Tournament baseball, with its air of finality, rarely fails to produce great drama. We’ve already seen it: Millsaps College, pushed into a winner-take-all game after a crushing 25-10 loss to Rhodes last Saturday, responded hours later with a 7-2 win to advance to the Southern Athletic Association championship series. Ryan Erwin and Wil Wood, both on very short rest, stepped up on a combo nine-hitter and Avery Brock hit a big home run for the 6-seeded Majors (24-19). They’ll meet top-seeded Birmingham-Southern (36-8) in a best-of-3 in Birmingham this coming weekend (Sunday-Monday) for an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Expect more drama this week. On tap today: William Carey, defending champion of the Southern States Athletic Conference Tournament, plays Mobile and Blue Mountain meets Loyola-New Orleans in the first round of the event at Columbus, Ga. The winner of the double-elimination tourney gets an automatic bid to the NAIA nationals. Third-seeded Carey (33-14) placed three players on the all-conference first team: outfielders R.J. Stinson and Chris Williams and pitcher A.J. Stinson, 9-0 this season. Alex Frilliman and Dylan Hale made the team for BMC (28-23), seeded seventh. On Thursday: The MACCC best-of-3 series begin. East Central Community College is at East Mississippi, Mississippi Gulf Coast is at Hinds, Jones College is at Northeast and Northwest is at Meridian. Regular season champion Pearl River, ranked No. 2 in the nation, clinched a berth in the NJCAA Region 23 Tournament, which starts May 16 in Poplarville. The four playoff winners will advance to the six-team bracket, which will also include LSU-Eunice. On Friday: Delta State begins play in the Gulf South Conference Tournament as the No. 1 seed, meeting 8-seed Shorter in the first round at Oxford, Ala. The Statesmen (30-13) won their 22nd GSC regular season title last weekend and will be seeking a 16th tournament crown. The winner of the eight-team double-elimination tourney gets an automatic bid the NCAA D-II Tournament. Belhaven (26-14) plays Hardin-Simmons at Richardson, Texas, in the first round of double-elimination pod play in the D-III American Southwest Conference Tournament.
The unquestioned top story in Mississippi college baseball in 2022 has been the steady rise of Southern Miss, ranked No. 6 in the country in the new Baseball America poll. Also high on the list: the struggles of Mississippi State and Ole Miss; and the resurgence of NCAA Division III schools Belhaven University and Millsaps College. To wit: USM swept Rice over the weekend, holding the once-mighty Owls to five runs in three games as starters Tanner Hall, Hunter Riggins and Hurston Waldrep took turns at dominance. The Golden Eagles (32-8, 16-2 C-USA) have won 14 straight games and can set a school record for consecutive W’s by beating Southeastern Louisiana on the road Tuesday. USM’s staff has a 2.80 ERA and 460 strikeouts in 363 innings. That kind of pitching is hard to beat. … Defending national champion MSU and Ole Miss, briefly ranked No. 1 this season, had fallen to the bottom of the SEC West standings when they met in Oxford over the weekend. Who saw that coming? But the outcome at Swayze Field was fairly predictable: The Bulldogs won their sixth straight series over the Rebels, with coach Chris Lemonis improving to 8-2 vs. UM. Rebels coach Mike Bianco is 38-48 vs. State. They meet again Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl in the Governor’s Cup (nee Mayor’s Trophy) game with a huge crowd expected. Has the rivalry begun to wane, as some wonder? Not hardly. “I grew up hating those guys. This is awesome,” Brad Cumbest, who hit the game-winning homer for State in Saturday’s rubber game, told 247sports.com. … Millsaps swept Sewanee at home over the weekend to improve to 21-18 and 11-10 in the Southern Athletic Association. Jim Page’s Majors are the 6-seed in the conference tournament slated for Georgia later this week and will meet old rival Rhodes in the opening round. Belhaven took two of three from Ozarks (at Frierson Field in Clinton) over the weekend and is 24-13, 17-10 in the American Southwest Conference. Under third-year coach Kyle Palmer, the Blazers are currently third in the league with one series remaining before the tournament, which will be the team’s last in the ASC. BU moves to the Collegiate Conference of the South next season.
