Next year is already under way at Mississippi State, which has begun practice for the 2024 season, aiming to put the disappointments of 2023 in the rearview mirror. The first intrasquad game of fall ball for Chris Lemonis’ Bulldogs was scheduled for today. With a refurbished roster, including a highly rated 2024 recruiting class, following last season’s 27-26 finish, the 2021 national champions will play exhibition games at Louisiana Tech on Oct. 14 and against UAB at Dudy Noble Field on Oct. 21. The Fall World Series is set for Oct. 5-8 and a final scrimmage for Oct. 20. Southern Miss, under new coach Christian Ostrander, begins formal practice on Sept. 15. The Golden Eagles, 46-20 and an NCAA Super Regional participant in 2023, have some key players to replace from last year’s club. USM has not scheduled any outside exhibition games. Ole Miss has begun individual workouts and will play its first intrasquad game on Sept. 21. The 2022 national champs tumbled to 25-29 last season and also lost several standouts but reportedly have a strong class of recruits coming aboard. Mike Bianco’s team will play home exhibitions against Jacksonville State on Oct. 14 and Memphis on Oct. 29. (Memphis’ new coach is former Pearl River Community College star Matt Riser, a longtime coach at Southeastern Louisiana.) The Rebels’ annual Pizza Bowl intrasquad will be played on Oct. 31. P.S. Mississippi Valley State enters the fall with a new coach, CJ Bilbrey, and Jackson State has hired a new pitching coach: Justin Thomas, a former head man at NCAA Division III Bethany College. … Delta State will host an Alumni Weekend Sept. 22-23, with a scrimmage by the 2024 team set for Sept. 22 at Ferriss Field and an alumni game the next day. … D-III Belhaven University also has a new coach, Andrew Gipson, a former Blazers standout.
Trent Giambrone, the former Delta State standout, is having a standout season as the shortstop and leadoff batter for the York Revolution of the independent Atlantic League. Giambrone, 29, is batting .280 with 13 homers and 48 RBIs in what is his eighth professional season. He put up a 2-for-4 on Saturday, driving in a pair of runs for the Revolution in a 10-7 win against Lexington. Giambrone, listed at 5 feet 8, 175 pounds, defied the odds as a 25th-round draft pick by reaching the big leagues with the Chicago Cubs in 2021. He is one of nine DSU alums to play in the majors. He got a pinch single in his first at-bat and was 2-for-13 overall as a September call-up. He went back to the minors in 2022 and became a free agent at season’s end, signing with York this spring. Giambrone batted .351 over two years at DSU but didn’t replicate that success in the minors (.231 career). However, he appears to have found a happy place in the Atlantic League, a good quality loop where several Mississippians are currently playing. P.S. Ole Miss product Thomas Dillard, playing for Lexington on Saturday, went 3-for-4 with two doubles and his league-best 22nd home run (see previous post). … Tim Elko, another ex-Rebels star, put up a 3-for-4 with a triple and four RBIs for High-Class A Winston-Salem in the White Sox’s organization. In 10 games at this level, Elko — a ’22 draftee — is batting .308 with a homer and eight RBIs. Half of his 12 hits are extra-base knocks. … Former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, Detroit’s No. 1 prospect (per mlb.com), went 1-for-1 with a walk in Saturday’s All-Star Futures Game in Seattle. Keith is batting .335 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A this season. … The Tigers’ previous no-hitter before Saturday’s combo job was thrown by Madison Central High product Spencer Turnbull on May 18, 2021, at Seattle. Turnbull, who missed all of the 2022 season following Tommy John surgery, is back on the injured list now (neck injury) but is throwing off a mound. He is 1-4 with a 7.26 ERA in seven starts this year.
