27 Feb

whatever happened to …

Drew Bianco, the former Oxford High star and son of the Ole Miss coach, is getting a ton of attention after making a sensational catch for Houston in a game on Sunday. Bianco, playing center field for the Cougars, made a long run and went over the outfield wall to snag a drive off the bat of an Incarnate Word hitter. (The video is all over the Internet and was SportsCenter’s No. 1 play among its daily Top 10.) Bianco, an All-State pick and state champion at Oxford, is a grad transfer at Houston after four seasons at LSU, where he had modest numbers (.202, 10 homers) on some outstanding teams. This year, he has made two highlight-reel catches for the Cougars, matching his number of hits in five games. Also on the UH roster is former Ole Miss and Magnolia Heights pitcher Braden Forsythe. P.S. Two familiar names appear on mlb.com’s list of the top dark horse candidates for opening day rosters: Brent Rooker with Oakland and Jason Heyward with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mississippi State product Rooker is with his fourth organization in less than a year. The 2017 SEC Triple Crown winner has 102 homers in the minors — 28 in Triple-A in 2022 — but batted just .200 with 10 homers in 81 big league games, most of those with Minnesota. He hopes to stick as the A’s left fielder. Heyward, a former Mississippi Braves star, has been reunited with old buddy Freddie Freeman. They debuted with the Double-A M-Braves together in 2009. Cut loose by the Chicago Cubs after last season, Heyward has struggled at the plate for several years but reportedly revamped his swing and stands a good chance of making LA’s club. His outfield defense is still top drawer.

27 Feb

spring fling

He is the top pitching prospect in the New York Yankees’ system, and on Sunday, in his big league spring debut, Will Warren gave Yankees brass and fans a sneak preview of what he might soon bring to The Show. The former Jackson Prep standout from Brandon threw two scoreless innings against Atlanta in a 7-0 victory at Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Fla. The Braves didn’t trot out their A-team on Sunday, but that really shouldn’t diminish Warren’s performance. The 23-year-old right-hander — the Yankees’ No. 8 prospect overall — yielded the only hit the Braves got but faced the minimum six batters, throwing 20 of 34 pitches for strikes. Drafted out of Southeastern Louisiana in 2021, Warren made his pro debut last summer and reached Double-A, winning seven games for Eastern League champ Somerset. Overall, he was 9-9 with a 3.91 ERA in 26 starts. Unveiling what has been called a “unicorn slider,” he posted 125 strikeouts and 42 walks in 129 innings. “My goals for next year are to keep having success,” Warren told nj.com last month. He isn’t on the 40-man roster, will work mainly in minor league games this spring and likely will begin 2023 back at Somerset. Sunday’s outing was a great kick-start to his year. … A bundle of Mississippians played in the opening weekend of spring training games. Notable performances from Sunday: Hunter Renfroe homered for the Los Angeles Angels; Dakota Hudson threw two scoreless innings for St. Louis; Corey Dickerson went 2-for-2 for Washington; Jordan Westburg had a hit and RBI for Baltimore; and Brent Rooker was 1-for-3 for Oakland.

26 Feb

flippin’ the script

After a forlorn Friday that saw Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Mississippi State each get whipped at home, all three got some satisfaction on a sweet Saturday in the Magnolia State. USM rallied repeatedly to beat Illinois 14-13 in a 5-hour, 17-minute, 11-inning marathon. Ole Miss surged late to knock off Maryland 12-6 in a battle of nationally ranked teams. And State shut down Arizona State 5-1, handing the Sun Devils their first loss of the year. In Hattiesburg, before a crowd of 5,000-plus at Taylor Park, USM (5-1) squandered an 8-3 lead but scored twice in the ninth and once in the 10th to extend the game, then won it in 11 — after a lengthy review — on a hit by Carson Paetow. At Oxford, before 10,000-plus at Swayze Field, UM (5-1) scored three times in the seventh and four in the eighth to overcome a 5-4 deficit. Jacob Gonzalez and Ethan Groff, the 1-2 hitters, combined for six knocks and seven RBIs. Mason Nichols notched a two-inning save. In Starkville, in front of 14,000-plus at Dudy Noble Field, State (4-3) got a combined five-hitter from Graham Yatema, Evan Siary and Nate Dohm to beat ASU in a snappy 2:24. Colton Ledbetter and Lane Forsythe drove in two runs apiece for the Bulldogs. The Big 3 go for series wins today. … For the record, Jackson State (4-2) improved to 2-0 in the MLB Andre Dawson Classic in New Orleans, beating Prairie View A&M 5-4, tallying the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth on a two-out hit by Colby Guy.

