Nathan Herron put up what might just be the hitting performance of the year among Mississippi college players, belting two grand slams Friday to power Belhaven University to an 11-4 win against Hardin-Simmons in the American Southwest Conference Tournament. Herron, a sophomore third baseman out of South Panola High, hit five homers with 32 RBIs during the regular season. The Blazers (27-14) play UT-Dallas today in the second round of their double-elimination bracket at Richardson, Texas. In other postseason play: Delta State got a grand slam and eight RBIs all told from Blayke Dendy in a 13-0 run-rule win over Shorter in the Gulf South Conference Tournament at Oxford, Ala. Dendy’s eighth homer of the year backed the stellar pitching of Harrison Haley, now 10-1. DSU, the top seed, takes a 31-13 record into today’s game against Lee University. … Blue Mountain’s season ended with an 11-9 loss to Loyola-New Orleans in the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament at Columbus, Ga. The Toppers lost despite a seven-run first inning. Loyola moves on to play William Carey today; the Crusaders are 2-0 in the tournament. … A walk-off two-run homer by Justin Williams gave Hinds Community College an 11-10 win over Mississippi Gulf Coast and puts the Eagles in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament at Poplarville next week. The Eagles, under first-year coach Dan Rives, swept the MACCC best-of-3 series. Williams, a freshman out of Madison-Ridgeland Academy, went 4-for-5 in the clincher. Sean Smith had a grand slam and seven RBIs for Gulf Coast. … Jones College, under first-year coach Wes Thigpen, also advanced to the six-team region tourney by run-ruling host Northeast 11-1 to sweep that series. … Northwest is at Meridian and East Mississippi hosts East Central in winner-take-all games today.
Tournament baseball, with its air of finality, rarely fails to produce great drama. We’ve already seen it: Millsaps College, pushed into a winner-take-all game after a crushing 25-10 loss to Rhodes last Saturday, responded hours later with a 7-2 win to advance to the Southern Athletic Association championship series. Ryan Erwin and Wil Wood, both on very short rest, stepped up on a combo nine-hitter and Avery Brock hit a big home run for the 6-seeded Majors (24-19). They’ll meet top-seeded Birmingham-Southern (36-8) in a best-of-3 in Birmingham this coming weekend (Sunday-Monday) for an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Expect more drama this week. On tap today: William Carey, defending champion of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, plays Mobile and Blue Mountain meets Loyola-New Orleans in the first round of the event at Columbus, Ga. The winner of the double-elimination tourney gets an automatic bid to the NAIA nationals. Third-seeded Carey (33-14) placed three players on the all-conference first team: outfielders R.J. Stinson and Chris Williams and pitcher A.J. Stinson, 9-0 this season. Alex Frilliman and Dylan Hale made the team for BMC (28-23), seeded seventh. On Thursday: The MACCC best-of-3 series begin. East Central Community College is at East Mississippi, Mississippi Gulf Coast is at Hinds, Jones College is at Northeast and Northwest is at Meridian. Regular season champion Pearl River, ranked No. 2 in the nation, clinched a berth in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament, which starts May 16 in Poplarville. The four playoff winners will advance to the six-team bracket, which will also include LSU-Eunice. On Friday: Delta State begins play in the Gulf South Conference Tournament as the No. 1 seed, meeting 8-seed Shorter in the first round at Oxford, Ala. The Statesmen (30-13) won their 22nd GSC regular season title last weekend and will be seeking a 16th tournament crown. The winner of the eight-team double-elimination tourney gets an automatic bid the NCAA D-II Tournament. Belhaven (26-14) plays Hardin-Simmons at Richardson, Texas, in the first round of double-elimination pod play in the D-III American Southwest Conference Tournament.
