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.

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