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.

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.

07 May

fighting okra

Delta State is two wins away from another Gulf South Conference Tournament championship. Playing a third straight elimination game on Monday at Oxford, Ala., the Statesmen pounded Valdosta State 10-3 to reach the title round. They’ll have to beat West Florida twice today to claim their 16th GSC tourney title and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. The Argonauts beat DSU 4-3 in their tournament opener last week. In Monday’s victory, Dylan Coleman, All-GSC third baseman, hit a grand slam in an eight-run fourth inning that put DSU in charge. Coleman is batting .379 with 15 bombs, 54 RBIs and 42 runs, leading the team in each category. Wes Warnock also homered for the Statesmen, now 31-21, and Cade Whitley worked 5 2/3 strong innings in relief to get the W. DSU’s last tournament title was in 2019, Mike Kinnison’s last year as coach. Current coach Rodney Batts was a star on the 1996 team that won the title. P.S. No. 1-ranked East Central Community College and No. 13 Jones College have advanced to the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament that starts May 13 at Poplarville. They’ll be joined by No. 2 Pearl River, Hinds, Meridian and third-ranked LSU-Eunice in the double-elimination event.

18 Apr

hard times befallen

Expectations were not great for the Chicago White Sox heading into this season. Marcus Thames, the Louisville native and ex-East Central Community College star hired as the club’s new hitting coach in the off-season, surely knew this. But just as surely, he did not expect the times to be this hard. The White Sox can’t hit. They split a doubleheader against visiting Kansas City on Wednesday despite scoring just four runs on 11 hits and going 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position. The team ranks last in MLB in runs, home runs and OPS and 29th in batting. They are 3-15. Injuries to some key players are partly to blame for the ice-cold start, but not solely. “We have guys who are capable of being better,” Thames said in a recent mlb.com story. The ChiSox won just 61 games in a tumultuous 2023 season. Manager Pedro Grifol’s staff changes included the hiring of Thames as the team’s third hitting coach in three years. The former big league slugger has earned a strong reputation as a coach after stops in New York (Yankees), Miami and Los Angeles (Angels). But his skills are being tested with a club projected by USA Today to win just 69 games. “This game is tough,” he told mlb.com, “but at the same time we have to battle and compete.” P.S. Thames’ alma mater, No. 4-ranked East Central CC, took a pair from No. 2 Pearl River CC, 3-1 and 7-2, in the big juco showdown in Poplarville. PRCC’s 29-game win streak was halted. The Wildcats are 42-7, 22-2 in the MACCC. ECCC, which was No. 1 in NJCAA Division II at one point, is 42-4, 18-4. The Warriors rode the bat of Mo Little and the arms of Marbin Lezcano and Luke Cooley to the impressive sweep.

17 Apr

clash of titans

For one day at least — make that today — the center of the state’s baseball universe is Dub Herring Park in Poplarville. Pearl River Community College (42-5), ranked No. 2 in NJCAA Division II and riding a 29-game win streak, hosts East Central CC (40-4), which is ranked No. 4 and started the season with 31 straight wins while rising to No. 1. The host Wildcats are 22-0 in the MACCC; ECCC’s Warriors are 16-4. PRCC hits .345 as a team with 77 home runs. The big bopper in the lineup is Hollis Porter, raking at .431 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. The Wildcats’ pitching staff features a 2.43 ERA and three eight-game winners, led by J.P. Robertson (8-0, 2.28). Mo Little, a preseason All-America pick, leads ECCC with a .372 average, nine homers, 62 RBIs and 16 steals. Luke Cooley is the Warriors’ ace: 6-0, 1.89 ERA, 13.3 K’s per nine innings. Today’s twinbill starts at 3 p.m. … Two other big doubleheaders are on today’s MACCC docket: No. 12 Jones College (33-9) visits Meridian, which was ranked 13th in preseason, and No. 15 Northwest (31-12) hosts East Mississippi.