There is a strong Mississippi flavor on the roster of the Kansas City Monarchs, who play in the independent American Association. Former Mississippi State standout Gavin Collins is the team’s regular catcher and is batting .362, ranking among the league leaders heading into a game today. Collins, a six-year minor leaguer, was in Tampa Bay’s big league camp this spring. Outfielder Jacob Robson, another ex-Bulldogs star and onetime big leaguer, has four homers and nine RBIs. He played for Canada in the World Baseball Classic. Both Collins and Robson went deep in a Tuesday loss to Lincoln. On the bump, the Monarchs have Delta State product Dalton Moats, a lefty who is 2-2 with a 6.63 ERA, and former Mississippi Braves right-hander Patrick Weigel, who has some MLB time. Longtime major league star Frank White, a Greenville native who won a World Series with the Royals, is the first-base coach for the Monarchs. The team, which has a 14-9 record entering play today, used to be known as the T-Bones but adopted the old Negro Leagues moniker a couple of years ago. They play at Legends Field, not far from the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
Since the calendar flipped to May, Grae Kessinger’s bat has taken off. Now playing for Houston’s Triple-A Sugar Land Space Cowboys, ex-Ole Miss star Kessinger has hit .500 (15-for-30) in seven games this month with two homers, 11 RBIs and a .568 on-base percentage. He went 1-for-3 with two walks on Tuesday, his first game after a five-hit, two-homer effort in a wild contest on Sunday. It didn’t hurt that the first six games of the month were played at Albuquerque, where the ball flies, but you still gotta put bat on ball. He has struck out just five times this month. Kessinger is hitting .311 for the year with four homers and 21 RBIs in 32 games. An All-America shortstop at UM — and the grandson of MLB star Don Kessinger — Grae was drafted in the second round by the Astros in 2019. This is his first season in Triple-A after batting .211 with 16 homers in Double-A in ’22. He has played short, second and third base this season, showing some versatility that can only enhance his value in Houston, where the starting lineup is tough to crack. P.S. After three straight tight wins in the losers bracket of the Gulf South Conference Tournament, Delta State ran smack into a wall on Tuesday, falling to top-seeded West Florida 17-1 at Oxford, Ala. DSU finishes 27-26 in coach Rodney Batts’ fourth season. … In MLB, former Mississippi State standout Kendall Graveman notched his first save with a clean ninth inning for the Chicago White Sox and fellow ex-Bulldogs ace Chris Stratton earned his first win with 1 1/3 scoreless innings for St. Louis against the Cubs.
They have a saying at Delta State, where they’ve won a truckload of championships: “Tradition never slumps.” Tradition also never hangs its head. Down 8-0 in the second inning of an elimination game in the Gulf South Conference Tournament, the Statesmen rallied to win 10-9 in 11 innings on Monday. They beat Valdosta State, previously unbeaten in the tourney, on a walk-off balk. To win the GSC title — and an NCAA Division II Tournament berth — DSU (27-25) will have to win twice today in Oxford, Ala., first against top-seeded West Florida (35-15) and then in a rematch with Valdosta (33-17). But don’t count the Statesmen out. It has been a wonky season in Okra-land. DSU, the preseason pick to win the GSC regular season title, needed to win its last two games on the road against archrival Mississippi College just to get into the eight-team tournament field. Mission accomplished. The Statesmen lost their opener in the tournament 5-3 to West Florida, pinning their backs to the wall in the double-elimination event. They responded with wins over West Georgia and Shorter before the remarkable rally against Valdosta. Hayden Cooper hit a two-run homer as part of the comeback, and Brendan McCauley belted a huge game-tying shot in the eighth. Three relievers shut out the Blazers over the final five innings. In the 11th, Kirkland Trahan got on with a one-out walk, went to third on a Cooper single and scored the game-winner on the untimely balk. Two more for the championship. Don’t count ’em out. P.S. Rust College begins play on Wednesday in the Black College World Series at Montgomery, Ala. The Bearcats, regular season champs in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference, are the No. 1 seed in the NAIA bracket. … Former Ole Miss star James McArthur has been traded from Philadelphia to Kansas City, which optioned the 6-foot-7 right-hander to Triple-A Omaha. He had been designated for assignment by the Phillies last week.
