30 Mar

gut check time

Things were quickly going south for Pearl River Community College on Tuesday. Freshly ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA Division II poll, the Wildcats lost a lead and lost the first game of a twinbill at Mississippi Gulf Coast, then fell behind in the first inning of Game 2 on a Bulldogs bomb. What’s the old saw? When the going gets tough … . The Wildcats got going, rallying for a 9-2 win behind two homers from Matt Mercer, a Petal High product, and the pitching of Leif Moore (St. Martin) and Cole Tolbert (West Jones). “I think a lot of the character of this team is coming out now,” PRCC coach Michael Avalon said in a school release. Tate Parker, the former West Harrison star who leads all D-II jucos in homers with 10, had a quiet day. But other hitters stepped up with big knocks in Game 2, including Mercer, D.K. Donaldson (West Harrison) and Preston Soper (Germantown). Moore shook off the first-inning homer to pitch four scoreless innings thereafter, and Tolbert followed with a strong two. The split left PRCC with a 20-6 overall record, 8-2 in the MACCC. Another challenge arrives on Saturday, when East Mississippi, 9-1 in the league after a Tuesday sweep of Itawamba, comes to Poplarville. P.S. Ole Miss, deposed from the No. 1 ranking in the Baseball America poll after getting swept by Tennessee, unleashed its frustration on North Alabama, pounding five homers in a 20-3 victory in Oxford. The Rebels, now ranked ninth by BA, are 17-7.

28 Mar

let’s get some runs

The focus here is on runs. Not home runs. Not RBIs. Just runs, which, when you get down to it, is what baseball is all about. Alcorn State scored eight runs on Sunday, just enough to win for the first time this season after 16 consecutive losses in which the Braves rarely scored. (They actually scored nine times on Saturday but, curse their luck, managed to lose 10-9.) So give a shout-out to first-year Braves coach Reggie Williams, the ex-big leaguer, and to Jamil Betancourt and Garrett Palladino, who each scored twice in the 8-7 win at Prairie View A&M. Alcorn’s leading scorer this season is Clayvonje Wright, who scored once on Sunday and now has six of the Braves’ 37 runs on the season. Ole Miss could have used a few more runs against Tennessee, scoring just seven all told in losing three times in Oxford. Jacob Gonzalez leads the Rebels (16-7) in runs with 28, though he never touched home plate in the UT series. Leading scorers in baseball don’t get the attention that they do in basketball or soccer or hockey. Doesn’t seem right. Here’s a tip of the cap to Mississippi State’s runs leader, Hunter Hines, who has 30 as a freshman for the 15-10 Bulldogs and ranks second in the SEC. Southern Miss (17-7), which tallied 35 times in a sweep at Western Kentucky over the weekend, is led by Christopher Sargent and Slade Wilks with 22 runs apiece. Jackson State (12-12) is led by Ty Hill with 29 runs. Mississippi Valley State (6-9-1) is topped by Maury Weaver with 13 runs. Chad Ragland is the leading scorer at Delta State (16-8) with 28, and Mississippi College (11-19) is led by Caleb Reese and Markarius Lee with 22 each.

27 Mar

a ray of sunshine

Something good happened for Anthony Alford on Saturday. The former Petal High star launched an opposite-field home run for Pittsburgh in a Grapefruit League game against Baltimore. He needed something good, because his previous results this spring had been mostly bad. Alford, battling for an outfield job, was 0-for-12 with nine strikeouts before that homer. Greg Allen, a newcomer to the Pirates this spring, is batting .300 with a couple of homers; he appears to have locked down the right field job, with Bryan Reynolds and Ben Gamel penciled in at the other spots. Alford, 27, played well in Triple-A last year but hit just .233 with four homers in 44 games with the Pirates. He struck out 58 times in 133 at-bats. He is a .208 career hitter who has played sparingly in the majors since 2017. If he doesn’t step it up, his 40-man roster spot for 2022 might be in jeopardy. P.S. Also scuffling: Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker, in Minnesota’s camp, is 0-for-8 this spring and has been down lately with a reported shoulder issue. He hit .201 with nine homers in 58 big league games in 2021 and is no lock to make the Twins’ opening day roster. … Not scuffling: Ex-State standout Nate Lowe, who is batting .467 after a 2-for-3 day for Texas on Saturday. He hit 18 homers last year, his first with the Rangers. … Tim Anderson, the ex-East Central Community College star, had another hit Saturday for the Chicago White Sox and is 6-for-15 (.400) this spring. … Ocean Springs High alum Garrett Crochet punched out two more batters on Saturday and now has five in three innings of scoreless work for the White Sox. … Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, recently signed by Seattle, got his first stolen base on Saturday and is 1-for-4 in two Cactus League games.