25 Feb

a few atta boys

Jesse Caver: Jackson State’s senior right-hander threw eight shutout innings, yielding four hits, to lead the Tigers to a 3-0 win over New Orleans in the MLB Andre Dawson Classic on Friday. Caver, a 2022 transfer from Lipscomb, is 1-1 with a 2.08 ERA in three games for the 3-2 Tigers. Of note: Junior Jonah Posey, an East Mississippi Community College product, pitched the ninth for the save and has a 0.00 ERA in three appearances, and Ty Hill homered for JSU.
Justin Foscue: The Mississippi State alum homered in his first at-bat for Texas on opening day in spring training. Foscue, who has 32 minor league bombs in two seasons, is in Rangers camp in Arizona as a non-roster invitee.
Taylor Broadway: The ex-Ole Miss closer threw a scoreless inning for Boston in a spring exhibition game against Northeastern in Florida. Broadway, in camp as an NRI, has a 4.20 ERA in two minor league campaigns.
Sean Smith: The Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College sophomore is second in NJCAA Division II with 24 RBIs and tied for second in homers with seven for the 4-6 Bulldogs. Smith, a Pascagoula native, is batting .500.
P.S. All 30 MLB teams are scheduled to play today in Florida and Arizona. Former Ole Miss star Lance Lynn will start for the Chicago White Sox, and ex-Rebels standout Mike Mayers is slated to start for Kansas City, his new club. Some other faces in new places who could make appearances today: Hunter Renfroe with the Los Angeles Angels, Corey Dickerson with Washington, Adam Frazier with Baltimore and Brent Rooker with Oakland.

24 Feb

spotlight on …

Compelling series begin today in Oxford (Maryland vs. Ole Miss in a clash of nationally ranked foes), Hattiesburg (Illinois vs. unbeaten Southern Miss), Starkville (4-0 Arizona State vs. Mississippi State) and New Orleans (Jackson State in the MLB Andre Dawson Classic). But the spotlight is trained on Cleveland, where Delta State, off to an uneven start, begins Gulf South Conference play against Valdosta State (one game tonight, a doubleheader on Saturday). The Statesmen are 4-5 and coming off a series loss at Eckerd College. DSU won the GSC regular season title — for the 22nd time — in 2022 en route to making the NCAA Division II postseason and finishing 32-17. Valdosta comes to Ferriss Field with an 8-3 mark, 2-1 in conference after taking a series from Mississippi College. Kirkland Trahan, a Madison Central High and Jones College product, has swung a big bat for DSU, hitting .400 with two homers and seven RBIs. Cleveland native Brett Burrell is batting .387. But those two haven’t gotten a lot of help, with the Statesmen stuck at .241 as a team. This weekend would be a good time for leadoff batter Carson Clowers (.194) to click. The pitching has been good (staff ERA: 3.19). Three of the four starters have sub-4.00 ERAs, led by Hammer Franks with a 1.64 in two outings. The outlier is Harrison Haley, a Madison Central alum of whom big things were expected. He has been knocked around (0-1, 11.42 ERA) in three starts. DSU’s pitchers will be challenged this weekend; Valdosta, led by Miami transfer J.P. Gates (.432, 14 RBIs), is averaging 6.5 runs per game. P.S. There is concern about ace lefty Hunter Elliott in Oxford. The Tupelo native, a key component of last year’s national title team, has been shut down at least for this weekend because of elbow soreness.

