The awards keep rolling in for Mississippi college products in what has been another banner year in the Magnolia State. Mississippi State’s Tanner Allen and Landon Sims and Ole Miss’ Doug Nikhazy have been named to Baseball America’s first-team All-America squad. Those three are also semifinalists for the Golden Spikes Award, which will be announced in July. Ole Miss’ Taylor Broadway was a second-team All-America pick by BA. A boatload of other honors already have come down. To wit: Allen, the SEC’s player of the year (and Ferriss Trophy winner), and Nikhazy were also first-team A-A picks by Collegiate Baseball Magazine. Southern Miss’ Reed Trimble was a first-team Freshman All-America choice by the NCBWA, and Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez was a second-teamer. Those two along with Jackson State’s Chenar Brown made Collegiate Baseball’s freshman honor roll. Delta State’s Jake Barlow was named a D2CCA first-team All-America, in addition to several other national accolades. Mississippi College’s Caleb Reese was a D2CCA All-South Region first-teamer; William Carey’s Sloan Dieter was a second-team NAIA All-America pick; and Belhaven’s Brett Sanchez made first-team All-West Region in NCAA Division III. Pearl River Community College’s Landon Gartman and Tate Parker made the NJCAA Division II first-team All-America list. They were the MACCC’s pitcher and player of the year. Walker Powell of USM was the C-USA pitcher of the year, and JSU swept the SWAC’s honors: Ty Hill was player of the year, hitter of the year and newcomer of the year, Anthony Becerra was pitcher of the year, Steven Davila relief pitcher of the year and Brown the freshman of the year.
We don’t get to see this very often, two Mississippi schools squaring off in the postseason. Two days in a row is a lot to handle. Ole Miss and Southern Miss play today for the Oxford Regional championship. The noon game will be televised on ESPN2. Somebody’s season ends today at Swayze Field. Four years ago, in Hattiesburg in 2017, USM and Mississippi State squared off in a regional title game. USM fans cringe at the memory: State won 8-6, its second straight win that day over the Golden Eagles, who saw one of their best-ever seasons end in heartbreak. USM can deliver a similar blow today to the Rebels, the No. 12 national seed and once the nation’s top-ranked team. Facing elimination on Sunday night, the Eagles bucked up for a 10-7 win that had a lot of everything over 3 hours and 35 minutes: 20 hits, seven walks, three HBPs, three home runs, 17 strikeouts, two errors. Both teams got heroic pitching performances. UM’s Tyler Myers quelled the first-inning uprising that saw the Eagles turn a 4-0 deficit into a 7-4 lead. Myers went five innings, yielding two runs. Chandler Best came out of the bullpen to do damage control for USM in the wild first two innings, and Tanner Hall owned the day with five scoreless frames to finish off the Rebels. Before Sunday’s game, the last regional meeting between the two schools came in 2007, when Lance Lynn threw a two-hitter in UM’s 4-0 first-round win in Oxford. Lynn won’t be walking through that bullpen gate today. It’ll be interesting to see who does; the pitching staffs for both teams are stretched thin. But somebody will step up. Somebody will have to, and they’ll earn a place in Magnolia State lore. P.S. Props to Mississippi juco products Jase Dalton and Tyler Samaniego, who combined for 3 2/3 scoreless innings of relief in South Alabama’s win over Miami in the Gainesville Regional. The Jaguars are facing South Florida for the regional title. In the Ruston Regional, Kyle Crigger, an Itawamba CC alum, worked the last 4 1/3 innings in Louisiana Tech’s win over Alabama in an elimination game. The Bulldogs then lost to North Carolina State.
In addition to the Mississippi products on the Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss teams, there are quite a few on the rosters of other schools participating in this week’s NCAA Division I regionals. C-USA power Louisiana Tech, hosting a regional, is coached by Meridian native Lane Burroughs, who has coached all over the Magnolia State and recruits it heavily, as well. There are eight state connections with the Bulldogs, including Itawamba Community College product Kyle Crigger (3-2, 3.69 ERA), Seminary’s Adarius Myers (.256 in 36 games) and Hernando’s Ben Brantley (17 RBIs in 34 games). SWAC champion Southern University, in the Austin Regional, has seven state products on its roster. O’Neill Burgos, the ex-Jones College slugger who broke Jackson State’s heart in the SWAC final (see previous post), is one of the Jaguars’ top hitters at .300 with five homers. Starkville’s Jonathan Evans is a .271 hitter. South Alabama, bound for the Gainesville Regional, also has seven state connections and has gotten significant contributions from three pitchers: Pearl River CC alum Miles Smith is 6-1, 2.23; Hinds CC’s Jase Dalton is 5-3, 1.53 with four saves; and Northeast CC’s Tyler Samaniego has two wins and six saves. LSU suits up Drew Bianco, Oxford High product and son of the UM coach who is batting .229 with six homers. The Tigers are in the Eugene Regional. Alabama, in the Ruston Regional, has former Jones juco ace Will Freeman, who is 2-1, 2.41.
