10 Jun

wrapping it up

The college season in the Magnolia State was tinged with disappointment. To paraphrase the Billy Beane character from “Moneyball,” If you don’t win the last game of the season, the rest is irrelevant. Winning the last game is what every team is gunning for. But while no school from Mississippi won a national championship, there was plenty of stuff to be proud of. William Carey made yet another trip to the NAIA World Series. The Crusaders won the SSAC Tournament, then hosted and won an NAIA regional before ending their run at 37-16. R.J. Stinson was a Ferriss Trophy finalist and John Snyder a second-team All-America. Southern Miss, under first-year coach Christian Ostrander, won the Sun Belt Tournament and got an NCAA Tournament bid, finishing 43-20, the program’s eighth straight 40-win season. Mississippi State rallied from a sluggish start to earn an NCAA bid and finish 40-23. The Bulldogs’ Dakota Jordan won the Ferriss Trophy, and Connor Hujsak made the SEC All-Tournament team after delivering two game-winning knocks. Delta State reached the GSC Tournament championship round and earned an NCAA Division II regional spot. Led by All-GSC third baseman Dylan Coleman, the Statesmen finished 33-24. Jackson State reached the title game of the SWAC Tournament and was three outs from winning it. The Tigers finished 36-20 and were ranked No. 2 in Black College Nines’ final HBCU Large School poll. Belhaven — led by CCS pitcher of the year Brett Sanchez and player of the year Owen Abney — reached the semifnals of the CCS Tournament and ended the season with a 25-17 mark. The Blazers also swept all three games from Maloney Trophy rival Millsaps. Blue Mountain Christian reached the SSAC Tournament final — losing to Carey — and earned the school’s first NAIA Tournament bid. The Toppers, who finished 31-23, beat Carey in a three-game series for the first time, and Arderrius Townsend was a first-team All-America choice. MUW went 22-15, setting a school mark for regular season wins. Southeastern Baptist of Laurel posted a 17-15 record, including a win over Division I Alcorn State. It was an especially tough year for Ole Miss, which wobbled in at 27-29, 11-19 in the SEC. The Rebels’ season ended in gut-wrenching fashion: a walk-off loss to Mississippi State in the SEC tourney. Mississippi College‘s season also ended with a thud: a three-game sweep at the hands of rival Delta State. The Choctaws wound up 20-25, 10-20 in the GSC. Millsaps endured a 14-27 campaign that ended with two one-run losses to Centre (Ky.) in the SAA postseason. Both Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State struggled again, the Braves going 6-43 (5-25 SWAC) and the Delta Devils 12-34 (4-26). NAIA member Rust finished 16-33 overall (10-11 GCAC) but did win a couple games in the GCAC Tournament. Tougaloo went 13-35, 8-13 GCAC. P.S. Seven players from Mississippi jucos earned All-America honors in NJCAA Division II. Pearl River Community College first baseman Hollis Porter — the MACCC player of the year — was a first-team pick, along with Meridian catcher Blaise Priester. PRCC outfielder Bryce Fowler, Hinds outfielder Thomas Marsala and Jones infielder Brady Thomas made the second team, and East Central pitcher Luke Cooley — the conference pitcher of the year — and outfielder Mo Little were on the third team. ECCC got an at-large bid to the juco World Series and reached the semifinals, finishing 55-9.

