Delta State, preseason favorite in the Gulf South Conference, took two of three from Mississippi College in Clinton this weekend to claim the No. 8 seed in the GSC Tournament that begins Friday in Oxford, Ala. DSU won the rubber game of the series 2-1 Sunday to clinch its tournament berth. MC didn’t make the GSC field. DSU (24-24 overall) will meet top-seeded West Florida in the first round of the double-elimination tourney. … William Carey University won the Southern States Athletic Conference regular season crown in impressive fashion, going 22-2 (40-7 overall, including a couple of forfeits) and setting a school record for runs with 512. Carey, ranked 12th in the latest NAIA coaches poll, will host the eight-team league tournament at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg starting Wednesday. The Crusaders get state-rival Blue Mountain Christian in the first round. The winner of the SSAC tourney gets an NAIA Tournament bid; Carey is likely to get an at-large bid if it doesn’t win the event. … Division III Millsaps, having won its best-of-3 opening round series against Rhodes, moves on to play top-seeded Birmingham-Southern in the first round of the Southern Athletic Association Tournament at Birmingham. The four-team, double-elimination event begins Thursday. … D-III Belhaven, which finished second in the Collegiate Conference of the South race, plays Covenant in the first round of the league tournament on Thursday at LaGrange, Ga., home of the regular season champion. … Rust College, the No. 1 seed, played two seed Dillard for the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament title on Sunday at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. The winner gets a bid to the NAIA Tournament. Rust already has been invited to the Black College World Series. … In the MACCC postseason, Meridian plays East Mississippi, Pearl River plays Southwest, Itawamba plays Hinds and Jones plays Northeast in the best-of-3 series that begin Thursday at campus sites. The winners will advance along with conference champion East Central to Eunice, La., for the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament, hosted by top-ranked LSU-Eunice. That event begins May 15.
Garrett Crochet, the former Ocean Springs High star who went straight from the Tennessee campus to the big leagues in 2020, is expected to make an injury rehab appearance today for Double-A Birmingham. Crochet missed all of the 2022 season for the Chicago White Sox after Tommy John surgery in the spring. The left-hander was the 11th overall pick in the abbreviated 2020 draft and made his MLB debut that September, throwing 100-mph gas over five scoreless appearances. Crochet was a key piece of the White Sox’s bullpen in 2021, when the team won the American League Central. He posted a 2.82 ERA with 65 strikeouts (27 walks) in 54 1/3 innings that year and made three scoreless postseason appearances. The current White Sox could use some help, having lost 10 in a row to fall to 7-21, tied for last in the AL Central. Ole Miss product Lance Lynn threw six hitless innings against Tampa Bay on Saturday, then gave up four runs in a 10-run seventh as the ChiSox lost 12-3. Lynn is 0-4, 7.16. At Triple-A Charlotte, ex-East Central Community College standout Tim Anderson went 1-for-3 in his second rehab game, but the Knights lost to Norfolk 20-1. (Mississippi State alum Jordan Westburg, a Baltimore prospect, went 3-for-6 with three RBIs in that game to boost his average to .329.)
While Ole Miss has tumbled from the national rankings this season, Jacob Gonzalez’s MLB draft stock has remained steady. The Rebels shortstop, regarded as a top 10 pick entering this season, is rated No. 8 in MLB Pipeline’s new list of the Top 150 prospects for this summer’s draft. Gonzalez is batting .322 with seven homers and 37 RBIs for the 22-20 Rebels, last year’s national champs. The left-handed hitter, who goes 6 feet 2, 200 pounds, has a .317 career average with 37 homers in three seasons at UM. Five other players from the state are in the Top 150: No. 43 Cooper Pratt, shortstop at Magnolia Heights; No. 47 Colton Ledbetter, Mississippi State outfielder; No. 64 Kemp Alderman, Ole Miss outfielder; No. 101 Tanner Hall, Southern Miss pitcher; and No. 145 Calvin Harris, UM catcher. Ranked 11th is Hurston Waldrep, who pitched at USM in 2022 but is now at Florida. Ledbetter, a Samford transfer, has been a standout during a tough year for State, hitting .322 with 10 homers, 46 RBIs and 15 steals. Hall, last year’s Ferriss Trophy winner, is 7-3 with a 2.95 ERA for the Golden Eagles, who are battling for the Sun Belt Conference title. P.S. Lexington beat the York Revolution 5-4 Friday night in Barry Lyons’ debut (see previous post) as manager of the Counter Clocks of the independent Atlantic League. Former Delta State star Trent Giambrone went 2-for-4 for York in his ALPB debut. Harrison Central High alum and ex-big leaguer Bobby Bradley homered for Charleston in his indy ball debut. … The Chicago White Sox lost their ninth straight game Friday after MSU product Kendall Graveman gave up a ninth-inning homer in a 3-2 defeat against visiting Tampa Bay. Graveman (1-2) has a 5.06 ERA in 11 relief appearances for the 7-20 White Sox. … Tim Anderson, on a rehab assignment for the ChiSox, went 0-for-4 for Triple-A Charlotte in Game 1 of a twinbill. Also in the Knights’ lineup was Taylorsville’s Billy Hamilton, the demoted big league vet who went 2-for-3 to improve his average to .186. He has three stolen bases.