The all-time series is rather lopsided between Delta State and Mississippi College. The Statesmen lead 122-44-2. More telling about the rivalry is the recent history: 5-5 over the last 10 games, 3-3 in 2018. And MC won the two biggest games last year, eliminating DSU in both the Gulf South Conference Tournament and NCAA Division II South Regional. The schedule brings them together again in Clinton on Saturday (doubleheader) and Sunday to conclude the regular season. Buckle up. MC, ranked No. 4 in the South Region, is 19-5 in the GSC and first in the standings. DSU, No. 3 in the South Region, is 18-8 and third. Delta State’s pitching (see Dalton Minton, Hunter Riggins, Melvin Frazier, et al.) has been outstanding; the Statesmen lead the league (by a wide margin) in ERA with a 2.50. Can MC’s hurlers (Chris Crosby, Garrett Hollinghead, Ryan Lane, et al.) keep pace? … Blue Mountain College and William Carey University get their final tuneups this weekend for next week’s Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, with BMC playing a three-game set at Bethel (Tenn.) and Carey hosting Loyola of New Orleans. The Toppers are 25-21-1 and 14-9 in the SSAC, third behind NAIA powerhouses Faulkner and Middle Georgia State. The Crusaders are 20-24 and 12-11, seventh in the league. … A tough year for Millsaps College will likely end this weekend in Conway, Ark., where the Majors will play in one of the Southern Athletic Association’s two four-team tournaments that decide the championship series teams. The Majors (9-31) are the 8-seed overall and face No. 1 Hendrix in Friday’s opening round. Rhodes and Centre, the 4- and 5-seeds, are also in this bracket. Hendrix (28-12) swept the Majors three straight by a cumulative score of 28-5 during the season. Pitching (7.28 ERA) has been Millsaps’ biggest issue, though the defense (102 errors) has been shaky, as well. But, upsets do happen in postseason baseball. Teams go on improbable runs. Millsaps has done it before. … MUW’s second season ended on Tuesday with a pair of losses to Stillman in Columbus. The Owls are 16-11 and may get an invitation to the USCAA championships as they did in 2018. MUW, a non-scholarship program, went 3-1 vs. Rust, 2-0 vs. Tougaloo and 1-3 vs. Blue Mountain. … Belhaven University hired Kyle Palmer, formerly director of baseball operations at California Baptist University in Riverside, as the retired Hill Denson’s replacement for 2020. The Texas Lutheran graduate will be a first-time head coach. BU, completing its transition from NAIA to NCAA Division III, is expected to be eligible for the American Southwest Conference championship next season.
Jackson State will look to the past on Saturday when it hosts a homecoming celebration of Bob Braddy’s 1977 and 1978 SWAC championship teams. The Tigers are having a pretty good present, too, which may portend a bright future. The resurgent Tigers take a 10-game winning streak into the weekend series against Mississippi Valley State at Braddy Field. Led by a trio of hot hitters, JSU has climbed to 22-18 overall and 9-6 in the league. Valley (6-18, 5-9) limps in on a nine-game losing skid. Jaylon Williams, Equon Smith and Raul Hernandez are all hitting .367 or higher for the Tigers, Williams and Hernandez supplying power with four homers each and Smith lending speed with 32 steals. Kevin Perez has been the most consistent pitcher for JSU coach Omar Johnson with a 4-2 record and 2.64 ERA. The Delta Devils are led by Fredrick Spencer, a .321 hitter who pitched a shutout against Tougaloo on March 27 for the team’s last victory. … Also on the weekend docket: Blue Mountain College hosts William Carey in a compelling matchup of Southern States Athletic Conference rivals. BMC is 24-20-1 and third in the league at 13-8. Carey has battled to reach 17-23, 11-10 (sixth). Player to watch: BMC’s Hayden Tapper, from Nesbit, is the reigning SSAC player of the week after hitting .455 with two home runs and six RBIs, including a walk-off vs. Brewton-Parker. And two more: BMC’s Jose Torres tops the SSAC in steals with 24, while Carey’s Jonathan Turner is batting .351. … Mississippi College rode a nine-game winning spree into the NCBWA Division II Top 25 this week, checking in at No. 17. Alas, the Choctaws lost at Southern Arkansas (in 13 innings) on Tuesday. They’ll take a 25-13 overall record and 17-5 Gulf South Conference mark (tied for first place) into a series at West Alabama this weekend. After a three-hit game on Tuesday, Blaine Crim is raking at .355 with nine homers and 45 RBIs. Looming on the MC schedule: nationally ranked Delta State, next weekend at Frierson Field in Clinton. … Fueled by a five-hit, six-RBI game from Justin Milam, Belhaven whipped Millsaps 12-6 on Wednesday to complete a sweep of the three-game Maloney Trophy Series. Belhaven (10-27) will end its season and bid farewell to retiring coach Hill Denson this weekend in a three-game series (today-Friday) vs. McMurry at Smith-Wills Stadium. Millsaps, in the throes of an 8-29 campaign, finishes its regular season this weekend at Twenty Field in Jackson against Oglethorpe. The Majors will be the 8-seed in the Southern Athletic Association Tournament next week.