30 May

there’s a drive …

Power matters in college baseball. Power wins. Twelve of the top 20 teams in total home runs are in the NCAA Tournament, seven of them as No. 1 seeds, three more as 2-seeds. The national leader in homers — with 147 — is SEC champion and No. 1 overall seed Tennessee, which is hosting the Knoxville Regional where Southern Miss was shipped. Virginia, which is hosting the Charlottesville Regional where Mississippi State was assigned, ranks ninth in homers with 113. Both teams feature multiple players who can rake. Neither USM (41-18) nor State (38-21), both 2-seeds, would be regarded as teams that rely heavily on power. USM has hit just 63 homers this season, ranking 138th overall. State’s got 73, barely cracking the top 100 at No. 98. Tennessee has five players with double-figure homer totals, led by Christian Moore with 28 and Billy Amick with 19. USM’s leader is Slade Wilks with 14. Indiana, USM’s first-round opponent in the regional, blasted 78 homers this season, and Northern Kentucky, the 4-seed in Knoxville, hit 86. On the flip side, USM’s pitching, which has posted a 5.00 ERA (54th nationally), has done a fair job of limiting long-ball damage, allowing 60 homers. MSU pitchers, in a remarkable turnaround from 2023, have put up a 4.15 ERA this season, 12th-best in the country. They’ve yielded 63 homers. The Bulldogs’ first-round opponent is St. John’s, which has only 41 homers. The 4-seed in Charlottesville is Penn, which has hit 55. Virginia’s top slugger is Harrison Didawick, who has 23 bombs, leading three others in double digits. Dakota Jordan is sitting on 17 for the Bulldogs, though his power tailed off down the stretch. Hunter Hines has hit 15 bombs. There is more to the game than hitting home runs, of course, but it certainly helps to have that weapon in your lineup. Nothing changes a game like a three-run bomb.

24 May

comin’ on strong

In the Baltimore Orioles’ loaded minor league system, it ain’t easy to stand out, especially for a player not ranked among their top prospects. But there at High-Class A Aberdeen goes Matthew Etzel, putting up eye-catching numbers. The Southern Miss product, a 10th-round pick by the Orioles in 2023, is hitting .293 with four homers, 23 RBIs, 20 steals, six doubles, two triples, 26 runs and a .392 on-base percentage. The lefty-hitting outfielder — 6 feet 2, 211 pounds — ranks in the top 11 in five offensive categories in the South Atlantic League. You won’t find Etzel’s name on MLB Pipeline’s chart of the Top 30 Baltimore prospects, four of whom rank in the top 22 on the overall minor league prospect chart. But his star is rising. He typically bats cleanup and plays center field for the IronBirds. “He is super exciting, definitely under the radar,” Aberdeen hitting coach Zach Cole recently told Orioles Beat. “He’s a guy that could climb the system pretty quick.” Etzel batted .317 with seven homers, 51 RBIs and 23 steals for USM’s Sun Belt Conference championship team in 2023, his only year in Hattiesburg after transferring from a Texas juco. P.S. Etzel’s alma mater rallied to win, 6-5 over Troy, in the SBC Tournament on Thursday and gets today off in Montgomery, Ala. … Jackson State won big again — 11-6 over Bethune-Cookman — in the SWAC Tournament in Atlanta and plays again today against the BCU-Texas Southern winner. … Mississippi State, afer losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC tourney, tackles top-seeded Tennessee in an elimination game today at Hoover, Ala. … Congrats to MHSAA state champions Brandon (Class 7A) and East Webster (3A), both of which completed sweeps on Thursday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