It’s a few days before the Lexington Counter Clocks’ season opener, and Barry Lyons’ enthusiasm is palpable. “I’m energized,” Lyons said in a phone interview as he came off the field from a team workout. “It’s given me a new sense of purpose.”
At age 62, Lyons has seized the reins as the new manager of the Kentucky-based Counter Clocks, who play in the independent Atlantic League. The former Biloxi High, Delta State and major league catcher — a recent inductee into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame — is back in uniform some 25 years after he last managed a professional team.
“I loved managing when I did,” Lyons said. “I only got out after my daughter was born.”
Lyons stayed engaged in the game. He did some broadcasting for a minor league team in Nashville, and he has been deeply involved with the Biloxi Shuckers since the Double-A team moved from Huntsville, Ala., in 2015. He also administers summer and fall wood bat leagues for amateur players on the Coast.
Lyons has endured some personal hardships along the way, but he is in a good place now, personally and professionally.
“I missed being out on the field,” he said.
As fate would have it, Lyons’ nephew Nathan — a former Ole Miss pitcher — and Nathan’s wife Keri purchased the Lexington Legends franchise back in October. (The nickname was changed to Counter Clocks in recognition of early Kentuckians racing horses in a counter-clockwise direction, opposite of the tradition in England.)
Naturally, Barry Lyons’ interest was piqued.
“I have a lot of friends in the league — Stan Cliburn, Wally Backman, Frank Viola,” he said. “I had kept up with the league. After he bought the team, I talked with Nathan about getting the ball rolling there. He didn’t know that I had any interest in managing again. But one thing led to another, and he asked me about the job. Basically, he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I couldn’t be more excited and thankful for this opportunity.”
He took the job in mid-December.
Lyons was a Division II All-America catcher under Boo Ferriss at Delta State, led the Double-A Jackson Mets to the Texas League championship in 1985, made his big league debut with the 1986 world champion New York Mets and spent parts of seven years in the majors, his career curtailed by injury issues.
His first managerial job was in an independent league, the Big South, in 1996, and he worked for two seasons with a Class A team in the Cincinnati Reds’ system.
“Barry’s experiences in baseball have equipped him with a unique understanding of all aspects of the game,” Nathan Lyons said in a team release, “and we can’t wait to see what he does with the team on the field.”
In independent ball, there is no major league affiliate to supply players. You have to stock your own team and comply with a salary cap. With the help of coaches Cameron Roth and Enohel Polanco, both indy league veterans, Lyons has put together what he feels is a competitive club.
The Atlantic League is the premier independent league — aka, MLB Partner League — in the country, and many former major leaguers dot the rosters of the 10 teams. Lyons has landed a few, including pitcher Jerad Eickhoff, infielder Abiatal Avelino and outfielder Ronnie Dawson. He has recruited some players with Mississippi connections: former Ole Miss first baseman Thomas Dillard, ex-Delta State pitcher Cooper Brune and catcher Logan Brown, who played for the Double-A Mississippi Braves in 2022. Former LSU star Brandt Broussard is also on the roster.
“I’m very pleased with everything we’ve seen (in training camp),” he said. “We have a lot of experienced players and a few younger ones to balance it out.”
Lyons said he is looking forward to matching managerial wits with Cliburn, the Jackson native and ex-big league catcher now running the Southern Maryland team, and Backman, Lyons’ teammate with the New York Mets and current skipper of the Long Island Ducks.
“I saw Stan at a golf event a few weeks ago and he was beating his chest about stealing a player we wanted,” Lyons said. “I told him, ‘O.K., the stakes just went up.'”
That meeting won’t come until June. First up is today’s season opener at home against the York Revolution.
“I can’t wait to get out there,” Lyons said.