They met in Columbus on Tuesday, in a doubleheader at Columbus High’s field, and the box score listed the attendance as 0. Surely – hopefully? – there were a few fans watching, ’cause Blue Mountain College and Mississippi University for Women put on what had to be an entertaining show. The W – in its second season as a non-scholarship program – climbed out of a five-run hole to win the opener 6-5, and BMC overcame a late deficit to win Game 2 5-4. Heath Ford, from West Point, sparked the Owls in their win, going 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Latalo Newson, from Senatobia, homered, doubled and drove in two runs to fuel the NAIA Toppers in the second game. “Overall, playing two one-run, competitive games against a really good Blue Mountain team shows us that we’re heading in the right direction,” said MUW coach Matt Wolfenbarger, whose club is now 8-3, including two wins over Rust College, another NAIA school. BMC, in its 10th season, is also on the rise. Curt Fowler’s team (11-14-1) has posted back-to-back winning seasons. Last weekend, the Toppers beat Southern States Athletic Conference power Faulkner, No. 3 in NAIA, for the first time. They visit nationally ranked SSAC foe Middle Georgia State this weekend. Someone will be watching.
When the first NJCAA Division II poll comes out on Tuesday, look for Jones County Junior College to jump in there somewhere. The Bobcats, unranked in the preseason poll, are 10-0 and beat top-ranked LSU-Eunice over the weekend. O’Neil Burgos is batting .385 with 10 RBIs and 12 runs for the Bobcats, and Lane Thomas is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA. JCJC is the lone unbeaten team in the MACJC ranks; Holmes is 9-1 and Itawamba 8-1. … Mississippi State, now 10-1, moved to No. 8 from ninth in today’s Baseball America NCAA D-I poll, with Ole Miss (8-2) rising from 13th to 12th. State moved from 12th to seventh in the new NCBWA poll, while UM stayed at No. 10. … Going the other way is Southern Miss, which lost twice to Gonzaga over the weekend – a big lead in Game 3 was washed out — to fall to 4-5. … Mississippi Valley State scored three runs in the eighth and another in the 10th – on a passed ball — to win at Alabama State 12-11 on Saturday for its first win of the season. … Blue Mountain’s Eli Jackson, a sophomore from New Albany, threw a one-hit (nine-inning) shutout at Martin Methodist on Friday, fanning 11 in the 1-0 victory, BMC’s SSAC opener. The teams split a Saturday twinbill. … Mississippi College endured a rough weekend, losing three at West Florida to fall to 10-7, 3-3 Gulf South, and William Carey got swept away at NAIA No. 4 Faulkner to drop to 4-10, 0-3 SSAC. … In MLB, former Ole Miss star Chris Ellis’ bid to stick with Kansas City as a Rule 5 pick took another hit on Sunday when he yielded eight hits (two homers) and seven runs in two innings against Cleveland in Cactus League play. Ellis, also a former Mississippi Braves hurler, has a 20.25 ERA this spring. He was drafted out of St. Louis’ organization by Texas and then traded to the Royals. … UM alum Drew Pomeranz, now pitching for San Francisco, got knocked around (four runs in three innings) on Saturday by San Diego but did manage to retire Manny Machado on a pop-up in his first at-bat with the Padres. … Starkville native Julio Borbon, a onetime big leaguer who played college ball at Tennessee, announced his retirement over the weekend.