25 Mar

present arms

Pitchers took center stage on Thursday in MLB spring training. Former Mississippi State and Wheeler High standout Brandon Woodruff, fresh off agreeing to a $6.8 million contract for 2022, made his Cactus League debut and promptly got knocked around by Arizona. The right-hander, an emergent ace for the Brewers, yielded six hits, a walk and four runs in three innings. “I don’t like to stink,” he said in a published report following the game, while noting that he was working on a new slider. … George County High product Justin Steele started for the Chicago Cubs against the Los Angeles Angels. The first batter he faced was Shohei Ohtani. “I was really looking forward to that, like last night I was thinking about that,” he told NBC Sports Chicago. Left-hander Steele walked Ohtani, walked one more batter in the frame but allowed nothing else in his two innings of work. After making his MLB debut last year, Steele is vying for a job in the rotation in 2022. … Ex-State star Jonathan Holder, in Cubs camp as a non-roster invitee, pitched one inning and gave up a game-winning homer to Taylor Ward. Holder had a 4.38 ERA over five seasons with the New York Yankees but missed virtually all of 2021 with a shoulder problem. … Ole Miss alum James McArthur, a newcomer to Philadelphia’s 40-man roster, worked against Pittsburgh and gave up three hits and a run in 2/3 inning in his second spring outing. … MSU product J.P. France, a non-roster pitcher in Houston’s camp, pitched a scoreless inning against Washington. P.S. Former Ole Miss standout Chris Ellis, recently re-signed as a minor leaguer by Baltimore, has yet to make his spring debut but is looking forward to that opportunity. The right-hander told baltimorebaseball.com he aims to “take care of business and earn my spot back.” He went 1-0 with a 2.15 ERA in seven games last season. … Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull apparently is headed to salary arbitration with Detroit. The right-hander reportedly asked for $2.1 million for this season, and the team offered $1.325M. The arbitrator will chose one of the two figures. Turnbull threw a no-hitter last season before having Tommy John surgery that could force him to miss all of 2022. He is 11-25, 4.25 over four years with the Tigers.

23 Mar

hot spots

Compelling college matchups today (weather permitting):
Twenty Field, Jackson: Millsaps College hosts fellow NCAA Division III foe Belhaven University in the first Maloney Trophy Series game of the season. The Majors are 13-8, led by Mark Petkovsek Jr., who is batting a robust .420. Belhaven is 10-8 and coming off a three-game sweep of Sul Ross State in which the Blazers put up 40 runs. Nathan Herron is the top hitter at .290. The series went on hiatus in 2021, and they played only once in 2020 before the pandemic halted the season. Belhaven won that game and all three contests in 2019.
Sports Force Parks, Vicksburg: William Carey, ranked 19th in the most recent NAIA poll, will test its mettle against No. 4 LSU-Shreveport in a non-conference, neutral-site game. The Crusaders are 17-9, just 4-5 away from home. LSU-S is 26-2 and has won 15 straight games. Carey won last year’s game at this same site 13-3.
Dub Herring Park, Poplarville: In a clash of juco titans, No. 3 Pearl River Community College hosts No. 5 East Central CC in an MACCC doubleheader. PRCC is 15-5, 3-1 conference. Tate Parker is having a monster season, batting .450 with seven homers and 30 RBIs. Turner Swistak is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA in five starts. Trey Lewis is batting .521 and carries a 17-game hit streak for ECCC, which is 17-4, 4-2.
Braddy Field, Jackson: Jackson State, reeling from a three-game SWAC sweep at Bethune-Cookman over the weekend, looks to get back on track against Tougaloo in an HBCU matchup. JSU, preseason No. 1 in the Black College Nines poll, is 10-10 overall, including two blowout wins against the NAIA Bulldogs last month. Tougaloo is 5-20.
BMC Sportsplex, Blue Mountain: MUW (5-11) visits Blue Mountain (15-12) in a non-conference rivalry of sorts. MUW, which competes in the USCAA, has beaten D-III Millsaps this season but faces a taller order against the NAIA Toppers.
P.S. Delta State was scheduled to host Southern Arkansas, the No. 4 team in NCAA Division II, but the game at Ferriss Field in Cleveland was cancelled because of weather issues.