If you’re looking for a defining moment in Southern Miss’ resurgent season, zoom in on April 22, when the Golden Eagles were smacked around 20-7 at Coastal Carolina, their second straight blowout loss there. How would USM respond? By bouncing back for a 15-7 win on April 23 that ignited a win streak that reached 10 games on Sunday. “The biggest turnaround is the attitude and the purpose we have when we go to the plate …,” USM coach Scott Berry told Hattiesburg’s WDAM. “Our guys have been able to cool the storm down a little bit.” Indeed. After beating South Alabama 6-1 on Sunday at Taylor Park, USM is 32-15 and 17-7 in the Sun Belt Conference, tied with Coastal for the league lead. The win streak is the longest in the nation. The national polls will surely take notice again. All nine batters in the USM lineup got at least one hit on Sunday, and three pitchers combined on a five-hitter, with Nikko Mazza working the last five and striking out nine. Dustin Dickerson leads the Eagles’ offense with a .322 average. Slade Wilks has provided big power with 18 homers and 52 RBIs, and Matthew Etzel has swiped 16 bases while batting .300. The pitching hasn’t been as formidable as in 2022; the staff ERA is 4.98. But there are reliable arms. Tanner Hall, a preseason All-America pick, has pitched like the ace he is with a 9-3 record and 2.71 ERA. Justin Storm has eight saves, and Mazza is 5-1 with two saves. Will Armistead has pitched to a 2.33 ERA in 11 appearances. How far will this surge carry the Eagles? Two more conference series await, then the SBC Tournament at Montgomery, Ala., then an NCAA Tournament berth. Stay tuned. P.S. Delta State plays on today in the GSC Tournament, taking on Valdosta State in Oxford, Ala. After an opening loss, the eighth-seeded Statesmen have won two straight in the double-elimination event. … William Carey apparently ran out of pitching in Sunday night’s GCAC Tournament title game, surrendering 17 hits and 12 walks in a 22-10 loss to Mobile in Hattiesburg. Carey (44-9) is expected to receive an NAIA Tournament bid on Thursday. … Belhaven bowed out of the CCS Tournament in LaGrange, Ga., with a pair of losses on Saturday.
Behind the dominant pitching of Brett Sanchez, Belhaven University beat Covenant 2-1 Thursday in the first round of the Collegiate Conference of the South Tournament at LaGrange, Ga. Sanchez (6-2), an NCAA Division III All-American, allowed four hits with eight strikeouts over nine innings. The Blazers, seeded second, play a winners bracket game today. … Top-seeded William Carey, upset by Blue Mountain Christian on Wednesday, bounced back with a 14-1 rout of Middle Georgia on Thursday to stay alive in the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament in Hattiesburg. Jake Lycette homered and drove in four runs for the Crusaders, Kris Jones notched three RBIs and Andrew Shirah (8-1) threw all seven innings and punched out 11. Carey gets a rematch with Blue Mountain in an elimination game today. BMC was thumped 14-2 Thursday in a winners bracket game against Loyola of New Orleans. … Millsaps was run-ruled 11-1 by Birmingham-Southern, the No. 9 team in NCAA D-III, in the Southern Athletic Association Tournament at Birmingham. The Majors play an elimination game today against Centre. … In the MACCC playoffs, the home team won in each of the openers in the best-of-3 series: Meridian Community College beat East 15-1; Pearl River beat Southwest 23-1; Itawamba beat Hinds 8-4; and Northeast beat Jones 14-8. The four series winners go to the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament at Eunice, La. East Central, the MACCC champion, and LSU-Eunice are already in the field. … Delta State opens play today in the Gulf South Conference Tournament against West Florida, the No. 1 seed, in Oxford, Ala.
The postseason, always good for some chills and thrills, rolls on this week for the state’s small colleges. Here are some names to know:
Stinson, either R.J. or A.J., William Carey University: The Stinsons, not related, have led the Crusaders to a 40-7 record, a league title and the host role for the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, which starts today in Hattiesburg. Carey opens tonight against Blue Mountain Christian at Wheeler Field. R.J. Stinson is hitting .421 with 10 homers and 64 RBIs. A.J. Stinson, a Hattiesburg High product, is 5-2 with a 3.83 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 56 1/3 innings.
Austin Beech, Blue Mountain: The Pascagoula native is batting .323 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs for the Toppers, 25-23 and seeded eighth in the SSAC tourney.
Brett Sanchez, Belhaven: The NCAA Division III All-America right-hander is 5-2 with a 1.91 ERA, one save and four complete games for the Blazers, the 2-seed in the Collegiate Conference of the South Tournament. BU (20-16) opens with Covenant on Thursday at LaGrange, Ga.
Sam Pitre, Millsaps: Pitre is hitting .360 with three homers, 29 RBIs and 39 runs for the Majors (21-21), who meet top-seeded Birmingham-Southern on Thursday in the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament at Birmingham.
Kirkland Trahan, Delta State: The Madison Central High alum is batting .320 with 11 homers and 41 RBIs for the Statesmen (24-24), who made the Gulf South Conference Tournament field by winning two one-run games at Mississippi College on Sunday. The eighth-seeded Statesmen (24-24) tackle No. 1 seed West Florida in Friday’s first round at Oxford, Ala.
Trennis Grant, Dillard: The Canton native coached Dillard, in its first year with a team, to the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Tournament title and an NAIA Tournament berth. The Bleu Devils beat Rust College twice on Sunday at Smith-Wills Stadium to claim the GCAC crown.
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.
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.