04 Apr

just stuff

Brock Wilken, Wake Forest’s all-time home run leader and now Milwaukee’s No. 7 prospect, smacked a two-run homer to power the Double-A Biloxi Shuckers to a 7-0 win Wednesday night in an exhibition game against Pearl River Community College at MGM Park. The Shuckers open the Southern League season Friday at home against Montgomery. … Former Shuckers star Jackson Chourio hit his first big league homer for the Brewers in a loss, the team’s first, against Minnesota. The highly touted Chourio is off to a .350 start in his rookie campaign. … The Norfolk Tides, Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate, banged out 29 hits in a 26-11 win against Charlotte in game highlighted by Heston Kjerstad’s 10-RBI effort and Kyle Stowers’ three homers. Ole Miss alum Errol Robinson, a minor league vet in his first year in the Orioles’ system, contributed a little: one hit and two runs. He is batting .316. … Hunter Renfroe, ex-Mississippi State star, got his first hit of 2024 — he is now 1-for-19 — and picked up an assist on a sensational throw from right field, but his Kansas City club lost to Baltimore. … East Central CC alum Tim Anderson went 0-for-2 and ex-Ole Miss standout Nick Fortes 0-for-3 as Miami fell to 0-7 with a 10-2 loss to the Los Angeles Angels. Anderson, a free agent signee, is batting .231 with one RBI, no homers and no steals. Fortes is batting .083. … MSU product Brent Rooker went 0-for-4 in Oakland’s loss to Baltimore and is at .100 on the season for the 1-6 A’s. … Former State standout Justin Foscue, recalled from the minors on Tuesday by Texas, has yet to make his MLB debut. The Rangers are off today, host Houston this weekend.

28 Mar

rising river

East Central Community College currently holds the No. 1 ranking in NJCAA Division II, but Pearl River CC is No. 5 with a bullet. The Wildcats swept two games from Hinds on Tuesday to run their win streak to 19. They are 32-5 and 12-0 in the MACCC, alone in first place. ECCC, which won its first 31 games of the season, lost for the second time in three outings on Wednesday, falling to Copiah-Lincoln 3-1 in Game 2 of a twinbill. ECCC is 32-2, 8-2. Seventh-ranked Jones beat Gulf Coast twice on Wednesday to improve to 29-5, 11-1; and No. 18 Northwest sits at 24-8, 9-1, after a sweep of Holmes. But Pearl River, which won the national championship two years ago, is the team of the moment. The ‘Cats belted 11 homers in a sweep of Itawamba on Saturday, then got great pitching on Tuesday from Thomas Crabtree — the league’s reigning pitcher of the week — and J.P. Robertson, former Germantown High star, in the 9-2, 6-1 sweep of Hinds. Hollis Porter, named the NJCAA D-II hitter of the week on Wednesday, homered in Game 1 and drove in three runs in Game 2. The Mississippi State transfer from Hurley is batting .425 with 15 homers, four shy of the school single-season record. P.S. Baseball America’s first projected field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament features four state schools, with Jackson State joining Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. UM and MSU — the national champs in 2022 and 2021, respectively — missed the tournament in 2023.

24 Mar

take cover

Those weren’t UFOs — or UAPs, if you prefer — flying around Dub Herring Park in Poplarville on Saturday. Those were baseballs, and 11 of them went out of the yard for home runs as No. 5 Pearl River Community College battered Itawamba CC 13-3 and 18-1. Nine different players homered for the Wildcats (30-5, 10-0 MACCC), with Hollis Porter — the Mississippi State transfer from Hurley — going deep twice to push his national-best total to 14. Alex Wade also hit two bombs. “I was really proud of our guys. They swung it really well,” PRCC coach Michael Avalon said in a school release. The Wildcats had 26 hits all told in the 15 innings of play. Not to be overlooked are the dominant efforts of winning pitchers Caleb Dyess and J.T. Schooner. … Meanwhile on Saturday, East Central CC, the No. 1 team in the latest NJCAA Division II poll, saw its 31-game win streak snapped by Northwest, which beat the Warriors 8-7 in Game 2 of a twinbill in Decatur. ECCC is 31-1, 7-1 in the league. The unranked Rangers are 21-8, 7-1. Tenth-ranked Jones swept Coahoma to move to 27-5 and 9-1.