Congratulations are in order for Jim Page, who earned his 800th win as Millsaps College coach on Saturday. How fitting that his son Case went 2-for-2 with two RBIs, two runs and two walks in the Majors’ 14-0 victory against Eureka College at Twenty Field in Jackson. Page, a good man as well as a good coach, is essentially synonymous with Millsaps baseball, having coached the Majors for 34 years following a stellar career there as a player in the early 1980s. He still holds the school record for batting average in a season at .487. Page has directed the Majors to eight NCAA Division III regional appearances and a berth in the 2013 College World Series. After a couple of down years, the purple-and-white appears resurgent in 2022, off to a 9-3 start. The Majors are slated to host MUW today, then welcome Centre College next weekend for the start of their Southern Athletic Association schedule.
Millsaps College is off to a hot start that reached its greatest intensity last Sunday, when the Majors routed the University of Dallas 22-1 at Twenty Field. The Majors are 7-3 heading into another three-game tournament at home this weekend that will conclude with an interesting game against MUW on Sunday. Mark Petkovsek Jr. and freshman Bradley Pelle are batting .372 each, and Ryan Erwin is 3-0 with a 2.25 ERA in four appearances.
Other numbers of note at the state’s small schools:
8.36: Delta State’s staff ERA through eight games. The Statesmen (3-5) surrendered 36 runs while getting swept in a three-game Gulf South series at Shorter last weekend. On the positive side, freshman transfer Hayden Cooper has three homers in 17 at-bats. DSU hosts GSC foe Montevallo at Ferriss Field this weekend.
16: Ken Scott’s RBI total through 11 games for Mississippi College. The senior outfielder from Meridian, by way of East Central Community College, is batting .341 with three homers and six stolen bases for the Choctaws (3-8, 1-2 GSC). They host league opponent Christian Brothers this weekend.
.301: William Carey’s team batting average. Led by R.J. Stinson at .467, the Crusaders are off to a 9-3 start (all home games) and play Bryant & Stratton-Albany at Wheeler Field this weekend. Note, too, that Carey pitchers have 111 strikeouts in 90 innings.
16: Runs by Blue Mountain in a 16-6 win against a good Freed-Hardeman team on Wednesday. Dylan Hale, a DeSoto Central product, went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs for the Toppers (5-5), who host Culver-Stockton this weekend.
.140: Belhaven’s team batting average. Caleb Whittle, a senior from Fulton via Itawamba CC, is hitting .389; no other player is above .200. The Blazers (2-4 overall and in the American Southwest Conference) are at Concordia-Texas for a league series this weekend.
P.S. Reggie Williams, the ex-big leaguer, is slated to make his Alcorn State coaching debut this weekend at McNeese State. … Mississippi Valley State, which didn’t win a game in 2021, blasted Rust College twice on Sunday in Stanley Stubbs’ debut as coach but faces a sterner test this weekend at Nicholls State.
