04 Mar

numbers to crunch

Cleaning up after the busy weekend in college baseball:
4 — Runs allowed by Mississippi State pitchers in a sweep of Mount St. Mary’s. The Bulldogs (8-4) have a staff ERA of 3.82; Nate Dohm (2-0) has a 1.02 and Jurrangelo Cijntje (2-0) a 1.15.
19 — RBIs this season by Ole Miss’ Jackson Ross. The Florida Atlantic transfer is batting .390 with five homers and 17 runs for the 8-5 Rebels, who took two of three from Iowa.
77 — Walks drawn by Southern Miss batters this season. The Golden Eagles, 8-4 after taking the series from Indiana State, have a team on-base percentage of .393 while batting just .239.
.639 — Batting average for Jackson State’s Joseph Eichelberger, who has also driven in 21 runs and scored 15 in 11 games for the Tigers, 9-3 after a sweep of winless Alcorn State (0-9).
3 — Straight wins for Mississippi Valley State (4-3), which swept new coach C.J. Bilbrey’s former school, Harris-Stowe State, by a count of 47-9.
14 — Runs scored by Delta State after having its seven-game win streak snapped in a shutout by Montevallo. The Statesmen (12-6) were powered by Matthew Nichols, who went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and three runs in the 14-10 win in Game 2 of a Saturday twinbill.
30 — Home runs by Mississippi College batters. Wesley Sides and Caleb Reese have seven bombs each for the 9-6 Choctaws, who have dropped three straight.
.517 — On-base percentage of William Carey’s R.J. Stinson. Stinson, a .375 hitter, has 24 hits, 17 walks and just four strikeouts in 64 at-bats for the 10-8 Crusaders.
64 — Run differential for Blue Mountain Christian. The Toppers (12-5) have outscored their opponents 158-94; Hayden Redding leads the team with 24 runs.
7 — One-run games played by Millsaps (10-4). The Majors are 5-2 in those games, including a 1-0 loss at Huntingdon (Ala.) on Sunday.
22 — RBIs by Belhaven’s Owen Abney. Jackson Prep alum Abney, batting .275 with three homers, has driven in 37 percent of the runs scored by the Blazers (7-6).

02 Mar

present arms …

Justin Steele, the former George County High standout, won’t be resting on his laurels this spring. His first Cactus League outing on Friday was evidence of that. Steele worked three innings for the Chicago Cubs against the White Sox, throwing 46 pitches, 32 for strikes, and using his entire arsenal, per reports. The 28-year-old left-hander from Lucedale yielded two hits, a walk and two runs with two strikeouts. Steele went 16-5 with a 3.06 ERA in 2023, helping the Cubs stay in the playoff chase till the bitter end. He finished fifth in the Cy Young Award voting in the National League. “I gotta do it again, that’s how I’m looking at it,” he told mlb.com. The Cubs are counting on that. … Spencer Turnbull, the ex-Madison Central star, made his first appearance with his new club, throwing two clean innings with four punchouts for Philadelphia vs. Miami in the Grapefruit League. Turnbull was non-tendered by Detroit after battling injuries in 2023 and posting a 7.26 ERA in just seven games. the Phillies signed him as a free agent, a one-year, $2 million deal. “I can’t even begin to explain how grateful I am to have a new opportunity, a new situation here,” Turnbull told nbcsportsphiladelphia.com. He was 12-29 with a 4.55 ERA overall in five seasons with Detroit but was on a nice roll from 2020 into ’21 (8-6, 3.46) before being beset by injuries. … Southern Miss product Hunter Stanley, getting a look as a minor leaguer in Cleveland’s camp, struck out the only batter he faced against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In two Cactus League outings, Stanley has yielded one run in 1 1/3 innings. He has a 4.58 ERA over the minor league seasons, having made Double-A last year. … Minor league vet Zac Houston, a Mississippi State alum and non-roster invitee in Tampa Bay’s camp, had a rough outing, allowing four runs (including a three-run homer) in 2/3 of an inning against Pittsburgh. The 29-year-old Houston, in pro ball since 2016, has made three appearance for the Rays. … Hurston Waldrep, the ex-USM star now a top prospect with Atlanta, is from Thomasville, Ga., and — yes — grew up a huge Braves fan. The Braves drafted the right-hander in the first round out of Florida last summer. “The way it worked out, I really couldn’t ask for anything different,” he said in an MLB Network interview. Waldrep pitched at four levels in 2023, including a stint with the Double-A Mississippi Braves. He is in camp vying for a big league roster spot but has yet to debut in the Grapefruit League. Waldrep was 7-2 with a 3.22 ERA and three saves in two years in Hattiesburg before transferring to Florida and helping the Gators make the College World Series.