19 Mar

on the mound

Midweek starters in college baseball generally don’t rate the spotlight. But the two matching up tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl should be the centers of attention before what figures to be a huge crowd. It feels highly appropriate for this rivalry game that both Ole Miss’ Riley Maddox and Southern Miss’ Cole Boswell are Mississippi boys, products of tradition-rich high schools. Maddox, from Pearl, was an All-State performer at Jackson Prep before heading to Oxford. Boswell, from Collinsville, pitched at West Lauderdale and then at Meridian Community College before moving on to Hattiesburg. Maddox is 1-1 with a 5.03 ERA in five games (four starts) for the 15-6 Rebels, who, like the 14-6 Golden Eagles, have surged into the national polls this week. Boswell is 0-0, 5.87, in four games and three starts, including one earlier this month at Trustmark against Mississippi State. Maddox was hurt most of last season at UM after posting a 5.24 as a freshman in 2022. Boswell went 11-1, 2.49, at Meridian CC last season and was the juco league’s pitcher of the year. Pitchers’ duels are not uncommon at the TeePee, the home of the Double-A Mississippi Braves that typically plays as a pitcher’s park. Maybe we get one tonight. It would be highly appropriate. … For the record, a pair of Mississippi products will hook up in Starkville tonight, as well, when MSU sends lefty Bradley Loftin (ex-DeSoto Central star) to the mound against Memphis’ 6-foot-6 right-hander Cade Davis (from Ripley via East Mississippi CC). … A few miles down the road from Pearl, at Joe G. Moss Field in Raymond, Hinds CC is hosting a twinbill against East Central, undefeated (28-0) and ranked No. 1 in the NJCAA Division II poll. Hinds is 15-14, including a loss to Warriors back on March 2. The spotlight in Raymond likely will be on ECCC sluggers Mo Little, Brady McGee and Trey Bridges, who have seven home runs each.

15 Mar

hit the reset

Hunter Renfroe, Tim Anderson and Dakota Hudson have several things in common. They attended Mississippi colleges, were picked in the first round of the MLB draft, enjoyed success in The Show — and now find themselves in spring training camps trying to re-establish their place in the game. Mississippi State product and Crystal Springs native Renfroe has 177 home runs in the big leagues but has bounced from team to team the last several years. In 2023, he was waived by the Los Angeles Angels, claimed and later released by Cincinnati in mid-September. He is in Kansas City’s camp on a one-year, $6.5 million contract, likely to be the lowly Royals’ right fielder. Anderson, a first-round pick by the Chicago White Sox out of East Central Community College in 2013 (same year Renfroe was drafted), was found wanting by the ChiSox after seven years as their regular shortstop and was cut loose after the season. Anderson had a poor year in 2023, with the bat and the glove, and has a flair for generating controversy. Miami recently signed Anderson, and he is expected to be the Marlins’ shortstop. He said in a recent MLB Network interview that he is “super-motivated, super-inspired and super-coachable” as well as “super-thankful and super-blessed” to have the opportunity. Hudson, another ex-MSU star, had a 38-20 career record and 3.84 ERA since 2018 with St. Louis. But he has had some recent injury issues, went 6-3, 4.98, in a bumpy 2023 and was non-tendered after the season. He signed with Colorado, where he’ll likely make the starting rotation for a club that sorely needs pitching. Spring training stats aren’t necessarily telling, but for what it’s worth, none of these three transplanted veterans has had a good camp. Renfroe is batting .118 with no homers in 17 at-bats. Anderson is hitting .182 in 22 ABs. Hudson is 1-1, 6.75, over 5 1/3 innings in three outings. P.S. Former Ole Miss pitcher Jacob Waguespack has made Tampa Bay’s team as a non-roster invitee and apparently will pitch in the rotation. He spent the last two years in Japan after posting a 5-5, 5.08, ledger in 2019-20 with Toronto.