Putting up numbers is typically the key to advancement in the minor leagues. Several Mississippi-connected players are doing precisely that. To wit: At Triple-A Jacksonville in the Miami system, former Mississippi State and Jackson Prep standout Jake Mangum is batting .339 and slugging .500 (six extra-base hits) in 17 games. The switch-hitting outfielder is in his first season with the Marlins after being traded by the New York Mets in December. At High-Class A Beloit in the Marlins’ system, Meridian Community College and McLaurin High product Davis Bradshaw is hitting .368 (with a current six-game hit streak) in 14 games. The lefty-hitting outfielder got a look in Double-A in 2022 and is bidding for another. At Double-A Erie in Detroit’s chain, former Biloxi High star Colt Keith is hitting .300 (despite a recent skid) with three homers and 11 RBIs. The lefty-hitting third baseman is a highly rated Tigers prospect. At Low-A Kannapolis in the Chicago White Sox’s system, ex-Ole Miss star Tim Elko (see previous post) leads the Carolina League in homers (six) and RBIs (24) and is batting .362 through 17 games in his first full pro campaign. At High-A Brooklyn in the Mets’ organization, former Southern Miss standout Tyler Stuart has a 1.98 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 13 2/3 innings in three starts. The 6-foot-9 right-hander was a 2022 draftee. At Low-A Augusta in the Atlanta system, former Smithville High star Jared Johnson is 1-0 with a 1.29 in three appearances. The 2019 draftee’s progress has been slowed by injuries. P.S. Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker took Shohei Ohtani deep on Thursday and now has seven homers this season, tied with Hunter Renfroe for most in MLB by a Mississippian. Rooker, in his first season with Oakland, has 18 RBIs, tops among state-connected players, and is hitting .305.
Rust College made an impressive run to the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference regular season title. Run is the operative word here. The Bearcats (21-21 overall, 14-4 GCAC) have stolen 200 bases as they charge into the league tournament, slated to begin today at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. Rust has nine players with 10 or more steals, led by Jesse Burton III with 31 and Malik Berrien with 29. The top hitters are Jalin Thomas, raking at .379 with eight homers, and Khalil Robinson, .357 with 11 bombs. The pitching hasn’t been as sharp (7.31 staff ERA), but Xavier Campbell emerged as a weapon out of the bullpen with four wins and a save in 11 appearances. Second-year coach John Bates has quickly built a competitive team with players from all over the South; last year’s club ended a streak of 17 straight losing seasons. The Bearcats are the top seed in the six-team GCAC tourney and are hopeful of an NAIA Tournament bid. The team already has been invited to the Black College World Series in Montgomery, Ala., in mid-May. Tougaloo (9-32, 6-11), coached be ex-Jackson State star Earl Sanders, is also in the GCAC field and opens today against Philander Smith, with the winner meeting Rust on Friday. P.S. The MACCC regular season concludes on Friday. The top four teams in the standings are ranked in the NJCAA Division II Top 20. First-place and 15th-ranked East Central (22-4 in the league) finishes with East Mississippi; No. 5 Meridian (20-6) hosts Mississippi Delta; No. 3 Pearl River (19-7) is at Northwest; and No. 18 Itawamba (19-7) is at Jones College. The postseason begins next week. … Belhaven University has finished its regular season and is awaiting its assignment in the Collegiate Conference of the South postseason. The Blazers went 20-16, 12-5 (second) in the new NCAA Division III conference. Brett Sanchez and Dawson Albin were named the CCS pitcher and player of the week on Monday.
The current list of National League ERA leaders includes an array of familiar names, from Clayton Kershaw to Marcus Stroman to Atlanta sensation Spencer Strider. But the leader of this pack is a left-hander from Mississippi who is having a breakout season. Justin Steele, former George County High standout, trimmed his ERA to a 1.19 by throwing 5 1/3 shutout innings Tuesday in the Chicago Cubs’ 6-0 win against San Diego at frigid Wrigley Field. Steele is 4-0 — tied for the NL lead in wins — over five starts with victories against the Padres, Oakland, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Texas. “I’ve just been trying my hardest to be consistent …,” Steele said in an Associated Press article. He has gone at least 5 1/3 in each of his starts and hasn’t allowed more than four hits or two runs in any of them. His WHIP is 0.89. Drafted out of high school in 2014 (fifth round) by the Cubs, Steele battled through injuries before finally reaching the majors in 2021. He moved into the Cubs’ rotation last year and went 4-7, 3.18, in 24 outings. That effort appears to have been just a tease about what was to come.