10 May

noteworthy

Belhaven University is sitting pretty in the CCS Tournament. The NCAA Division III Blazers won their opener Thursday and have ace Brett Sanchez primed to go today against LaGrange (Ga.) in a winners bracket game at Maryville, Ky. With Colton Sylvester (7-1) tossing a six-hitter and Eli Britt and Hunter Harrell combining for six RBIs, second-seeded Belhaven whipped Huntingdon (Ala.) 8-1 Thursday. … William Carey University is the No. 2 seed behind Mid-America Christian (Okla.) in the four-team NAIA Opening Round tournament the Crusaders are hosting next week at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. Blue Mountain Christian is the fifth seed in the five-team Shreveport Bracket hosted by LSU-Shreveport. The top-seeded Pilots feature several Mississippi juco players, including Hinds Community College alum Vantrel Reed, their top hitter at .393 with eight homers and 58 RBIs. … Jackson State’s Myles White was named the SWAC co-hitter of the week after going 9-for-15 with eight RBIs and four runs in the Tigers’ sweep of Mississippi Valley State last weekend. White, who went 0-for-4 in a 5-0 loss at nationally ranked Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday, is batting .346 with 31 RBIs and 36 runs for the 30-17 Tigers. … MUW’s season ended Tuesday with an upset loss to Westminster (Mo.) in in the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament at Fulton, Mo. The Owls finished 22-15. … The New York Yankees have claimed ex-Mississippi State pitcher Colby White on waivers from Tampa Bay. White had a 17.61 ERA in nine appearances at Triple-A Durham; the right-hander, whose career ERA is 2.83, missed all of 2022 and a chunk of 2023 after arm surgery. … MSU product J.P. France, recently demoted to Triple-A by Houston, reportedly has a shoulder injury that may sideline him for a lengthy period. An 11-game winner in 2023, he was 0-3 with a 7.46 this season when the Astros sent him down. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner, sent to the minors after a 2-for-25 start with Minnesota, hit his fifth homer for Triple-A St. Paul on Thursday. The lefty slugger is batting .353 with four homers in May. … Ex-Ole Miss standout Jacob Gonzalez, the first player drafted — 15th overall — out of the state in 2023, went 2-for-4 Thursday to boost his average to .306 for High-Class A Winston-Salem in the Chicago White Sox’s chain. Gonzalez, a shortstop, has three homers, 12 RBIs and five steals.

05 May

blast from past

Joining a list that includes Mark McGwire can be pretty impressive, at least when it comes to hitting dingers. Mississippi State alum Brent Rooker blasted two home runs in one inning on Saturday, becoming the first Oakland player to do so since McGwire in 1996. Rooker, born in 1994, told mlb.com he grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan in Germantown, Tenn., and followed McGwire during the slugger’s time with the Redbirds. “Being able to do anything the same as him is a huge accomplishment, and something that’s really cool for me,” Rooker said. Rooker’s bombs came in a 10-run third inning that propelled the surprising A’s to a 20-4 win over visiting Miami. Oakland is 17-17 with six straight victories. Rooker, a 2023 All-Star who also homered on Friday, is batting .240 with eight homers and 20 RBIs in 22 games, having spent 10 days on the injured list last month. As a BTW: Ex-Ole Miss standout Nick Fortes hit his first homer of the year for the lowly Marlins, 9-26. Also overshadowed by Rooker’s exploits was a four-hit game by another former Bulldogs masher, Nathaniel Lowe, who led Texas to a 15-4 rout of Kansas City. Lowe started the season on the IL and is batting .333 with a homer and four RBIs in 13 games since his return. He picked up two of those RBIs on Saturday. “I’m three weeks late to the party,” he told mlb.com, “so I have to get going.” The Rangers, 18-16 and second in the American League West to Seattle, visit division rival Oakland for a four-game series beginning Monday. P.S. William Carey University beat Blue Mountain Christian for the SSAC Tournament championship, the third tourney title in the last four years for coach Bobby Halford, who has a shelf full of trophies over his 39-year career. The Crusaders (34-14 with eight straight wins) will host an NAIA Opening Round tourney next week. BMC also gets an NAIA bid. … Delta State won an elimination game in the GSC Tournament and will play again today against Lee in Oxford, Ala. … Hinds Community College swept host Northwest Mississippi CC in their MACCC playoff series and advances to next week’s NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament in Poplarville. No. 1-ranked East Central, No. 13 Jones and Meridian all won their best-of-3 series openers on Saturday and will play again today.

