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.
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.