Perhaps the fourth team will be a charm for Brent Rooker. The former Mississippi State star, who has moved from Minnesota to San Diego to Kansas City to Oakland in the last 12 months, has been a bright spot in a very dull start for the A’s. Rooker hit two home runs on Monday — going back-to-back both times with Jesus Aguilar — as Oakland beat the Los Angeles Angels 11-10 in 10 innings, just the fifth win for the A’s in 23 games. Rooker, who struggled in his previous MLB stints, is batting .333 (.441 on-base percentage) with six homers and 14 RBIs in 2023. The 28-year-old outfielder has walked 10 times and struck out 10 times in 59 plate appearances over his 16 games. “I knew I could come in every day and contribute and compete at a very high level. That’s all I’m trying to do right now,” Rooker said in an mlb.com story. After winning the SEC Triple Crown and league player of the year honors at State in 2017, Rooker was drafted 35th overall by the Twins that summer. He has hit well in the minors but not so much in the big leagues — until now. … The Chicago White Sox are in freefall, and Lance Lynn, the veteran right-hander out of Ole Miss, couldn’t do anything to break it on Monday. Lynn fell to 0-3 and saw his ERA rise to 7.52 over five starts as the White Sox (7-16) lost 5-2 at Toronto. Lynn, who has 123 wins on his MLB ledger, yielded five hits, three walks and four runs in five innings against the Blue Jays. Opponents are batting .309 against Lynn, more than 60 points higher than his career average against.
Adam Frazier was the recipient of two celebratory Gatorade showers over the weekend, and he didn’t even get a hit. Ex-Mississippi State standout Frazier, now with the Baltimore Orioles, scrambled home with the game-winning run as a pinch runner on Sunday as the red-hot O’s beat Detroit 2-1 in 10 innings at Camden Yards. On Friday, Frazier drove in the winning run with a fielder’s choice grounder in the ninth inning of a 2-1 win against the Tigers. “These kinds of wins, at the end of the season, they add up,” a soaking-wet Frazier told mlb.com after Sunday’s game. The Orioles (14-7) have won six in a row. Playing in the rugged American League East, they certainly need every win they can squeeze out. Frazier, a lefty-hitting second baseman, hasn’t hit much, just .213 through Sunday, in his first year with Baltimore. But in a lineup with Ryan Mountcastle, Adley Rutschman, Austin Hays and Jorge Mateo, he doesn’t have to carry a heavy load. He was brought in as a free agent to add some veteran flavor to a young club. The 31-year-old Frazier has contributed 12 runs, eight RBIs and three steals while playing in every game. Chances are he’ll start to get more knocks. He is a .272 career hitter (since 2016) with an All-Star Game appearance on his resume, though he had a tough year in Seattle in 2022, batting just .238. He did, however, get to celebrate the end of the Mariners’ long postseason drought. P.S. While Frazier mans second base in Baltimore, waiting in the wings at that spot is ex-State star Jordan Westburg, the Orioles’ No. 4 prospect. Westburg is batting .281 with three home runs and 14 RBIs at Triple-A Norfolk. He has hit 45 homers over his three minor league seasons.
Names of note from a Saturday chock-full of diamond doings:
Kellum Clark, Luke Hancock, Slate Alford and Amani Larry hit home runs for Mississippi State in a hair-raising 11-10 win at Auburn.
Dustin Dickerson extended his hit streak to 17 games, but Southern Miss took one on the chin for the second straight day at Coastal Carolina, which has scored 35 times in the first two games of this key Sun Belt series.
Hunter Elliott’s much-anticipated return to the mound for Ole Miss was spoiled by LSU, which scored five times vs. Elliott in the first inning and beat the ailing Rebels 8-4 in Oxford.
Jatavis Melton rapped out three hits, including a homer, scored three times and drove in three runs to lead Jackson State to a 14-8 win at Alabama A&M.
A.J. Stinson threw a seven-inning, two-hit shutout to cap William Carey’s doubleheader sweep at Blue Mountain, running the Crusaders’ record to 34-9.
Sam Pitre belted a grand slam to propel Millsaps to a big 8-7 SAA win against Oglethorpe.
Jacob Pearson hit a walk-off grand slam to give the Double-A Mississippi Braves a split against Montgomery in a twinbill that drew an announced 5,689 to Pearl’s Trustmark Park.
Ethan Murray hit a grand slam for the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers in a win at Rocket City.
Blaze Jordan, the former DeSoto Central High slugger, went 4-for-5 with his first homer of the season for Boston’s High-Class A Greenville club.
Hunter Renfroe, former MSU standout, hit two homers and a double in a loss for the Los Angeles Angels and now has six bombs on the year, more than Shohei Ohtani or Mike Trout.
Former Biloxi Shuckers star Mauricio Dubon, filling in for injured Jose Altuve, extended his hit streak to 16 games, best active in MLB, to help Houston beat Atlanta 6-3.
Former M-Braves standout Ozzie Albies hit his fifth homer for the Braves in the loss at Truist Park.
M-Braves alum Joey Meneses put up a four-hit game for Washington.
M-Braves alum Cristian Pache hit his first homer of the year for Philadelphia and is 6-for-20 on the year with his new club.
Ex-Biloxi Shuckers star Josh Hader registered his seventh save in San Diego’s 11th win of the season.