19 May

tournament time

The dust has settled — on the regular season, at least — and the conference tournament brackets are set for the state’s NCAA Division I schools. Dust will fly again on Tuesday in Hoover, Ala. As fate would have it, Mississippi State and Ole Miss will meet Tuesday in the one-game elimination round of the SEC tourney. Game time is 9 p.m. State (36-19) is the 5-seed, Ole Miss (27-28) the 12th. Texas A&M awaits the winner in the double-elimination phase. The SEC Tournament means a lot more to the Rebels, who’ll need to win the whole thing to get an NCAA bid. But rest assured, the Bulldogs would love to send the Rebels home. … Surging Southern Miss (37-18) is the No. 2 seed and will open Sun Belt Conference Tournament play Wednesday against an as yet undetermined winner from the single-elimination games on Tuesday. The tournament is in Montgomery, Ala. … Jackson State (33-18) is the No. 4 seed in the SWAC East and will begin tournament play Wednesday in Atlanta against the No. 1 team from the West, apparently either Texas Southern or Grambling State. … There’s more: In the NAIA World Series, William Carey is the seventh seed and will open Friday against 10-seed Indiana Southeast at Lewiston, Idaho. No. 2 Georgia Gwinnett awaits the winner. … The MHSAA State Championships schedule features four Game 1’s on Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl and three on Wednesday. On Tuesday, starting at 10 a.m., it’s Class 2A St. Andrew’s-East Union; followed by Class 3A West Marion-East Webster; Class 4A Sumrall-Ripley; and Class 7A Brandon-Hernando. On Wednesday, starting at 1 p.m., it’s Class 1A Taylorsville-Pine Grove; followed by Class 6A George County-Warren Central; and Class 5A Vancleave-Lafayette. Game 2’s are Thursday and Friday (in the same order), with any Game 3’s on May 25. … Delta State’s season ended on Saturday with a 17-6 loss to West Florida in the NCAA D-II South Region at St. Leo, Fla. The Statesmen finish 33-24.

18 May

out of the blue

Former Ole Miss catcher Nick Fortes hangs his hat on his work behind home plate. A game like he had at the plate on Friday night for the Miami Marlins was an unexpected but welcome bonus. Fortes went 3-for-3 with a walk, a home run and three RBIs as the Marlins routed the New York Mets 8-0 at loanDepot Park. The fourth-year big leaguer, who shares catching duties with Christian Bethancourt, entered the game with just 10 hits and one homer all season. Miami, the worst team in the National League at 14-32, has won three in a row, all by shutout, all with Fortes behind the plate. “Definitely most proud of the shutouts,” he told mlb.com. “(It’s) the No. 1 priority of my job.” Fortes was a .319 hitter — and a Johnny Bench Award semifinalist — at Ole Miss in 2018, when Miami drafted him in the fourth round. He reached the big leagues in 2021, singled in his first at-bat and homered in his second. He has hit just .212 since, but his defense has kept him in The Show. … Colt Keith’s first trip as a big leaguer to his old stomping grounds seemed to do something to perk up his bat. The former Biloxi High star, who lived in Arizona for several years as a kid, went 4-for-5 with two RBIs and three runs as Detroit whipped Arizona 13-0 at Chase Field. A large group of family and friends reportedly were there to see it. Keith, who signed a huge contract in the off-season before playing a single MLB game, entered Friday’s contest batting .171 with just 20 hits but playing regularly at second base. The Mississippi Gatorade player of the year in 2019, Keith was drafted in the fifth round by the Tigers in 2020. He hit .306 with 27 homers as one of their top prospects in 2023. … Ian Mejia is not among the highly rated pitching prospects on the Mississippi Braves’ staff, but the right-hander is certainly gaining his share of attention. He threw the fifth no-hitter in Trustmark Park history on Friday night, beating Biloxi 2-0 in a seven-inning nightcap to a doubleheader. Mejia, 24, was drafted out of New Mexico State in 2022 and is in his first Double-A campaign. After Friday’s gem, which included 11 strikeouts, he is 4-0 with 1.69 ERA and 54 punchouts, leading the Southern League in the latter two categories. His no-no was the first solo job for the M-Braves since Tommy Hanson’s in 2008.

