Six Mississippi junior colleges, headed by defending region champion Pearl River CC, appear in the NJCAA Division II preseason Top 20 released today. PRCC is No. 5, Jones College No. 6, defending MACJC regular season champ Itawamba No. 7, Northwest 15th, Hinds 17th and Meridian 20th. Pearl River won the Region 23 Tournament in 2019 and went to the juco D-II World Series, finishing with a 41-14 record. Michael Avalon’s Wildcats lost state home run king Dexter Jordan to the MLB draft but will trot out several NCAA Division I commits, including lefty Kole Alford (Mississippi State), outfielder Reece Ewing (Southern Miss) and shortstop Bryson Ware (Auburn). Ware, a freshman out of Germantown High, is also a highly rated draft prospect. Ewing batted .300 with 11 homers for last year’s club. … In Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s poll released last week, Jones was ranked No. 5, PRCC 15th and Hinds 20th.
The stakes are higher now for Delta State and many others in the state. Fresh off another Gulf South Conference Tournament championship, DSU will host an NCAA Division II South Sub-Regional starting Thursday at Ferriss Field in Cleveland. The Statesmen (39-12), who won the GSC title for the 15th time last week, will play Embry-Riddle in their opener. Eckerd and Valdosta State meet in the other game. Tampa is hosting the other sub-regional with West Florida, Nova Southeastern and Spring Hill also in the field. Mississippi College, which went 2-and-out in the GSC tourney, did not get a regional bid. MC’s season ends at 28-17, and GSC player of the year Blaine Crim’s career ends, as well. He hit .379 with 11 homers in 2019. … Jackson State, 30-22 and a 2-seed in the SWAC Tournament, plays Texas Southern on Wednesday at New Orleans, while Alcorn State (14-29 and a 3-seed) meets Grambling. The tourney winner gets an NCAA bid, likely the only one the SWAC will receive. … The NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament begins Wednesday at Fulton, with host and MACJC champ Itawamba Community College playing Mississippi Gulf Coast, Jones meeting Pearl River and Northwest drawing No. 1-ranked LSU-Eunice. The region winner goes to the Juco World Series. Gulf Coast, powered by Brandon Parker and Cullan O’Shea, swept Meridian in their best-of-3 playoff, but the other three series went three games. Northwest beat Northeast, Jones topped Hinds (behind Coleton Ausburn’s Game 3 shutout) and Pearl River whipped East Central (thanks in part to another big homer by Dexter Jordan in the rubber game). … MUW, 16-11 in its second year of competition, opens play today in the non-scholarship USCAA Small College World Series at DuBois, Penn. … The MHSAA Tournament finals begin Wednesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. DeSoto Central hosts Northwest Rankin today for a berth in the Class 6A finals against St. Martin, which is coached by former Ole Miss and Jackson Generals star Kary Bridges.
On the eve of the MACJC postseason, there are lots of numbers to digest. Five state junior colleges are ranked in the new NJCAA Division II Top 20, and all of them reached the postseason. No. 4 Itawamba Community College won the regular season title and the right to host the Region 23 Tournament, where top-ranked LSU-Eunice also has an automatic berth. The next eight teams in the MACJC standings face off in best-of-3 series this week to determine four more region tourney participants. Fifth-ranked Jones College (aka Jones County JC), which took second in the league, hosts Hinds; No. 9 Northwest hosts Northeast; No. 6 Pearl River hosts East Central; and No. 16 Meridian hosts Gulf Coast. … LSU-E, which leads the nation in staff ERA (2.56) and bats .340 as a team, could be a bear in the double-elimination region tourney. … Itawamba ranks fifth in the nation in ERA (3.43), third in fielding (.966) and is riding an 11-game winning streak. … The last team to beat ICC was Northwest, in Fulton back on April 16. … Keep an eye on PRCC, which ranks third in the nation in home runs, led by Dexter Jordan’s 15. … Northeast’s Drew Smith led the state in batting at .440 and also hit 13 homers. … Jones is the best hitting team in the state at .330. … Meridian enters on a five-game win streak. … Hinds, ranked ninth at 21-5 in early April, went 4-13 down the stretch and finished ninth in the league.
One thing has been settled in the land of the Mississippi junior colleges. Itawamba Community College has won the MACJC regular season championship and will host the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament later this month. The fourth-ranked Indians (37-6-1, 22-4) clinched first place on Tuesday by sweeping a twinbill from Mississippi Delta 9-4 and 5-2. ICC coach Rick Collier on Twitter: “Winning a state championship in this league is very hard to do! I am so proud of you all. Keep rolling there is alot of baseball left.” Northwest, ranked No. 8, sits at 20-6, No. 7 Jones County at 19-7 and No. 5 Pearl River at 17-9, each with one doubleheader left to play. The Nos. 2-9 teams in the final standings will pair off in best-of-3 series next week that will send four more team to the region tourney in Fulton, where ICC and top-ranked LSU-Eunice will be waiting. … ICC has ridden a dominant ace this season, but Houston Harding (10-0) wasn’t available on Tuesday. The wins went to Justin Medlin and Hunter Hughes, both 6-1. Medlin is also one of the top hitters for Collier’s club, batting .309 with seven homers and 35 RBIs entering Tuesday’s games. Brett Coker led the team with a .376 average, and Jackson Lancaster was at .333 with 38 RBIs.