22 Mar

big league chew

Billy Hamilton, the all-time leader in stolen bases among Mississippi natives in MLB, may get a chance to add to his impressive total in 2022, having signed a minor league contract with Seattle on Monday. The former Taylorsville High star, now 31, has played sparingly in recent seasons while bouncing from team to team to team. He doesn’t hit much (.240 career), but he can still run. He was 9-for-9 in steals for the Chicago White Sox last season and has 314 bags since his 2013 debut. And he can still go get it in the outfield; a diving catch he made in the rain last July was one of his all-time best. Don’t be surprised if Hamilton makes the roster with the Mariners, who have designs on the postseason this year. P.S. Corey Dickerson, the Meridian Community College native from McComb, made his St. Louis debut on Monday, going 1-for-2 with a walk as the DH and leadoff batter. Dickerson was a Mark McGwire fan growing up and is wearing Big Mac’s No. 25. The lefty hitter said in recent interviews that he plans to swing more for power this year. He hit just six homers in 336 at-bats in 2021 but has belted as many as 27 in a season (with Tampa Bay in 2017). … Texas beat Cleveland 25-12 Monday in a Cactus League game that lasted 4 hours, 17 minutes and “featured” 42 hits and 14 walks. Mississippi College alum Blaine Crim, playing for Texas, had one of the hits, ex-Mississippi State star Jack Kruger, also with the Rangers, drew one of the walks and Petal High product Demarcus Evans, one of the Rangers’ eight pitchers, allowed three walks and two runs.

19 Mar


Scanning big league box scores for names of local interest, we land on Tyreque Reed. The Houlka native and ex-Itawamba Community College star had another hit and RBI for Boston on Friday and is now 3-for-4 with four RBIs in two Grapefruit League games. Reed isn’t on the Red Sox’s 40-man roster and is down the depth chart at first base, but the 24-year-old slugger keeps making noise. Acquired by Boston from Texas in the 2020 Rule 5 draft, Reed had a productive first year with the Red Sox, batting .271 with 17 home runs and reaching Double-A. He carries a .278 career average with 58 homers in three-plus years. It’s always worth noting that he hit .500 as a sophomore at ICC. Other names of note from Thursday and Friday spring games: Ethan Small threw two hitless innings for Milwaukee against the mighty Los Angeles Dodgers. Nate Lowe homered for Texas; he was replaced at first base in that Friday contest by Blaine Crim, the Mississippi College alum who has been wearing out the minors (see previous posts). Grae Kessinger had a hit in two trips for Houston; J.P. France got knocked around (four runs in 1 2/3 innings) in that same game. Delvin Zinn had an RBI single for the Chicago Cubs, and Trent Giambrone — who made his big league debut last season — went 1-for-2 in that Thursday game. Jordan Westburg had a hit in two trips for Baltimore. Bobby Bradley, sporting the new Cleveland Guardians uniform, was 0-for-2. Adam Frazier went 0-for-1 with a walk in his first game in a Seattle uniform, and Hunter Renfroe was 0-for-2 with a walk in his Milwaukee debut. P.S. Kudos to Pearl River Community College for knocking off No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice in Baton Rouge on Friday. PRCC, currently ranked No. 3 in NJCAA Division II, is 15-5. West Harrison High product Tate Parker went 4-for-5 with four RBIs in the 10-5 win vs. LSU-E. … MSU alum Justin Foscue, now in Texas’ system, is the lone state product to make MLB Pipeline’s new list of the top 100 prospects in the minors. Foscue, who hit .275 with 17 homers and reached Double-A in his pro debut last summer, checked in at No. 89.