17 May

catching up

LSU-Eunice, a seven-time national champion, completed a 4-0 run through the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament by beating Jones College 7-2 Friday in the title game at Poplarville. The third-ranked Bengals get an automatic bid to the D-II World Series in Enid, Okla. There are two at-large bids available in the 12-team field, leaving the door open for an MACCC team to get a call. East Central Community College is 51-7 and ranked No. 1 in the most recent D-II poll; Pearl River is 49-10 and ranked second; and Jones is 41-16 and ranked eighth. Jones eliminated ECCC in the regional on Thursday, and LSU-E put out Pearl River. … Drake Fontenot, Noah Magee and Braiden Jones combined on a six-hitter and Blayke Dendy and Brendan McCauley hit home runs as Delta State stayed alive in the NCAA D-II South Region tourney with an 8-0 win over host St. Leo (Fla.). The Statesmen (33-23) will be back at it on Saturday.

17 May

championship mettle

Among the most impressive aspects of James “Cool Papa” Bell’s career is the number of championship teams he played for during his Hall of Fame career. Bell, born on this date in Starkville in 1903, was a member of 11 teams that won — or claimed — league championships during his 25-year pro career. Known as one of the fastest players ever to suit up, Bell batted .325 for his career and is credited by baseball-reference.com with 285 steals in official Negro League games. Including exhibition games, winter league games and foreign leagues, his career steals total is likely double that and more. An eight-time All-Star, he was a leadoff batter and center fielder for three of the greatest franchises in the old Negro Leagues, winning nine pennants with the St. Louis Stars, Pittsburgh Crawfords and Homestead Grays between 1922 and ’46. The Grays won two World Series titles with Bell. Bell also was on a championship team in the Dominican Republic in 1937 and the pennant-winning team in Mexican League in 1940. Bell, at age 37, won the league’s Triple Crown that year, batting .437 with 12 homers and 79 RBIs; he also stole 28 bases. He was elected to Cooperstown in 1974 and passed away in 1991. … On the subject of championship teams, Jackson Prep — led by the dynamic pro prospect Konnor Griffin — won its seventh straight title in MAIS, beating Presbyterian Christian for the 6A crown on Thursday night. P.S. On this date in 2010, at Yankee Stadium, former East Central Community College star Marcus Thames hit a walk-off two-run homer against ex-Mississippi State star Jonathan Papelbon, giving New York an 11-9 win over Boston. It was the only walk-off bomb Thames hit among his 115 career homers, according to Baseball Almanac.

16 May

good vibrations

Delta State might be carrying a special vibe as it enters the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Statesmen celebrated the 20th anniversary of their greatest season — the 2004 national championship season — during the team’s final homestand, swept three games from rival Mississippi College, then made a run to the finals of the Gulf South Conference Tournament, ensuring a bid to the NCAAs. DSU (32-22) begins play tonight in the South Region against Embry-Riddle (Fla.) in St. Leo, Fla. The streaky Statesmen have won seven of their last nine, but their path to a D-II World Series berth is seriously cluttered. Embry-Riddle, ranked 20th in D-II, is 30-20. Host St. Leo, ranked No. 7, is the top seed in the four-team sub-regional with a 38-11 record. No. 1-ranked Tampa is in the other South Region bracket. Dylan Coleman, from Madison by way of Hinds Community College, has had a huge year with the bat for DSU, hitting .387 with 16 homers, 57 RBIs and a .683 slugging percentage. Hayden Cooper is batting .345, and Cleveland native Brett Burrell is at .332. Pitching (5.53 staff ERA) hasn’t been a strength, though reliever Josh Hill, a Northwest Mississippi CC transfer, has been a valuable asset with 5-1 record, eight saves and a 3.58 in 19 appearances. Top starter Drake Fontenot is 7-4, 6.32, and Logan Cromer 4-3, 3.48. Embry-Riddle’s attack is led by Drew Barragan, who carries a .448 average with 16 homers and 94 RBIs. Travis Strickler is hitting .402 with 29 steals. The ace of the staff is Cole Altherr (6-4, 4.37, 106 strikeouts).