Before the dust gets kicked up again in the MACJC, here’s how the teams stack up with roughly two weeks left in the regular season: Fourth-ranked Itawamba Community College (14-4) and No. 11 Northwest Mississippi (15-5), after their split on Tuesday, remain in a virtual tie for first in the standings. No. 6 Pearl River and No. 9 Jones County, both on extended winning streaks, are third at 12-6. Gulf Coast (11-7) and East Central (12-8) are in a virtual tie for fifth, and No. 10 Meridian and 14th-ranked Hinds are knotted in seventh at 10-7. Copiah-Lincoln sits at 9-9. Yes, it’s going to be a mad scramble to the finish and on into the playoffs. The big doubleheader this weekend is Saturday’s matchup of Northwest and Meridian in the Queen City. … Pitching – good pitching — has been a main storyline this season. MACJC schools occupy the Nos. 7 to 11 spots in the NJCAA Division II team stats for ERA. Itawamba, featuring ace Houston Harding, has a 3.28, Northwest a 3.29 and Pearl River a 3.34. Meridian’s Braden Forsyth, who has worked as a starter and reliever, has a 1.15, while Harding, 8-0 as a starter, is at 1.72. PRCC’s Miles Smith has 69 strikeouts, eighth in the nation. Jones County leads state schools in batting with a .337 average, led by Brandon Hale at .398. Pearl River has mashed 59 homers, second-most in the country. Dexter Jordan has 10, and Wiley Cleland and Kasey Donaldson nine apiece. Meridian’s Kace Garner leads the state with 12 bombs, and Gulf Coast’s Brandon Parker has 10.
If you’re a Mississippi baseball aficionado, Roy Cresap Field in Fulton is the place you oughta be today. The top two teams in the MACJC standings will clash in a doubleheader that should be worth the price of admission and then some. Host Itawamba Community College is ranked No. 4 in the latest NJCAA Division II poll, sporting a 28-5 overall record and 13-3 mark in the conference. Northwest Mississippi CC, ranked 15th, is 25-7, 14-4. ICC’s Houston Harding, a lefty from Walls and a Mississippi State commit, is one of the top pitchers in the country; he is 8-0 with a 1.72 ERA. The staff’s other ace is Austin King, 5-1, 3.22. Two-way standout Justin Medlin is 4-0, 2.05 as a pitcher and is batting .355 with seven homers and 31 RBIs. Northwest trots out a powerful lineup that features five hitters with five or more homers, led by Hammer Franks with seven. Franks is batting .316 with 32 RBIs. Brayland Skinner leads the Rangers regulars with a .359 average and 12 steals. The Rangers’ best pitchers have been the Stinnett brothers – sophomore Carson is 6-0, 3.22, freshman Parker 4-2, 1.80 – and lefty Dalton Fowler (5-1, 2.32).
When Toronto traded Kevin Pillar to San Francisco, it opened the door for ex-Petal High standout Anthony Alford to return to the Blue Jays’ big league roster. He started in center field and went 0-for-3 Tuesday in a loss to Baltimore. … You might have heard that Bryce Harper went 3-for-5 with a homer in his return to Washington, but in other news: Southern Miss product Brian Dozier got his first hit as a member of the Nationals in their loss to Philadelphia. Dozier is 1-for-13. … Former Mississippi State star Hunter Renfroe hit his first homer of 2019, then hit another in San Diego’s loss to Arizona. … Mississippi Braves alum Dustin Peterson, now with the Detroit Tigers, got his first big league hit. An RBI double. In the ninth. In a tie game. Against Aroldis Chapman. In Yankee Stadium. “I will never forget it. That’s for sure,” Peterson told mlb.com after the Tigers beat New York 3-1. … The Double-A Mississippi Braves introduced a roster on Tuesday that includes nine of Atlanta’s top 30 prospects (per MLP Pipeline). Five of them are pitchers, led by No. 3 Ian Anderson, who’s slated to start Thursday’s season opener at Tennessee. “It’s going to be exciting with the young staff we have here,” the 20-year-old right-hander said at Tuesday’s media day at Trustmark Park. “I’ll try to set the tone on Thursday.” M-Braves manager Chris Maloney said he likes “the vibe” he’s getting from this club. … The Double-A Biloxi Shuckers tuned up for their Thursday opener by bashing William Carey University 15-1 at MGM Park. Six Shuckers pitchers held Carey hitters, using wood bats, to one hit. The NAIA Crusaders (10-19) will try to return to normalcy today when they host West Alabama in Hattiesburg. … Go figure: Ole Miss, 20-9 and rising in the polls, lost to fledgling Division I North Alabama 10-6 in Oxford. The Rebels went deep into their bullpen to call on seven pitchers, who yielded 14 hits to the Lions, now 6-21. … The new NJCAA Division II poll came out Tuesday and seven Mississippi schools were in the Top 20. No. 4 Pearl River Community College celebrated by sweeping a doubleheader from No. 18 Mississippi Gulf Coast, knocking the Bulldogs out of first place in the league. Itawamba is ranked sixth, Jones County seventh, Meridian eighth, Hinds 13th and Northwest 16th. But what do the polls really mean in the MACJC jungle? Suddenly scuffling Jones got swept by East Central on Tuesday, and Hinds took a pair from Meridian.