Lance Lynn came in second in the American League Cy Young race in a poll of mlb.com experts. The former Ole Miss standout is 10-3 with a league-best 2.20 ERA for the first-place Chicago White Sox. Mississippi State product Brandon Woodruff (8-7, 2.38 for first-place Milwaukee) got one first-place vote in the National League voting but finished outside the top five overall. … Boston placed Crystal Springs native Hunter Renfroe on the bereavement list on Thursday. It isn’t clear when Renfroe – batting .258 with 25 homers and 77 RBIs – will return to the team. … After the cancellation of the current homestand because of COVID-19 protocols, the Mississippi Braves have only one homestand remaining: Sept. 7-12 against Montgomery. The M-Braves are 58-39, best record in the Double-A South, with 18 total regular season games left. They visit Biloxi next week. … Keep an eye on former Biloxi High standout Colt Keith, a fast-rising prospect (currently No. 12) in Detroit’s system. The state’s 2019 player of the year after moving to the Coast from Arizona, Keith was a fifth-round draft pick in 2020. A lefty-hitting third baseman, he has played at three levels in his pro debut season. He was batting .320 (.436 on-base percentage) in Low-A ball when the Tigers bumped him up to High-A West Michigan on Monday. … Ex-Ole Miss star Errol Robinson is now playing for Sioux City of the independent American Association. Robinson, drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016, was with Cincinnati’s Double-A Chattanooga club (and hitting .213) when he was released earlier this month. Robinson reached Triple-A with the Dodgers and started this year with the Reds’ Triple-A team. … Millsaps College recently broke ground on a 6,000 square foot facility for indoor hitting, pitching and fielding practice. Also as part of the $1.8 million project, space in the existing Hall Activities Center will be converted into a 1,000 square foot player lounge. “This project is an important step in the upgrade of our baseball facilities,” Jim Page, coach of the NCAA Division III Majors since 1989, said in a school release.
Millsaps College finishes regular season play with a pair of doubleheaders at old rival Rhodes College today and Saturday. The NCAA Division III Majors are 7-13 in Southern Athletic Association play and stand sixth in the league standings. The top four make the league tournament next week. Center is the current fourth-place team at 9-10. The Majors (9-20 overall) are coming off a twinbill sweep of Hendrix last Sunday that kept their postseason hopes alive. Sam Pitre drove in five runs in the two games and earned SAA player of the week honors. Pitre (.406) and Mason Little (.350) have provided consistent offensive production, but pitching (league-high 8.61 staff ERA) and defense (league-worst 74 errors) have dragged the Majors down. … D-III Belhaven University, with nine games left on its schedule, is 16-11 and 11-7 American Southwest Conference, though the Blazers have dropped five of their last six. The top eight teams in the 12-team league make the ASC Tournament field; the Blazers currently sit fifth. They are at LeTourneau for a three-game series this weekend. Kyle McLaughlin, at .412, ranks among the league’s top hitters and Brett Sanchez (8-1, 2.18 ERA) has been a consistent force on the mound for BU.
Of all the wins racked up by Mississippi colleges over the weekend, none was more significant than Millsaps College’s conquest on Sunday of nationally ranked Birmingham-Southern. The Majors, coming off the worst season in coach Jim Page’s long tenure, were 5-7 heading into their Southern Athletic Association opening series on the road against the No. 8 team in NCAA Division III. BSC is the defending SAA champion and D-III College World Series runner-up. The teams split a doubleheader to begin the series, setting up Sunday’s rubber game that the Majors won in blowout fashion, 12-7. Behind home runs from Fritz Walker III and Chris Hart, the Majors bolted to a 10-1 lead. Erstwhile football player Walker, batting .362, leads the team with four homers and 18 RBIs. Hart, a Northwest Rankin High product, entered the game just 5-for-45 on the season. He banged out three hits, including a grand slam that was his first homer of the year. An unsung hero for the Majors was freshman Brady Davis, who recorded the last five outs to snuff out any BSC comeback hopes. … Meanwhile, tough times continued for Mississippi Valley State, which was swept in a home SWAC series against Alabama State to fall to 0-13. Two of the Delta Devils’ six SWAC losses were by one run and two were by two runs. Valley hasn’t scored more than four runs in any game and has managed that total only twice.