So, who won the weekend among the small colleges? Gotta go Delta State, which remained undefeated (5-0) with wins on Saturday over Southern Arkansas and Henderson State in an event at Arkadelphia, Ark.; David Herrington is raking at a .471 clip for the Statesmen, and Darek Sargent is hitting .412 with 10 RBIs. … Props also to Mississippi College, which moved to 6-1 by taking three of four from Lindenwood, including a sweep by the counts of 15-2 and 10-0 on Sunday. Garrett Hollinghead and Zack Ingram provided the pitching brilliance for the Choctaws, and Blaine Crim homered in both games. Crim is batting .346; Billy Cameron leads the MC attack at .417. … Belhaven opened its season by going 2-1 at Smith-Wills Stadium, including a Saturday upset of Rhodes, which is nationally ranked in NCAA Division III. Trip Benson had the game-tying and winning RBIs for the Blazers. … Millsaps, led by a four-hit effort from William Wagner, opened its season with a win over LeTourneau on Saturday but squandered an early lead on Sunday and fell 17-7 to Maryville. … Blue Mountain split four games with Central Baptist and is now 5-2-1. Trey Hathaway is 10-for-30 with six doubles and six RBIs for the Toppers. … One of the best individual performances of the weekend was delivered by William Carey’s J.C. Sanner, who threw a three-hit shutout at NAIA nationally ranked Campbellsville. The Crusaders are off to a 3-5 start. … Tougaloo lost three at NAIA power LSU-Shreveport to fall to 0-5.
Names to know from college baseball’s opening weekend, which was, for the most part, a rousing one for Magnolia State schools:
Darek Sargent, Delta State: 5-for-10, a homer, seven RBIs as the Statesmen went 3-0 against East Central University.
Hunter Riggins, DSU: 5 2/3 shutout innings, one hit, 10 strikeouts.
Billy Cameron, Mississippi College: 4-for-10, a homer, four RBIs as the Choctaws swept three at Harding.
Zack Ingram, MC: six innings, one run, nine strikeouts.
Kyle Bayles, William Carey: 5-for-15, five runs, four RBIs, five shutout innings as the Crusaders went 2-2 against Missouri Baptist and Ave Maria.
J.C. Sanner, WCU: six innings, no earned runs, 12 strikeouts.
Drake Wallace, Blue Mountain: 3-for-10, a homer, five runs, four RBIs as the Toppers went 3-0-1 against William Wood.
Mason Woolridge, BMC: two saves, three scoreless innings.
Give J.T. Wright some credit for good timing. The senior DH, who did not hit a home run during the regular season, hit a clutch one in the ninth inning today that boosted William Carey to a 3-2 win against Bethel in the first game of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament at Montgomery, Ala. Wright’s homer broke a 2-2 tie and Dylan Spiers got a game-ending double play in the bottom of the ninth for the fourth-seeded Crusaders (33-21). Starter Hunter Speer worked eight strong innings and was the winning pitcher. Christian Smith, named first-team All-SSAC on Tuesday after hitting .337 with 49 steals, went 2-for-3 and scored a run for Carey, which already has earned an invitation to the NAIA national tournament. The Crusaders, who reached the NAIA World Series last year, will host an Opening Round tournament starting May 14. In today’s second game at Montgomery, Blue Mountain (28-21), the sixth seed, faced 3-seed Middle Georgia State. No. 1-ranked Faulkner is the tourney’s top seed. … BMC’s Caleb Leach also was named first-team All-SSAC. He batted .382 this season.
Blue Mountain and William Carey are creating a nice little rivalry in NAIA land. They’ll play the rubber game of a three-game Southern States Athletic Conference series today at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg as they jockey for seeding positions in the upcoming league tournament. Carey won Game 1 8-2 on Friday behind the pitching of Hunter Speer (8-2), who threw a seven-inning three-hitter, and three RBIs from RBI leader David Pementel, who has 43. BMC bounced back with a 5-1 win in Game 2 as Josh Letson (6-4), Mason Woolridge and David Torres combined on a six-hitter over nine. Five different Toppers drove in a run. Both teams are trying to get their house in order as the regular season wanes. Carey (now 29-18, 13-7 SSAC) entered the series having dropped seven of 10 games in April; its ranking in the NAIA poll sank to No. 19 this week. BMC (now 26-18, 9-11) came in with a three-game win streak but had dropped five in a row prior to that. The SSAC Tournament is just around the corner, slated for May 2-5 at Montgomery, Ala., and it’s a bear. Four of the nine teams in the league were nationally ranked this week, including No. 1 Faulkner. Bobby Halford’s Crusaders marched all the way to the NAIA World Series in 2017 and had high hopes again entering 2018. They began the year ranked sixth by Collegiate Baseball. BMC, still a young program under Curt Fowler, made the league tournament for the first time last season.