Jackson State’s mettle was tested on Thursday. The Tigers passed. JSU blew a 13-1 lead against Grambling State in the second round of the SWAC Tournament at Madison, Ala., but won 14-13 on a walk-off hit by Jatavious Melton in the bottom of the ninth inning. Ah, there’s nothing like tournament baseball. Melton’s third hit and third RBI of the game scored Omar Gomez and kept the Tigers in the winners’ bracket of a tourney they must win to get an NCAA regional bid. JSU, which went 24-0 in the SWAC this season, is 33-8 overall heading into play today. Alcorn State stayed alive with a 3-2 win over Alabama State in an elimination game. … Elsewhere: Delta State fell to West Florida 11-4 in the deciding game of the Gulf South Conference championship series at Pensacola. All-tournament selection Jake Barlow went 4-for-4 but DSU could not overcome UWF’s seven-run first inning. The Statesmen (28-18) await a possible at-large bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. … SSAC champion William Carey bowed out of NAIA regional play with a 7-2 loss to Central Methodist in the title round of the O’Fallon (Mo.) Opening Round. Carey finished 36-12. … MACCC champion Pearl River Community College’s season ended with a 5-2 loss to second-ranked LSU-Eunice in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament at Poplarville. The third-ranked Wildcats finish 36-9. East Central, behind the pitching of Jeremy Martin, KO’d Hinds and will meet LSU-E for the berth in the juco D-II World Series. No. 15 ECCC (29-18) must beat LSU-E twice to advance. … MUW finished third in the USCAA World Series in Pennsylvania. Damain Benefield and Trey Petite were named first-team All-Americans for the Owls, who closed at 21-13 in their fourth year of competition.
If there is a karma factor in the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament, it might belong to Hinds Community College. This could be a sentimental journey for Eagles coach Sam Temple, who is leaving for the Clinton High job after 16 very successful years in Raymond. He has taken two teams to the juco World Series in his previous 15 years. Hinds is the only unranked team in the six-team regional at Poplarville, but between the white lines that means nothing. Stuff happens in the postseason when the games mean more. Pablo Lanzarote, a Purdue signee, leads the HCC attack with a .325 average, 13 homers and 15 RBIs. Matt Corder is hitting .445 with 17 steals. Brooks Auger is 6-1 with a 3.38 ERA, Bryce Brock 5-4, 2.23. Pearl River, which plays Hinds in the first round, is the top seed and enjoys home field advantage (17-1 record) at Herring Park. Led by Tate Parker (.396, 17 homers, 63 RBIs) and Landon Gartman (8-0, 1.83), the Wildcats are among the nation’s leaders in both home runs and ERA, a pretty potent combination. Lurking in the field as the No. 3 seed is LSU-Eunice, ranked second in the nation and boasting of six national titles. The Bengals’ lineup features two .400-hitting regulars: Jack Merrifield (.441) and Scott Jones (.401). Two relief pitchers have ERAs of 1.13 and 0.65. Some other star may emerge, like, perhaps, Meridian’s Banks Tolley (.416, 13 homers, 14 steals), Itawamba’s Lane Domino (.788 slug) or East Central’s Walker Johnson (2.08 ERA, 15 strikeouts per nine innings). Whichever team makes it through to Enid, Okla., for the D-II World Series will have earned the ticket.
Five of the top 18 teams in the new NJCAA Division II poll will clash next week in a loaded regional tournament with a berth in the juco World Series on the line. Brackets are set for the first day of the double-elimination Region 23 Tournament in Poplarville. On May 17, Pearl River Community College, the host and No. 1 seed, opens with Hinds; No. 2 Meridian meets Itawamba; and 3-seed LSU-Eunice takes on East Central. PRCC (34-7), ranked third in the nation, won the MACCC regular season title with a 23-5 record, 3 games better than Meridian, which had to win a play-in series to make the regional. Hinds, ICC and ECCC also advanced via that route. LSU-E is 42-5 and ranked No. 2 in the national poll. Meridian, ICC and ECCC are also ranked. Hinds, the outlier, went 18-10 in the league, has won eight of its last 10 and owns victories against Meridian and ECCC. “All of the top seeds in the MACCC advanced this past weekend,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said in a school release. “Add LSU-Eunice to the tournament field, and again this will be one of the most competitive regionals in the NJCAA. There is no doubt fans will see good players, well-coached teams and enjoy the awesome atmosphere that Dub Herring Park provides.”
