5-0 and allowed only three runs in the process. In fact, he didn’t allow a run in his first 22 innings of work, a record that stood for decades. Ferriss finished 21-10 that season. … Mississippi State product Paul Maholm held Washington to two runs over 7 2/3 innings Wednesday but took the loss in Atlanta’s 2-0 defeat. Maholm, who started 3-0, is now 3-3, though he has had only one bad outing. … Cliff Lee, the ex-Meridian Community College standout, had a rare bad outing, allowing nine hits, two walks and four earned runs in six innings of Philadelphia’s 6-0 loss to Cleveland. Lee (2-2) was making his first appearance against the Indians, the team he broke in with. … Belhaven’s Chris Good threw his 10th complete game and earned his school record-tying 14th win as the Blazers topped Auburn-Montgomery 2-1 in the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament. Good’s efforts enabled BU (1-1 in pool play so far) to stay alive in the championship chase. … Also in the SSAC on Wednesday, William Carey’s Jake Fabre allowed just one earned run in six innings and Cade LeBlanc notched a three-inning save as the Crusaders began pool play with a 7-5 win over Mobile. … The red-hot Mississippi Braves are back in town, and red-hot left-hander Alex Wood is slated to start Friday night at Trustmark Park in Pearl. Wood, a second-round draft pick out of Georgia last June, is 1-1 with a 0.67 ERA and a still-active club-record streak of 18 2/3 scoreless innings.