16 May

double feature

They combined to throw 14 innings and allowed just one run on nine hits and a walk while striking out 17 batters. The Nos. 2 and 3 prospects in Atlanta’s organization, Hurston Waldrep and Spencer Schwellenbach, started Wednesday’s doubleheader for the Mississippi Braves and showed off the stuff that may land them in the major league club’s bullpen in the not-too-distant future. Waldrep, the former Southern Miss standout and a first-round pick in 2023, pitched all eight innings in Game 1 in his seventh start for the Double-A M-Braves. Regularly hitting 93-94 mph (per the Trustmark Park scoreboard), the right-hander (now 2-3, 3.32 ERA) scattered six hits in a 2-1 win against Biloxi. He struck out eight, including the side in the seventh inning, and skillfully pitched around some trouble, benefitting from a terrific defensive play by shortstop Nacho Alvarez that ended the fifth inning. The M-Braves won on a walk-off sac fly by Tyler Tolve in the first extra inning. Then came Schwellenbach, a second-round pick out of Nebraska (where he also played shortstop) in 2021 whose start in pro ball was delayed by injury. Making his Double-A debut, the right-hander threw six shutout innings, touching 97 mph while allowing three hits, one walk and punching out nine. He struck out two of the first three batters he faced. Schwellenbach was 2-1, 2.53, in six starts at High-Class A Rome before Wednesday’s promotion. He went 5-2 in A-ball in 2023 after not pitching (following Tommy John surgery) in 2021 and ’22. The light-hitting M-Braves scored the lone run of Game 2 on an RBI single by Yolbert Sanchez in the second inning. P.S. Congratulations to William Carey University, which punched its ticket to the NAIA World Series on Wednesday by winning the NAIA regional in Hattiesburg. The NAIA World Series begins May 24 in Lewiston, Idaho.

15 May

winners and losers

After routing Milligan (Tenn.) 24-5 on Tuesday, William Carey University is on the brink of a second straight trip to the NAIA World Series. Carey, 2-0 in the Opening Round tourney at Hattiesburg, is slated to play the winner of today’s Milligan-Mid-America Christian (Okla.) elimination game tonight in the championship round. The Crusaders need a win there to advance. Ferriss Trophy finalist R.J. Stinson provided spark in Tuesday’s victory, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs at the top of the order, while 3-hole hitter Jake Lycette homered, drove in five runs and scored three. … East Central Community College, ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II, lost to Meridian CC on Tuesday in the first round of the Region 23 Tournament at Poplarville and faces Hinds today to stay alive in the regional. Host and second-ranked Pearl River beat Hinds on Tuesday and plays a winners bracket game today against No. 3 LSU-Eunice, which beat Jones College. Eighth-ranked Jones faces elimination today against Meridian. … Blue Mountain Christian’s season ended with a second straight loss in the NAIA Opening Round event at Shreveport, La. The Toppers (31-23) gave up 34 runs in their two losses.

14 May

kudos, here and there

Mike Grzanich, a former Jackson Generals pitcher, was named the MACCC’s softball coach of the year today after leading Hinds Community College to a 32-16 finish in 2024. By some cosmic coincidence, it was on May 14, 1998, that Grzanich, a hard-throwing right-hander, made his one and only MLB appearance, allowing two runs in an inning of work for Houston against Pittsburgh. Grzanich posted 17 wins and 30 saves over three seasons with the Double-A Generals, winning a Texas League title in 1996. He was the pitching coach for Hinds CC for three years before taking the softball reins in 2009. … Hurston Waldrep, former Southern Miss and current Mississippi Braves pitcher, has been ranked No. 75 among MLB Pipeline’s Top 100 minor league prospects, the only state college alum to make the chart. A first-round pick by Atlanta out of Florida last summer, Waldrep is slated to start tonight for the M-Braves against Biloxi at Trustmark Park in Pearl. He is 1-3 with a 3.90 ERA in six starts this year. … Ex-Mississippi State star Dakota Hudson notched his first win of the season on Monday with Colorado, which beat San Diego at Petco Park for its fifth straight victory. He allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings. Hudson, a free agent pickup this past off-season, is 1-6 with a 6.13 ERA in six starts. He was 38-20 with a sub-4.00 during his time with St. Louis. … Current MSU pitcher Nate Dohm is slated to return to the mound for just the second time since early March when the Bulldogs meet North Alabama tonight in Starkville. He was expected to be a key piece for State this season, but arm issues have limited the right-hander to five appearances (1.48 ERA). A healthy comeback could be a big boost during the postseason.

