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.
On March 14, Delta State was 6-10 after being swept in a three-game series by Lee University. But as they like to say up in Cleveland, tradition never slumps, and tradition – or something – kicked in. Today, the Statesmen are 27-16 and about to play for the Gulf South Conference Tournament championship, which would be the program’s 16th. They face a 3-game series against West Florida (32-8) in Pensacola with an NCAA Division II regional bid possibly hanging in the balance. “It’s going to be tough,” said second-year coach Rodney Batts in a YouTube video posted by the school. “But we’re still in this thing. You get to this point, anything can happen. You’ve got to beat the best.” In last week’s tourney bracket, DSU beat top-seeded Lee and, facing elimination, reached the championship series with a walk-off win against Alabama-Huntsville. Darek Sargent tripled and Chad Ragland singled him home for a 4-3 win. “There’s something special about this team,” Ragland said. Hayden White is hitting .361 with 10 homers, and Jake Barlow has 17 bombs and a .314 average. Hunter Riggins (8-4) and Christian Day (7-2) have been a good 1-2 in the rotation. West Florida’s lineup includes two Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College alums: Dylan Menhennett (.403) and Miller Hancock (.367). Both played for Batts during his tenure in Perkinston. P.S. William Carey won its opener Monday in NAIA Tournament play, beating Benedictine Mesa 2-1 as Sloan Dieter — who else? — threw a five-hitter and belted a home run. Carey plays again tonight in the Opening Round (regional) at O’Fallon, Mo.
Hats off to William Carey University, which beat top-seeded Loyola (New Orleans) 9-6 on Friday in a winners’ bracket game in the SSAC Tournament at Mobile, Ala. R.J. Stinson drove in two runs and Patrick Lee scored four and the Crusaders profited from five Loyola errors. John Snyder got the last 11 outs for the win. Carey (32-10) will play tonight against the winner of an elimination game between the two teams it has beaten, Loyola and Mobile. … Delta State, behind the pitching of Hunter Riggins and the mashing of Kirkland Trahan and Jake Barlow, beat Valdosta State 12-2 in the GSC Tournament in Oxford, Ala. The Statesmen’s reward is a game against top-seeded Lee University today. … Jackson State moved to 22-0 in the SWAC with a 6-0 victory against visiting Mississippi Valley State. … Winners of the MACCC playoff openers were Meridian, Itawamba, East Central and Jones, the only visitor (at Hinds) to win. Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) are set for today. P.S. The season is over for Blue Mountain, which lost twice in the SSAC tourney, and Belhaven, which went 0-2 in the ASC Tournament in Marshall, Texas.
So many proverbial big games to track this weekend. The regular season rolls toward a climax for the NCAA Division I programs. Mississippi State is at South Carolina and Ole Miss at Texas A&M in the SEC, Southern Miss hosts Middle Tennessee State in C-USA and Jackson State (shooting for an unbeaten SWAC season) hosts Mississippi Valley State (shooting for its first win). (Note: Valley, 0-17, hasn’t played since April 18, when the Delta Devils blew a three-run lead in the bottom of the ninth and lost 8-7 to Alabama A&M.) The small colleges are in postseason play. Today, in the NAIA SSAC Tournament at Mobile, Ala., fifth-seeded William Carey (30-10) plays 4-seed Mobile and 7-seed Blue Mountain (14-18) gets 2-seed Faulkner in the first round. In NCAA Division III, Belhaven (20-16) meets East Texas Baptist today in the first round of the ASC Tournament at Marshall, Texas. Division II Delta State (24-15) opens play Friday in the GSC Tournament in Oxford, Ala. The fifth-seeded Statesmen, who have won 15 GSC tourney titles, meet 4-seed Valdosta State in the opening round. And the state junior college playoffs begin Friday with the best-of-3 series that will send four teams to the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament next week. Third-ranked Pearl River Community College has clinched its regional berth and will host the tourney. The high school playoffs are under way, with the series opener of several MHSAA Class 6A heavyweight bouts set for tonight: MaxPreps No. 2-ranked Madison Central is at South Panola; No. 9 Tupelo hosts No. 12 Oxford; No. 4 Germantown visits No. 14 DeSoto Central; and No. 7 Lewisburg visits Starkville. In MAIS 5A, MaxPreps No. 1 Jackson Prep, up 1-0 in the series, plays Jackson Academy on Friday.