23 Feb

making news

Mississippi State’s freshman switch-pitcher — Jurrangelo Cijntje — appears to be much more than a novelty act. Cijntje made his first start on Wednesday against visiting Louisiana-Monroe and threw four shutout innings, fanning six batters with his right arm and one with his left in a 14-3 victory. In two appearances, he has allowed three hits, no runs and one walk with eight punchouts for the 3-2 Bulldogs. Wednesday’s performance rated a witty headline on mlb.com: “Give him a hand … or two!” On si.com, he was hailed as a “new star.” The 5-foot-11 Cijntje, from Florida, was an 18th-round draft pick by Milwaukee last summer. A natural lefty, he hits 92 mph from that side but amps it up to 97 with his right arm. In its pre-draft scouting report last year, Baseball America noted that Cijntje has “real touch and feel with both arms.” On Wednesday, he threw 58 pitches right-handed, 17 lefty. It’ll be interesting to see how he handles SEC lineups. … Overshadowed by the switch-pitcher was the reported 474-foot home run hit by Bulldogs freshman Dakota Jordan. It was the first bomb of the season for the former Jackson Academy star, who is 5-for-21 on the year. P.S. Kudos to Picayune native and ex-Pearl River Community College star Matt Riser, who notched his 300th win as coach at Southeastern Louisiana when the Lions pummeled Jackson State 19-0 at Braddy Field on Tuesday. … Getting home runs from Patrick Lee, Billy Garrity and Bailee Hendon, William Carey University beat Southeastern Baptist College 23-3 at Boston Park in Laurel on Wednesday. Carey, a traditional NAIA power, is 8-2. SBC, a fledgling NCCAA program, was playing its season opener.

21 Feb

rivalry time

Millsaps College is 2-4 and has lost four straight, the last two against teams ranked in the top four nationally in NCAA Division III. Belhaven University is 0-5, including two one-run losses and a pair of two-run defeats. One of the two will have its spirits lifted tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl, where the D-III rivals will meet in the first Maloney Trophy Series game of the season. Belhaven holds the trophy, having swept the three-game series last year, including a 29-13 rout in the finale. The Blazers, an NAIA program until just a few years ago, lead the all-time series 29-17 and have won the last seven. Another high-scoring affair could be in the offing in tonight’s 6 p.m. contest, despite the TeePee’s reputation as a pitcher’s park. Jim Page’s Majors have a staff ERA of 7.02. (Wil Wood, a first-team all-conference pick in 2022, has an 8.10 ERA in two starts.) Kyle Palmer’s Blazers have posted a 6.21. (Preseason All-America pick Brett Sanchez has a 5.25.) Millsaps brings a .297 team batting average into the game, led by Case Page at .440 and Chris Hart at .360 (with six RBIs). Kyle McLaughlin leads Belhaven with a .500 average and six runs, and Dawson Albin is at .294. The Blazers are hitting just .244 as a unit. Mississippi offers up an abundance of in-state rivalry games at the various levels every season. Millsaps-Belhaven, with a trophy on the line, is one of the best. P.S. Former Madison Central High star Braden Montgomery, now at Stanford, had an eventful game on Sunday. He hit a three-run double in the top of the ninth to put the Cardinal ahead, gave up a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth, scored a run as part of the Cardinal’s eight-run 10th and pitched a scoreless bottom half (with two strikeouts) to get the win in a wild 21-13 victory at Cal State Fullerton.