14 May

survival of fittest

The top three teams in the NJCAA Division II poll — and five of the top 17 — are playing today in Poplarville, all in the six-team Region 23 Tournament, from which one team will emerge and move on to the juco World Series. In the first round: No. 1-ranked East Central Community College, a 50-game winner, plays Meridian, which is ranked 17th; No. 2 Pearl River, the MACCC regular season champion and the top seed in the regional, plays upstart Hinds; and No. 3 LSU-Eunice, the seven-time national champ, plays eighth-ranked Jones. The SEC Tournament has nothing on this little get-together at Herring Park. ECCC is the defending region champ. PRCC won in 2022 and went on to claim the national title. LSU-E won the 2021 regional and the national title.
A few players to watch:
ECCC: Mo Little (.370, 11 homers, 71 RBIs, 18 steals) and Luke Cooley (8-1, 2.11 ERA, 105 strikeouts)
PRCC: Hollis Porter (.415, school-record 20 homers, 71 RBIs) and J.T. Schooner (11-3, 3.76, 92 K’s)
LSU-E: Tyson LeBlanc (.353, 54 RBIs, 50 runs, 30 steals) and Blake Lobell (12-0, 1.99, 105 K’s)
Jones: Brady Thomas (.389, 16 homers, 63 RBIs) and Beau Bryans (6-1, 3.82, 99 K’s)
Meridian: Blake Priester (.366, 14 homers, 65 RBIs) and Landon Waters (8-1, 2.05, 106 K’s)
Hinds: Thomas Marsala (.395, 12 homers, 54 RBIs) and Lincoln Sheffield (7-4, 3.59)
P.S. Props to William Carey University and closer John Snyder, whose 13th save nailed down a 6-5 win on Monday against Oklahoma Wesleyan in the NAIA Opening Round tourney at Hattiesburg. Carey (35-14) has won nine straight. … In the NAIA regional at Shreveport, Blue Mountain Christian’s opener against Talladega on Monday was suspended by rain.

13 May

swift swingers

For what it’s worth, Brent Rooker ranks 48th among major league hitters in average bat speed, a new stat made available Sunday from Statcast that “measures how fast the sweet spot of the bat is moving at the point of contact with the baseball.” Giancarlo Stanton — no big surprise — tops this list at 80.6 mph. Ex-Mississippi State star Rooker’s number is 73.8. For what it’s worth, Rooker’s average bat speed has been producing high-quality results of late: The Oakland A’s DH is hitting .400 with five home runs and 17 RBIs in his last 15 games. He hit his 10th bomb of the year in a Sunday loss and now has 50 homers in his MLB career. His season batting average is up to .292, and he has 27 RBIs for an Oakland team that has exceeded expectations. Of course, a swift swing doesn’t necessarily correlate with good hitting. (Stanton is batting .230 with eight homers and has fanned 50 times in 135 at-bats.) There is something to be said for just making consistent contact. Jordan Westburg, another former State standout, ranks 147th in average bat speed with a 70.8. He has produced a .304 average, six homers and 27 RBIs for the Baltimore Orioles. The top average bat speed among Mississippians in the majors belongs to Austin Riley (75.0), who is off to a lackluster start with Atlanta. Hunter Renfroe, No. 2 at 74.4, is off to a poor start in Kansas City.