01 May

big wednesday

The Mississippi Braves play an 11 a.m. matinee today at Trustmark Park in Pearl, the pro game against Pensacola serving as an appetizer of sorts for tonight’s Ole Miss-Mississippi State clash at the same venue. The televised non-conference game (6:30 p.m./ESPN2) between the Rebels (23-20, 27th in ncca.com’s RPI) and Bulldogs (29-15, 28th in RPI) could have implications for their NCAA Tournament chances. UM took two of three from State in their SEC series last month. … Meanwhile, in Jackson, Tenn., William Carey University and Blue Mountain Christian will begin play today in the SSAC Championship. Carey (30-14) is the No. 2 seed and will open Pool B play against Thomas U. BMC (29-19) is the 8-seed and draws top-seeded Faulkner to start Pool A play. The winners of the two four-team pools will meet for the championship, with both getting bids to the NAIA Tournament. … The Belhaven University-MUW game originally scheduled for tonight in Clinton has been cancelled. The Blazers (23-15) have finished their regular season and will compete in the CCS postseason next week. P.S. The pairings are set for the MACCC’s best-of-3 play-in series, which begin Friday: East Central, ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II, hosts Northeast; No. 12 Northwest hosts Hinds; No. 13 Jones hosts East Mississippi; and Meridian hosts Copiah-Lincoln. The series winners advance to the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament next week in Poplarville, home of regular season champion Pearl River, ranked No. 2 nationally. … Eli Huebner of Meridian was named the MACCC hitter of the week after batting .500 with three homers, including two grand slams in one inning, in four games, while PRCC’s Caleb Dyess earned pitcher of the week honors following his six-hitter in the championship-clinching 7-1 win against Northwest on Saturday.

29 Apr

big knocks

Hunter Hines’ two-run homer in the ninth inning on Sunday lifted Mississippi State to an 8-7 victory and a huge series win at Vanderbilt. The ex-Madison Central High star, who had three big knocks — including two homers — in Saturday’s win, is batting .284 with 12 bombs and 42 RBIs. With five wins in their last six SEC games, the Bulldogs have climbed to 12-9 in the league, 29-15 overall.
Gavin Caston’s two-run double in the third inning Sunday gave Alcorn State a lead and propelled the Braves to 6-1 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff at McGowan Stadium in Lorman. On Saturday, Dillon Brown smacked a go-ahead two-run knock in the fifth inning as the Braves rallied to win 5-4. Alcorn had not won a home game before Saturday and had won only two games all season. The Braves are now 4-34, 3-18 in the SWAC.
Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central product, delivered the winning run for Atlanta on Sunday with a 10th-inning single that beat Cleveland 4-3 at Truist Park. The Braves rallied from a late 3-1 deficit to improve to 19-7, best record in MLB. Riley needed a big hit: He was in a 2-for-22 slide entering Sunday and had just three RBIs in his previous 14 games. He’s at .234 with two homers and 14 RBIs for the year.

28 Apr

finality

Millsaps College’s season ended Saturday in soul-crushing fashion: a 4-3 loss on a walk-off home run that capped a four-run ninth inning for Centre (Ky.), the top seed in the SAA postseason. With the defeat in Game 2 of the best-of-3 playoff series, the the NCAA Division III Majors end the season at 14-27. … Rust’s run in the GCAC Tournament at Smith-Wills Stadium ended with a 21-11 loss to regular season champion Wiley (Texas). The NAIA Bearcats, who went 2-2 in the tournament, finished 16-33. Tougaloo’s season ended in the Jackson tourney on Friday, also with a loss to Wiley; the Bulldogs went 13-35. … Mississippi College’s season ended in a rough manner: The Choctaws were swept in a three-game series at rival Delta State, finishing the year at 20-25, 10-20 in the Division II Gulf South Conference. DSU, which is on to the GSC Tournament next weekend, found enough pitching to win 8-6, 5-3 and 9-2. … Ole Miss did not find enough pitching to win Saturday’s rubber game against nationally ranked Alabama, falling 10-3 in Oxford. The ailing Rebels (23-20, 7-14 SEC) surrendered 30 runs in the three games. Ole Miss plays Mississippi State in the so-called Governor’s Cup game at Trustmark Park in Pearl next Wednesday. … Pearl River Community College beat Northwest CC 7-1 in Poplarville to clinch the MACCC regular season title. The Wildcats, ranked No. 4 in NJCAA Division II, are 46-8, 25-3 in conference, and will host the Region 23 Tournament May 13-17. They’ll be joined by LSU-Eunice and the winners of the MACCC’s four play-in series. … Ex-Southern Miss star Nick Sandlin, a Georgia native, pitched a 1-2-3 11th inning to notch his first career save (in 155 appearances) as Cleveland took down Atlanta 4-2 at Truist Park. Sandlin has a 2.84 ERA and a 0.71 WHIP in 14 games for the first-place Guardians.