18 Mar

let’s get it started

There is no more emphatic way for a player to step up than to lead off a game with a home run. As the second season — conference play — got under way Thursday for the state’s NCAA Division I schools, Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez hit a game-opening bomb to start the Rebels on their way to a 13-6 SEC win at Auburn. Ole Miss, ranked No. 1 in one poll, is now 13-3 overall. Gonzalez, a freshman All-America shortstop in 2021, was just 2-for-12 over his previous four games and had seen his average drop to .234. He was due for a step-up performance, and he delivered, going 2-for-4 with two homers, a walk and three runs against the Tigers. “He was a superstar today,” UM coach Mike Bianco said in a postgame interview. Who’ll step up today when Mississippi State, Southern Miss and Jackson State begin league play? Here are some ones to watch: For the Bulldogs, who take an 11-7 record and four-game win streak into their opener at Georgia, Luke Hancock needs to supply some power. The Houston native, who hit 10 homers for the national champs a year ago, has one this season, that coming on Feb. 27. A 2-for-13 slide has dropped his average to .266, and he has just seven RBIs. He knocked in 63 last season. For the Golden Eagles, Christopher Sargent, the usual cleanup batter, is hitting .197 with three homers and eight RBIs. Heading into a C-USA series at home against Florida Atlantic, USM (11-6 and coming off a big win vs. Alabama) could use a step-up effort from Sargent. He produced 16 homers and 57 RBIs in 2021, second on the team in both categories to departed star Reed Trimble. For JSU’s Tigers (10-7), who open SWAC play at Bethune-Cookman, keep an eye on Jatavis Melton, their leadoff batter. Melton, from Natchez, is batting .293 with 14 stolen bases and 18 runs. He has stalled out a bit of late, 5-for-22 with four runs in the last six games. JSU needs Melton to get on base and spark its attack. … Mississippi Valley State (4-5-1) hosts Alabama A&M this weekend, and Alcorn State (0-11) hosts Texas Southern. The Delta Devils and Braves would welcome more production from any- and everyone in their lineups.

17 Mar

have bat, will travel

St. Louis appears to be the new home for Corey Dickerson, the McComb native and Meridian Community College alumnus, a .283 career hitter who has played for four different teams the past three seasons and six all told since 2013. The 32-year-old outfielder reportedly has agreed to a 1-year, $5 million deal with the Cardinals. Dickerson, a left-handed hitter, joins an outfield mix that includes Harrison Bader, Dylan Carlson, Tyler O’Neill and Lars Nootbaar. O’Neill and Nootbaar are also lefty hitters. Dickerson was an All-Star in 2017 and won a Gold Glove in left field in 2018. He has 128 career home runs — 27 in one season — but isn’t considered a bomber. He hit .282 for Toronto down the stretch last season, helping the Blue Jays make a playoff push that ultimately fell short. P.S. Ex-Ole Miss and Mississippi Braves star Chris Ellis has signed a minor league deal with Baltimore; he posted a 2.49 ERA in six starts for the Orioles in 2021.

16 Mar

under the radar

Cody Reed, the former Northwest Mississippi Community College standout, has re-signed with Tampa Bay on a minor league deal and received an invitation to the Rays’ major league camp. Reed, 28, a left-hander who first arrived in the majors with Cincinnati in 2016, pitched in 12 games (3.72 ERA) in relief for Tampa Bay last season before being shut down by an arm injury that required surgery. He was dropped from the 40-man roster at season’s end. The Horn Lake product has a 5.22 career ERA in 65 games, most as a reliever. … Other non-roster players with Mississippi ties who have been invited to big league camps include Jonathan Holder (Mississippi State) with the Chicago Cubs, JaCoby Jones (Richton) with Kansas City, Jacob Robson (State) with Detroit, Bobby Wahl (Ole Miss) with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ethan Small (State) with Milwaukee, Grae Kessinger (UM) and J.P. France (State) with Houston and Kirk McCarty (Southern Miss) with Cleveland. More invite announcements are forthcoming as spring training games begin on Thursday. P.S. Former Ole Miss ace Gunnar Hoglund is one of the four young players traded by Toronto to Oakland in the Matt Chapman deal. Hoglund, recovering from Tommy John surgery last spring, was a first-round pick by the Blue Jays last summer. His pro debut could come later this season. Hoglund joins MSU product J.T. Ginn as a newcomer in the suddenly rebuilding A’s system.