Delta State’s history book is filled with tales of great individual performances, and the Statesmen will make room for another after capturing the Gulf South Conference Tournament championship on Tuesday. Hunter Riggins, a sophomore from Hernando, threw a two-hit shutout against third-ranked West Florida and retired the last 17 batters in a 6-0 win that gave the Statesmen their 15th GSC title. Riggins, named the tourney’s Most Outstanding Player, tossed seven shutout innings against Valdosta State in the tournament opener at Oxford, Ala. Riggins is 10-3 with a 2.13 ERA in 14 starts. Used out of the bullpen as a freshman, Riggins posted a 3.09 ERA and six saves, then quickly emerged as a staff ace this season, winning his first six starts. David Herrington and Darek Sargent, who combined for 23 hits and 10 RBIs in the six tourney games, also made the all-tournament team. C.J. Estave, who drove in eight runs, certainly rated consideration. The Statesmen, 39-12 under Mike Kinnison, now move on to NCAA Division II regional play and begin the chase for a second national championship.
Several stars emerged on Tuesday for Mississippi College, which upended Delta State 9-8 in 11 innings to reach the Gulf South Conference Tournament title game in Cleveland. To name a few: Ryan Lane threw 2 2/3 scoreless innings for the win; Blaine Crim went 3-for-5 with a homer and five RBIs; and Kyle Smith had four hits and four runs, including the game-winner on a DSU error. MC (32-15) plays Lee University today for the championship. … At Trustmark Park in Pearl, four Mississippi Braves collected three or more hits in a 10-3 win against Mobile. Connor Lien got four knocks, including his first homer of the year, and Alay Lago went 3-for-5 with four RBIs for the Double-A M-Braves. … In Erie, Pa., former Madison Central star Spencer Turnbull tossed six shutout innings to record his first Double-A win as the Sea Wolves, a Detroit farm club, beat Harrisburg 3-0. Turnbull is 1-3 with a 4.80 ERA. Mississippi State alum Jake Robson had a hit and an RBI for Erie. … And in Chicago, Meridian Community College product Corey Dickerson equaled a career-high with four hits and added two RBIs as Pittsburgh beat the White Sox 10-6. Dickerson, in his first year with the Pirates, is batting .400 over his last seven games and .333 (third in the National League) with five homers and 26 RBIs for the season.
Figures to be a lot of buzz at Ferriss Field in Cleveland tonight when Delta State and Mississippi College meet with a berth in the Gulf South Conference Tournament championship game on the line. The old rivals are both 2-0 in pool play. The winner advances to Wednesday’s title game. Top-seeded DSU (40-8) is 16-4 at home this season, but 4-seed MC (31-15) took one from the Statesmen in a three-game set last month. Clay Casey went 2-for-3 with his 16th home run of the year in DSU’s 7-5 win against North Alabama on Monday, while Billy Cameron and Blaine Crim combined for eight hits and seven RBIs in the Choctaws’ 11-1 win over West Alabama. … Southern Miss’ remarkable Nick Sandlin earned a fourth national player of the week award from Collegiate Baseball on Monday. He threw a six-hit shutout against UAB last week, improving to 7-0 with an 0.88 ERA. The Golden Eagles (35-12) have cracked the top 10 – at No. 9 – in d1baseball.com’s weekly rankings. Baseball America has USM 13th for the second straight week. (Ole Miss is sixth and fifth in those two polls.) … DeSoto Central High product Austin Riley, one of Atlanta’s top prospects, went 1-for-5 in his Triple-A debut on Monday, rapping a single in his first at-bat for Gwinnett. Riley was hitting .333 with six homers and 20 RBIs for the Double-A Mississippi Braves when he was promoted. The top position player prospect left on the M-Braves’ roster is catcher Alex Jackson, rated No. 14 by MLB Pipeline. Jackson is batting .221 with a homer and seven RBIs. … It’s time again, boys and girls, for Red Sox-Yankees. Tonight, at Yankee Stadium (6:05 p.m., MLB Network), former Ole Miss standout Drew Pomeranz pitches for Boston against New York’s emergent ace Luis Severino. Pomeranz is 1-1 with a 6.14 ERA but pitched well in his last start. The left-hander has a 3.12 career ERA at Yankee Stadium. Neither Aaron Judge nor Giancarlo Stanton has homered off Pomeranz – but Gary Sanchez has taken him deep three times. Mississippi State alum Mitch Moreland, who figures to be in Boston’s lineup, is 4-for-12 career vs. Severino.