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College sits alone at the top of the MACJC standings after completing a pair of sweeps last week and surely will break into the NJCAA Division II poll this week. The surging Bulldogs improved to 9-1 in the league by rolling past Copiah-Lincoln and Mississippi Delta and are 17-5 overall. Freshman Dee Hawthorne has swung a hot bat for Gulf Coast. After a big day against Delta on Saturday, including a grand slam, he is batting .500 with five homers and 22 RBIs. The league standings got a little shaken up after some showdowns last week, and national poll positions will be affected. “That’s MACJC baseball. It’s a battle and a grind,” Pearl River coach Michael Avalon said. No. 2 Jones County stumbled, splitting a twinbill with No. 14 Hinds before being swept by 10th-ranked Itawamba. ICC, 21-4 and second in the league at 8-2, got a grand slam from Kyle Crigger and stellar pitching from Houston Harding, Austin King and Daniel Rowland in Saturday’s sweep of Jones. No. 5 Pearl River and No. 9 Meridian battled to a split on Saturday, with PRCC winning the opener 20-18 behind Matt Taylor’s six RBIs and MCC taking the nightcap 5-4 thanks to a timely homer by Kace Garner and clutch pitching from Braden Forsyth. MCC is 6-2 in the league, as is Hinds. PRCC is 5-3, a notch behind No. 18 Northwest (7-3) and in a virtual tie with Jones (6-4). Northwest took twinbills from East and Southwest last week, notching coach Mark Carson’s 400th win in the process. The aptly named Hammer Franks had five hits and four RBIs in the Southwest games. Not to be overlooked: East’s Jaxen Forrester threw a no-hitter against East Central on Friday, striking out nine and walking two over seven innings in a 10-1 victory, which was the Lions’ first league win of the year.
Just when it looked like the Jones County Junior College program was starting to slip, Chris Kirtland’s Bobcats ripped off 17 wins in their first 18 games this year. They’ve jumped from unranked in preseason to No. 2 in the nation. They take a 20-2 overall record (5-1 MACJC) into a doubleheader today at 14th-ranked Hinds CC (15-4, 3-1). Kirtland, in his fourth season as JCJC head coach, has a fairly stunning 158-26 record. A longtime assistant under Christian Ostrander (now at Southern Miss), Kirtland won the 2016 NJCAA Division II national title in his first year in charge. In 2017, the Bobcats “slipped” to 46-4 and lost in the Region 23 Tournament. Last year, they “fell” to 38-11 and were upset by Hinds in the best-of-3 round of the state playoffs. But anyone expecting a down year in Ellisville in 2019 was misinformed. Led by an influx of talented freshmen, JCJC looks as formidable as ever. O’Neill Burgos, from Brookhaven, is hitting .398, Bailee Hendon of Vancleave .396. Versatile Blake Johnson, from Gulfport via Tulane, has seven homers and three saves. Lane Thomas is 5-0 with a 1.72 ERA and fellow frosh Coleton Ausburn 5-0, 3.10. Brandon Hale, a sophomore from Pontotoc, is batting .385 with four homers and a team-leading 29 runs. “Our team has gotten to a point where the expectations can motivate you,” Kirtland said before the season began. “The expectations can take your play to another level at times.”
Keep an eye on Fulton on Saturday, and keep the other on Perkinston. Those are the hottest spots in MACJC play. Fourth-ranked Pearl River Community (17-2, 4-0 in the league) visits No. 13 Itawamba CC (16-3, 3-1) for a doubleheader, and Holmes CC (17-3, 2-2) travels to Mississippi Gulf Coast CC (12-4, 4-0) for a battle of Bulldogs teams that aren’t ranked but could be next week. Pearl River, which got one first-place vote in the latest NJCAA Division II poll, is coming off a monster performance against Copiah-Lincoln on Tuesday. Led by Dexter Jordan, among others, the Wildcats put up eight homers and 29 runs in a twinbill sweep. In one of Saturday’s games, PRCC is likely to face ICC ace Houston Harding, a sophomore lefty who is 5-0 with a 0.98 ERA. Holmes is coming off a Tuesday split against No. 2-ranked Jones County; in their win, the Goodman Bulldogs got a three-hit shutout from Nate Oswalt (apparently no relation to Holmes alum and ex-big leaguer Roy). They’ll run into a Gulf Coast club that has won 11 in a row. Perkinston’s Bulldogs feature reigning D-II player of the year Brandon Parker, who’s batting .347 with five homers and has yet to really heat up. (For the record, Meridian’s Kace Garner leads the state with eight homers.)