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.
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.
Compelling series begin today in Oxford (Maryland vs. Ole Miss in a clash of nationally ranked foes), Hattiesburg (Illinois vs. unbeaten Southern Miss), Starkville (4-0 Arizona State vs. Mississippi State) and New Orleans (Jackson State in the MLB Andre Dawson Classic). But the spotlight is trained on Cleveland, where Delta State, off to an uneven start, begins Gulf South Conference play against Valdosta State (one game tonight, a doubleheader on Saturday). The Statesmen are 4-5 and coming off a series loss at Eckerd College. DSU won the GSC regular season title — for the 22nd time — in 2022 en route to making the NCAA Division II postseason and finishing 32-17. Valdosta comes to Ferriss Field with an 8-3 mark, 2-1 in conference after taking a series from Mississippi College. Kirkland Trahan, a Madison Central High and Jones College product, has swung a big bat for DSU, hitting .400 with two homers and seven RBIs. Cleveland native Brett Burrell is batting .387. But those two haven’t gotten a lot of help, with the Statesmen stuck at .241 as a team. This weekend would be a good time for leadoff batter Carson Clowers (.194) to click. The pitching has been good (staff ERA: 3.19). Three of the four starters have sub-4.00 ERAs, led by Hammer Franks with a 1.64 in two outings. The outlier is Harrison Haley, a Madison Central alum of whom big things were expected. He has been knocked around (0-1, 11.42 ERA) in three starts. DSU’s pitchers will be challenged this weekend; Valdosta, led by Miami transfer J.P. Gates (.432, 14 RBIs), is averaging 6.5 runs per game. P.S. There is concern about ace lefty Hunter Elliott in Oxford. The Tupelo native, a key component of last year’s national title team, has been shut down at least for this weekend because of elbow soreness.
Pearl River Community College has risen to No. 2 in the NJCAA Division II poll heading into its conference-opening doubleheader Saturday against Northwest at Poplarville. The Wildcats are 11-3, having last played last weekend, when Tate Parker’s walk-off homer beat Coastal Alabama-North. Parker, from Gulfport, leads PRCC’s potent lineup with a .426 average, six homers (tied for third nationally) and 19 RBIs. McComb’s Alex Perry is hitting .385 with five homers, and Oak Grove product Turner Swistak is 2-0 with a 0.64 ERA in four games, three starts. Northwest, not ranked, is 10-6 with six straight wins. Notable: Ryan Lee hit for the cycle in a game last week, reported to be the first time for a Rangers player since 2006. East Central is No. 5 in the national poll, Meridian No. 7, Northeast No. 15 and Jones No. 20. MACCC play starts this weekend.
Delta State has won seven straight, including a road victory against nationally ranked Southern Arkansas on Wednesday, and is 10-5 heading into a Gulf South Conference series vs. Lee University this weekend in Cleveland. DSU is 5-3 in the league. Chad Ragland is the reigning GSC player of the week; he hit .556 with a cycle in four games last week and went 2-for-5 with two RBIs in the win over SAU. Ragland is at .433 for the year for the NCAA Division II Statesmen.
The results of last weekend left both Delta State and Mississippi College a little deflated. DSU lost two of three at home, including an L on Senior Day at Ferriss Field, while MC was swept on the road by Lee University, the No. 2 team in NCAA Division II. Well, forget all that. The Statesmen and Choctaws will be plenty fired up this weekend. The old rivals meet in a three-game set to finish the regular season at Frierson Field in Clinton. They’ll play a single game Friday and a pair on Saturday. DSU (22-14, 19-13 Gulf South) has clinched a berth in next week’s GSC Tournament; MC (15-18, 12-16) is still hunting. The all-time series tilts heavily to DSU, 43-12. But it’s 11-7 since 2015, when the Choctaws returned to D-II status and the GSC. Both teams can trot out some good arms – DSU’s Hunter Riggins (6-4, 3.03 ERA) and MC’s Jackson Bridges (5-3, 4.67), for example – but it would not be a shock to see the long ball determine the series winner. The Statesmen lead the GSC in homers with 50, topped by Jake Barlow with 12 and Hayden White with eight. MC is fourth with 42 homers, led by Ken Scott’s 10 and nine each from Caleb Reese and Dylan Duplechain. The teams didn’t play in last year’s aborted season, making this the first meeting between coaches Rodney Batts, who is in his second year in Cleveland, and Jeremy Haworth, now in his sixth at Clinton.
Mississippi College’s Dylan Marsh had the magic touch last week. The senior right-hander from Lake Cormorant (via Louisiana-Monroe) pitched in four games for the Choctaws and notched two saves and two wins. Not surprisingly, he earned the Gulf South Conference’s pitcher of the week honor, which was announced today. Marsh worked a total of seven innings, allowing just two hits and an unearned run while fanning 11. He got the wins in MC’s back-to-back, extra-inning, walk-off victories over Auburn-Montgomery on Sunday. Those wins stretched the Choctaws’ streak to seven. They have climbed to 15-15 overall and 12-13 in the GSC with two league series remaining, including the finale vs. Delta State. Dakota Kennedy has paced the MC attack with a .385 average. Ken Scott and Caleb Reese have supplied power with eight homers each, and Dylan Duplechain has added seven. Jackson Bridges (5-2), Payton Russell (3-3) and Bryce Lewis (2-4) have been reliable starters. MC currently sits seventh in the league standings. DSU is tied for fourth at 18-11. The top eight teams make the GSC Tournament field. … DSU’s Hayden White, a junior from Madison and MRA, was named the GSC player of the week after hitting .667 with three homers, seven RBIs and 10 runs in four wins. He is at .367 with eight homers and 37 RBIs for the year. The Statesmen (21-11 overall) have won 15 of their last 16.