22 Apr

down the stretch

Ferriss Trophy voters have a tough decision to make in the coming weeks, which says a lot about the depth of talent, especially among hitters, in the state’s four-year colleges. The Ferriss Trophy, named for former big league pitcher and Delta State coach Boo Ferriss, is given annually to the state‚Äôs best college player by the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. The winner will be named in a ceremony four weeks from today. With a chunk of season still to be played, Mississippi State’s Dakota Jordan has some big numbers (.378, 15 homers, 51 RBIs, 42 runs) and is the top-rated 2024 MLB draft prospect among the state’s college crop. Southern Miss’ Slade Wilks, a 2023 Ferriss finalist, is having another strong year (.292, nine homers, 37 RBIs, 31 runs) for the Golden Eagles, as is Dalton McIntyre (.404), though he recently suffered an injury. At Ole Miss, Ethan Lege (.348, 12 homers, 37 RBIs, 38 runs) has been a consistent offensive force, and Jackson State has gotten great production from Joseph Eichelberger (.379). Not to be overlooked are small college players R.J. Stinson (William Carey), Arderrius “Peeko” Townsend (Blue Mountain Christian), Dylan Coleman (Delta State), J.T. Vance (Mississippi College) and Malik Berrien (Rust). Stinson is batting .427, while Townsend ranks among the NAIA leaders with 22 bombs. There hasn’t been a truly dominant pitcher in the state this season, but MSU’s Khal Stephen, USM’s Billy Oldham, Carey’s John Snyder and Belhaven University’s Colton Sylvester and Brett Sanchez, among others, have had shining moments.

21 Apr

numbers of note

1,000 — Career wins for Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco, who has notched 900 of those W’s with the Rebels. The milestone came in Game 2 of a Saturday doubleheader at Georgia, which the Rebels won 3-2 to salvage a game in the SEC series. Ethan Lege homered and Brayden Jones delivered some clutch relief work for UM (21-8, 6-12).
20 — Wins for Belhaven University in coach Andrew Gipson’s first season. The Blazers split a CCS twinbill at Huntingdon (Ala.) on Saturday, getting win No. 20 in Game 1 behind the pitching of Colton Sylvester, who is 6-1 with a 3.13 ERA in 14 games. Staff ace Brett Sanchez (5-2, 2.86) won the series opener on Friday for BU (20-14, 9-5).
1 — All-time series wins for Blue Mountain Christian against SSAC rival William Carey University. After pounding the 25th-ranked Crusaders 19-5 in Friday’s series opener in Hattiesburg, the Toppers rallied to win Game 1 of a Saturday doubleheader 11-9. Ammon Murphy threw 5 1/3 innings of stellar relief for BMC (27-18, 11-16). Carey (27-14, 17-10) won the series finale 10-7 and leads the all-time series 33-8.
13 — Losses in the last 14 games for Millsaps College, which was swept in three games this weekend at Birmingham-Southern in its last SAA series of the season. Millsaps (14-24, 4-17) has one regular season game left — at home Tuesday vs. LeTourneau — before meeting top-seeded Centre next weekend in the opening round of the SAA playoffs. Centre swept the Majors in a three-game set last weekend at Twenty Field.
32 — Runs allowed by Delta State pitching in a three-game sweep at the hands of conference foe Lee University (Tenn.). The Statesmen are 25-19, 16-11 Gulf South, despite a negative run differential (286 scored, 292 allowed). The team’s staff ERA is 5.83, which actually ranks middle-of-the-pack in the heavy-hitting GSC.