It’s do-or-die time for eight Mississippi junior colleges who battled through 28 regular season games to reach this stage. The four winners of the best-of-3 playoff series that start today will advance to the NJCAA D-II Region 23 Tournament, where third-ranked Pearl River Community College, regular season champion in the MACCC, and No. 2 LSU-Eunice, six-time NJCAA national champ, await. In the conference playoffs, Meridian hosts Copiah-Lincoln, Itawamba hosts Gulf Coast, East Central hosts Northwest and Hinds hosts Jones. Meridian (29-11), ranked 10th in the latest NJCAA poll, surged at season’s end to claim second place in standings and the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. The Wildcats lost their last game but won eight straight before that, including two big ones against Itawamba, the 3-seed. Meridian is hitting .352 as a team, best in the MACCC. Banks Tolley has carried a big stick, batting .429 with 12 homers. Alec Sparks has been the staff ace, with a 7-1 record and 3.16 ERA. Pearl River, the top slugging (87 homers) team in the state, also leads in pitching (3.90 ERA), but both Hinds and Jones also rank among the top 15 nationally in staff ERA. The six-team region tournament is set for May 17-22 at Herring Park in Poplarville. P.S. Three former major league players were inducted into the Mississippi Community and Junior College Sports Hall of Fame in ceremonies last week in Pearl. Hinds Community College alum Chad Bradford, Pearl River’s Wendell Magee and Meridian’s Tyler Moore were among a large group of inductees from various sports. Bradford, who also pitched at Southern Miss, posted a 3.26 ERA over 12 MLB campaigns and famously pitched for the “Moneyball” Oakland A’s in 2002. Magee, a two-sport star at PRCC and Samford, spent seven years in the majors and batted .247 with 24 home runs. Moore, a Mississippi State alum, belted 30 homers over his five-year career. Current Auburn coach Butch Thompson, who pitched at Itawamba CC, also entered the juco Hall.
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.
There are four Mississippi junior colleges in the latest NJCAA Division II Top 20 poll, led by No. 3 Pearl River (31-7), which leads the MACCC standings at 21-5. Itawamba, ranked 11th, is 19-7 in the league, No. 9 Meridian 18-8 and No. 19 East Central 17-9. A bunch of individuals also show up in the national stat charts, most notably perhaps Jones College left-hander Dalton Rogers, who leads the nation with 91 strikeouts over 57 innings. The Northwest Rankin High product is 3-4 with a 3.16 ERA for the 22-18 Bobcats. The top-ranked hitter from the state is Mississippi Delta’s Gage Little, batting .481, ninth in the D-II stats. Pearl River’s Graham Crawford stands tied for second nationally with 14 home runs; teammates Tate Parker and Kasey Donaldson have 13 each for the power-laden Wildcats, who top the country with 80 homers. Parker is fifth in D-II with 53 RBIs. Jones’ Murray Hutchinson leads the state with 25 stolen bases, ranking ninth in the nation. Pearl River’s Landon Gartman has eight wins (and no losses), tied for second in the national stats, and a 1.87 ERA, which ranks third. Meridian’s Alec Sparks has seven wins. Northeast’s Alex Potter has five saves, tied for third in the country. Jones’ Garrett Langrell and Gulf Coast’s Alex McWhorter have four saves each. P.S. Hinds has named Dan Rives, a former Eagles assistant and Delta head coach, as the 2022 successor to Sam Temple, who has taken the Clinton High job for next season. Temple has 439 wins over 16 seasons in Raymond, with three state championships and two juco World Series trips on his ledger.
It’s not exactly King Kong vs. Godzilla, but Saturday’s doubleheader at Cresap Field in Fulton throws together the two current behemoths of Mississippi juco baseball. Pearl River Community College, ranked No. 2 in NJCAA Division II, is 14-4 in the MACCC standings, tied for first with Itawamba, ranked 11th. Not surprisingly, both of these clubs are loaded with hitters and hurlers boasting great numbers. The host Indians are led by Riley Davis, batting .484 with 24 RBIs and 28 runs, and Lane Domino, who has nine homers, 28 RBIs, 35 runs and a .398 average. On the mound, Brady Davis is 4-0, Will Armistead 3-0 and Collin Babin 4-2. PRCC features Tate Parker, hitting .398 with 10 homers and 41 RBIs, and Graham Crawford, .349 with nine bombs and 33 RBIs. Wildcats ace Landon Gartman is among the nation’s leaders at 6-0 with a 1.71 ERA. Sam Hill is 4-0, 3.18. … East Central is third in the league at 14-6 but coming off a crushing sweep at the hands of Hinds, which outscored the Warriors 21-3 behind five homers on Tuesday. ECCC visits Northwest (13-11) on Saturday. Meridian and Gulf Coast are both 12-6.