Has Delta State found its footing? Hard to tell just yet. The Statesmen whipped Arkansas-Monticello 10-5 on Wednesday at Ferriss Field, fueled by hot-hitting leadoff batter Chad Ragland. DSU – 90-9 all-time against the Boll Weevils — has won three of its last five on the heels of a five-game losing streak. Nationally ranked in NCAA Division II early in the season, the Statesmen are 13-10 overall, 6-6 in the Gulf South Conference, which they were picked to win by league coaches. Ragland, a junior college transfer from Florida, has been a major bright spot. He is batting .449 with 21 runs and six steals. Darek Sargent, who homered on Wednesday, leads the club with three homers and has 16 RBIs. Hayden White and Jake Barlow also have been producing runs. Hunter Riggins, a 2019 All-GSC and All-America pick, has been solid, per expectations, but the other starting pitchers have been inconsistent. Moreover, new coach Rodney Batts’ team is 1-7 on the road heading into a GSC series at West Alabama this weekend. … The state’s other D-II program, Mississippi College, went on the road for the first time last weekend and lost two of three to Shorter. The Choctaws, nationally ranked in mid-February, are 11-9, 6-3 GSC; they were pegged for a third-place finish in the league. MC has another road test this weekend at West Georgia. MC is digging the long ball, with a GSC-best 24 home runs as a team. Chauncey Callier, a .357 hitter, leads the way with six bombs. Caleb Reese has five and Ken Scott four. The tradeoff for that power: MC also leads the league in strikeouts. That can be a problem.
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.
Power, in particular the power of Zack Shannon, was a big part of Delta State’s game in 2018, when the team bashed its way to 42 wins and another regional appearance. Minus Shannon – and fellow sluggers Clay Casey and Brian Lane – the 2019 Statesmen figured to be a different kind of club, more reliant on pitching and defense. That has played out. The current team doesn’t have a lot of thunder in the lineup but has a brilliant 2.18 staff ERA — and is ranked as high as No. 2 in NCAA Division II. Still, as the Statesmen showed on Sunday, an occasional burst of power can come in handy. DSU got three home runs from Hayden White and a fourth from Jake Barlow in a much-needed 16-6 win over nationally ranked West Florida, which had won the first two games in the Gulf South Conference series at Ferriss Field. White, a former Madison-Ridgeland Academy and Copiah-Lincoln Community College star, had just one homer before Sunday. Barlow, the team’s best hitter (.371), has a team-best seven bombs; no one else has more than two. Last year, the Statesmen averaged 1.3 homers a game (twice this year’s average), led by Shannon’s state college-record 31, Casey’s 18 and Lane’s nine. This year, the team’s energy is in the arms of Hunter Riggins (6-2, 1.55 ERA), Dalton Minton (5-1, 2.65), Melvin Frazier (4-2, 2.74) and others. DSU is 20-7 now, 12-5 in the GSC, second only to UWF (13-2) with ample time to catch up.
The renewed rivalry between Mississippi College and Delta State might be as strong and compelling as it has ever been as the 2019 campaign gets under way. MC and DSU were ranked 1-2 in the Gulf South Conference’s preseason poll. MC, the GSC Tournament champ in 2018, is ranked No. 7 in NCAA Division II by Perfect Game and No. 18 by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. Delta State, which finished first in the GSC regular season standings, is No. 10 in Collegiate Baseball’s poll. DSU took two of three from the Choctaws in the 2018 regular season but lost to them in the conference tournament. Both went to the D-II South Regional, where the Statesmen won their first-round meeting and the Choctaws won an elimination game four days later. The rivalry will simmer all season, as the two don’t meet until the end of the schedule – on April 27-28 at Frierson Field in Clinton. MC returns the GSC Tournament Most Outstanding Player, senior first baseman Blaine Crim, who hit .383 with 13 homers in 2018. Billy Cameron, a senior third baseman, batted .354 with six homers last year. Both were named preseason All-GSC. Catcher Josh Russell is the lone returning starter for DSU, though there are a handful of other experienced position players back. Seniors Dalton Minton and Seth Hoguesen, both left-handers, should front the rotation, and Melvin Frazier, another lefty, is an experienced bullpen piece. And Statesmen coach Mike Kinnison is high on his crop of newcomers. P.S. Both teams opened with wins on Friday. MC beat Harding 12-6 as Cameron drove in three runs. DSU snuffed East Central University of Oklahoma 9-1 behind Hunter Riggins’ pitching and three RBIs from Darek Sargent.