The focus in the MACJC today should be on Meridian – with a glance toward Clarksdale. At Meridian Community College’s Scaggs Field, Jones County Junior College, first in the league at 22-4, takes on the third-place Eagles (19-7) in a doubleheader. The NJCAA Division II No. 2 Bobcats, who’ve won 18 in a row (18!), need one win to claim the regular season title. At Coahoma CC’s Smith Sportsplex, second-place Pearl River (21-5) plays CCC (11-15) needing a sweep and help from Meridian to usurp Jones for the crown. Jones beat PRCC twice last week. The Jones-Meridian matchup is particularly intriguing. Luther Woullard is having a big year with the bat — .420, five homers, 45 RBIs — for the Bobcats, but it’s their pitching that truly commands your attention. The staff ERA is 2.99, and they average more than 10 strikeouts a game. Cooper Brune is 11-0 with a 2.78, and Will Freeman, who had the 18-punchout game last week, is 6-1, 3.20 with two saves. Meridian, ranked 20th in the D-II poll, has relied more on its offense, in particular Trace Jordan (.381, 15 homers, 60 RBIs) and Davis Bradshaw (.448, eight homers). Hunter Stanley (8-1, 4.73) is the ace of a staff that has a 4.69 collective ERA. … Northwest finished at 20-8 in the MACJC, winning 18 of its final 21 games. P.S. The start of the Gulf South Conference Tournament (see previous posts) in Cleveland was pushed back a day because of inclement weather. Both Mississippi College and Delta State are in action today.
Cracking a national poll for the first time in eight years, which Mississippi College did on March 8, is kind of a big deal. MC was 13-2 at the time. Coach Jeremy Haworth wondered during an interview how the players would handle that measure of success going forward. Not a problem, as it turned out. The schedule got tougher but the Choctaws never buckled. They went 16-13, 13-9 in a challenging league, the rest of the way and clinched a Gulf South Conference Tournament berth for the second straight year. As the No. 4 seed, they meet fifth-seeded North Alabama today in Cleveland in the first round of pool play. Four Choctaws – Grant Barber, Billy Cameron, Blaine Crim and Kyle Smith – made the All-GSC second team, and ace pitcher Zack Ingram arguably should have. Crim had a stellar campaign, leading the team in the Triple Crown categories (.372, 10 homers, 52 RBIs). Cameron, a transfer from East Central Community College, hit .354 with five homers. Smith stole 18 bases and hit .339; Barber contributed 30 RBIs while batting .327. Ingram was 4-0 with a 3.09 ERA. MC is ranked ninth in the NCAA Division II South Region poll, positioned for a possible invitation to a regional. How will the Choctaws handle it?
Blue Mountain and William Carey face elimination games today in the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament in Montgomery, Ala. BMC plays Middle Georgia State in the first game of the day, while Carey gets Loyola (New Orleans) in the next game. BMC, which lost its opener on Wednesday, stayed alive with a 4-3 win over Martin Methodist on Thursday, getting a go-ahead RBI hit from Grayson Bowman in the eighth inning. Carey won its opening round game but was crushed by top seed – and NAIA No. 1 – Faulkner 17-2 Thursday. The Crusaders, 0-4 against Faulkner this year, committed six errors and allowed 13 hits and 11 walks. … The Gulf South Conference Tournament format offers a cool possibility: Delta State and Mississippi College will play at Ferriss Field on Monday, and the Pool A championship could be on the line. The four teams in each of two pools play a round-robin starting Saturday, with the two pool winners advancing to the league title game. MC (29-15) beat DSU (38-8) in Cleveland last week, one of only four home losses for the Statesman all year. DSU — seeded No. 1, ranked third in the nation and featuring conference player of the year Zack Shannon — should be favored to win a 15th conference title, but it won’t be a cakewalk. Four other teams in the field have 30 or more wins and six, including both DSU and MC, are ranked in the NCAA Division II South Region poll. … Jackson State still has a chance to win the SWAC East title but may need a little help this weekend from Mississippi Valley State. JSU has finished league play at 17-7. Alabama State is 15-6 heading into a league series at Itta Bena to face the Delta Devils, 9-12 in the league. JSU and ASU split six games in the regular season. The SWAC Tournament starts May 16 in New Orleans. … MUW named freshman pitcher/infielder Will Peters its Male Athlete of the Year at an awards ceremony this week. Peters went 7-2 on the mound and batted .349 as the Owls finished 19-13 in their inaugural campaign.