Millsaps College and Belhaven University, NCAA Division III programs in bounce-back mode, are slated to open the 2020 season today. The Majors, 10-33 in 2019, are hosting LeTourneau at Twenty Field on their Jackson campus, while the Blazers, 11-29 in Hill Denson’s final season as coach, play a pair of games (Randolph-Macon and Huntingdon) in a tournament in Montgomery, Ala. For BU, today’s games mark the debut of coach Kyle Palmer, previously director of baseball operations at California Baptist and an assistant at East Texas Baptist prior to that. The Blazers’ top player is Justin Milam, a former Madison Central and Northwest Mississippi Community College standout who hit .296 with five homers and 27 RBIs in 2019. At Millsaps, Jim Page enters his 32nd season with a 774-498-3 record but coming off what he calls “the toughest year we’ve ever had.” The bar for success is high at Millsaps, which has made eight D-III regional appearances under Page and in 2013 went to the College World Series. The Majors’ undoing in 2019 was a pitching staff that posted a 7.48 ERA, but Page said in a school-produced video that he is encouraged by what he saw in fall workouts. He wants his pitchers to throw strikes and trust the defense to make plays. “It’s going to come down to that,” he said. Lefty Taylor Sullivan was a bright spot in 2019, going 3-0 with a 4.11 ERA. With Mason Little (.331) on the shelf with an injury, the top returning hitter is Jimmy Johnstone, who batted .304.
In-state rivalry games do add a certain spice to the college season. Southern Miss and Mississippi State engaged in a compelling three-game series in Starkville last month, and Wednesday at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium, Millsaps College and Belhaven University battled it out in the first game of the Maloney Trophy Series. The Blazers, behind the arm of Kyle Whittington (two hits, 11 strikeouts in five innings) and the bat of Steven Liuzza (4-for-5, four RBIs), won 13-7, weathering a late Majors comeback. Freshmen Chris Hart (from Northwest Rankin High) and Brayden Stensaas (Pearl) drove in three runs each for Millsaps. BU improved to 6-7, while scuffling Millsaps fell to 3-12. Game 2 of the three-game series between the NCAA Division III rivals is March 19 at Millsaps’ Twenty Field. Also this month we get the first round of the SWAC home-and-homes, with Jackson State visiting Mississippi Valley State March 15-17, Alcorn State trekking to Valley March 22-24 and ASU visiting JSU March 29-31. On March 20, at MGM Park in Biloxi, D-II Mississippi College and NAIA William Carey will hook up. And looming in April are the Trustmark Park College Series games in Pearl: Ole Miss-USM on April 9 and the UM-State Governor’s Cup clash April 23. Those are always spicy.
Busy schedule at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium (with its artificial surface) this weekend: Millsaps College will play Wisconsin-Platteville on Friday at 2, followed by a Belhaven University-UWP game. On Saturday at 10, Millsaps and UWP will meet again, followed by a doubleheader between Belhaven and Centenary. Millsaps and Centenary will hook up on Sunday at 11, followed by a doubleheader (at 2) between Mississippi College and Gulf South rival West Georgia. That series will conclude on Monday with a noon start. … Unbeaten Delta State bolted to No. 7 – up eight spots – in the new NCBWA Division II poll. The Statesmen are 9-0 heading into a three-game series vs. Union University this weekend at Cleveland’s Ferriss Field. Mississippi College (7-3), ranked as high as No. 7 in one preseason poll, is 18th in the writers poll. … MUW opened its second season with a doubleheader sweep, 10-2 and 12-6, of Lane College on Monday at Columbus High’s field. Owls leadoff batter Heath Ford went 3-for-8 with three RBIs in the two games, and Leon Petite had two hits, three runs and three RBIs. … Tougaloo College and Rust College faced off in a Gulf Coast Athletic Conference series over the weekend, with the host Bulldogs winning both games to improve to 2-5. Rust is a new member of the GCAC this season. … Pearl River Community College’s Shemar Page and Jones County JC’s O’Neil Burgos were named the MACJC pitcher and hitter of the week. Page, a sophomore right-hander from Raleigh, threw five hitless innings with 10 strikeouts in a win last weekend against St. Louis CC. Burgos, freshman out of Brookhaven Academy, went 7-for-13 with a homer and four RBIs in the Bobcats’ 4-0 week. … Meridian CC, ranked No. 4 in preseason by Collegiate Baseball, is off to a 2-2 start with a doubleheader slated for Sunday against Copiah-Lincoln CC at Hartfield Academy in Flowood, just down the highway from Smith-Wills.