19 Feb

going camping

Leather is popping. Wood is cracking. It’s that time again. Here’s the list of Mississippians (natives, prep and college alums) on 40-man rosters as spring training camps open in Florida and Arizona:
Tim Anderson (East Central CC), Chicago White Sox; Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC), Washington; Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), Miami; Adam Frazier (Mississippi State), Baltimore; Nathaniel Lowe (MSU), Texas; Hunter Renfroe (MSU), Los Angeles Angels; Austin Riley (DeSoto Central HS), Atlanta; Brent Rooker (MSU), Oakland; Matt Wallner (Southern Miss), Minnesota.
Garrett Crochet (Ocean Springs), Chicago White Sox; J.P. France (MSU), Houston; Kendall Graveman (MSU), Chicago White Sox; Dakota Hudson (MSU), St. Louis; Lance Lynn (Ole Miss), Chicago White Sox; James McArthur (Ole Miss), Philadelphia; Konnor Pilkington (MSU), Cleveland; Drew Pomeranz (Ole Miss), San Diego; Ryan Rolison (Ole Miss), Colorado; Michael Rucker (Columbus), Chicago Cubs; Nick Sandlin (Southern Miss), Cleveland; Ethan Small (MSU), Milwaukee; Justin Steele (Lucedale), Chicago Cubs; Chris Stratton (MSU), St. Louis; Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central HS), Detroit; Colby White (MSU), Tampa Bay; Brandon Woodruff (MSU), Milwaukee.
Non-roster invitees:
Gavin Collins (MSU), Tampa Bay; Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), Texas; Justin Foscue (MSU), Texas; Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville), Chicago White Sox; Colt Keith (Biloxi High), Detroit; Grae Kessinger (UM), Houston; Jake Mangum (MSU), Miami; Chuckie Robinson (USM), Cincinnati; Jordan Westburg (MSU), Baltimore.
Taylor Broadway (UM), Boston; DeMarcus Evans (Petal), New York Yankees; J.T. Ginn (MSU), Oakland; Jonathan Holder (MSU), Los Angeles Angels; Zac Houston (MSU), New York Yankees; Mike Mayers (UM), Kansas City.

16 Feb

newbies of note

Never easy to predict which newcomers will have significant impact at the state’s Big 4 NCAA Division I schools. But there are some obvious ones to keep an eye on. To wit: At Ole Miss, there is freshman right-hander Grayson Saunier, already penciled in as the No. 2 starter for the defending national champs. He reportedly was quite impressive in the fall. Saunier, 6 feet 4, 200 pounds, was ranked in the Top 200 2022 drafts prospects by mlb.com as a senior at Colliersville High in Tennessee and was drafted in the 19th round by Texas, though he was firm in his commitment to the Rebels. (Colliersville, incidentally, is the school that produced Zack Cozart and Drew Pomeranz, who left UM as first-rounders en route to fine big league careers.) At Mississippi State, much attention will be focused on freshman outfielder Dakota Jordan, the ex-Jackson Academy star from Canton who was the state’s Gatorade player of the year in 2022. Also a Top 200 draft prospect, he went undrafted, likely because of his commitment to State. He batted .524 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs last year at JA. The SEC will be a different type of challenge. At Southern Miss, the much-traveled Tate Parker has landed as a transfer from juco national champ Pearl River Community College. The NJCAA Division II national player of the year in 2022 — when he batted .450 with 19 homers and set the school’s career homer mark — he’s in the running for an outfield job with the Golden Eagles, pegged by some as the top team in the Sun Belt Conference. (Parker’s brother Brandon is a former Gulf Coast CC star now in Atlanta’s system.) At Jackson State, Arderrius Townsend, a transfer from Northwest CC’s perennially strong program, might be one to watch. The 6-1, 225-pound outfielder hit 11 homers for the Rangers last season and was career .290 hitter in Senatobia. The D-I schools open their seasons on Friday. P.S. Kudos to Bridley Thomas, a newcomer at D-II Mississippi College, who hit for the cycle in a Choctaws win on Tuesday. Thomas, a Meridian CC transfer and former Northwest Rankin High standout, scored four runs and drove in two in that game for 2-6 MC.

15 Feb

the river runs strong

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown, or so they say. There is certainly no evidence of apprehension in Poplarville, where defending national champion Pearl River Community College has roared out of the gate with an 8-0 start. The Wildcats, currently ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II, swept a doubleheader from Coastal Alabama South on Tuesday, outscoring the visitors 12-3 while yielding no earned runs. For the year, PRCC has outscored its opponents 71-21, hit .364 as a unit and swiped 27 bases. Seven different pitchers worked Tuesday and combined for 20 strikeouts, prompting coach Michael Avalon to rave about the performance in a school release. As for the hitters, Petal’s Blake Hooks was 2-for-4 with two RBIs in the opener. Preston Soper, a Germantown High product, went 2-for-4 and drove in two runs in Game 2. Soper is batting .550 on the year with eight RBIs. Petal’s Logan Walters, hitting .429, leads the club with 11 RBIs. PRCC will face challenges down the road in the rugged MACCC — Meridian and Hinds are also ranked in the top 15 nationally — but appears up to the task.