26 Feb

sunday punch

While it is much too early in the NCAA Division I season for defining moments, Mississippi’s Big 3 did deliver affirming wins on Sunday. Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss each won the rubber game in a home series against an unheralded opponent. At Hattiesburg, USM (6-2) rallied to beat Missouri State 5-4. Four Golden Eagles pitchers allowed just one earned run and struck out 17 batters. Davis Gillespie and Seth Smith produced clutch hits, freshman Smith’s RBI double giving the Eagles the lead in the sixth inning at Taylor Park. At Oxford, where Rebel Nation has grown restless, Ole Miss (4-4) lowered the boom on High Point with a 25-2 victory. The Rebels smacked five homers, three doubles and a triple among 16 hits. Duke transfer Andrew Fischer, who had been scuffling, went 3-for-4 with a homer, four RBIs and four runs. Four UM pitchers yielded six hits, three walks and fanned 11 at Swayze Field. At Starkville, where things also seem a bit unsettled, State (4-4) whipped Georgia Southern 10-2. David Mershon put up a 4-for-5 with two RBIs, and Bryce Chance and Connor Hujsak drove in three runs each. Jurrangelo Cijntje delivered a much-needed strong start (five innings, one run) at Dudy Noble Field. What’s next? USM plays Nicholls State on Tuesday at MGM Park in Biloxi. Ole Miss hosts Arkansas-Little Rock on Tuesday. And that same day, State welcomes Jackson State (6-2), which is coming off a 7-3 loss to Mississippi Valley State. It was the first win for new Valley coach C.J. Bilbrey, who had seen his club crushed by the Tigers in the first two games of the non-league series. Jesus Campa, a transfer from El Paso Community College, worked eight solid innings for Valley.

24 Feb

spring flings

Who needs spring training? Ex-Ole Miss star Tim Elko, now a Chicago White Sox minor leaguer, homered in his first at-bat in the team’s Cactus League opener on Friday. Power is Elko’s thing. He blasted 28 homers across three levels of the minors in 2023 and has 33 in his two-year pro career. The first baseman/DH hit 46 in his four years at Ole Miss and helped the Rebels win the national championship in 2022. He reached Double-A last season and should get to Triple-A at some point in 2024. The season is several weeks away, but Elko looked ready on Day 1. Also making an appearance for the ChiSox was Southern Miss alum Chuckie Robinson, who went 0-for-1. The veteran catcher, who has some big league time, signed with Chicago as a minor league free agent this off-season. … Elsewhere in spring openers: Former Hattiesburg High standout Joe Gray Jr., now a Kansas City minor leaguer, went 1-for-1 with a walk and an RBI for the Royals against Texas, which trotted out three Magnolia State products: Mississippi State alum Nathaniel Lowe, the World Series-champion Rangers’ regular first baseman, was 0-for-2; Mississippi College alum Blaine Crim, a minor leaguer, went 0-for-2; and ex-MSU standout Justin Foscue, now on the Rangers’ 40-man roster, was hitless in two at-bats. … Ex-Pascagoula High star Willie Joe Garry Jr., a Minnesota minor leaguer, was 0-for-1 with two walks and two runs for the Twins, while USM product Matt Wallner, a starting outfielder for the Twins, put up an 0-for-2. … MSU alum Konnor Pilkington allowed a run in his one inning of work for Arizona. … And former DeSoto Central standout Blaze Jordan, who reached Double-A in 2023, played some third base and went 0-for-1 for Boston.

22 Feb

here and there

Delta State, pegged for a sixth-place finish in the Gulf South Conference this season, opens league play this weekend with a 6-5 record. The Statesmen will take on Union University for a three-game set (Friday-Saturday). DSU was the preseason favorite in the league poll in 2023 and finished eighth before reaching the championship round in the league tournament. Go figure. DSU is batting .323 as a team with a staff ERA of 6.00. The Statesmen are led by Brett Burrell, batting .444 with 11 RBIs, and Brendan McCauley, .391 with a homer and seven RBIs. … Mississippi College (8-3, 2-1 GSC) plays on the road for the first time this weekend, visiting league foe Auburn-Montgomery. … Blue Mountain Christian (11-3) has 19 home runs, seven by Arderrius Townsend, a former Northwest Mississippi Community College star. … Belhaven University is 3-3 heading into its first home games, a three-game set this weekend against St. Thomas at Trustmark Park in Pearl. … Mississippi Valley State will play its first games under new coach C.J. Bilbrey when the Delta Devils meet Jackson State (4-1) in a non-conference series, games at Braddy Field on Friday and Sunday and one in Itta Bena on Saturday. Joseph Eichelberger is batting a crazy .714 for JSU. … Southern Miss’ Nick Monistere was 0-for-10 heading into Wednesday’s game at New Orleans, then put up a 3-for-4 with a homer, five RBIs, four runs and two walks in the 4-1 Golden Eagles’ 15-10 victory. … Mississippi State is 13th and Ole Miss 14th in the Nashville Tennessean‘s latest SEC power rankings — and that was before both lost midweek games. MSU is 2-2, UM 2-3. The Rebels are batting .181 and have a 5.23 ERA. P.S. Pencil former East Central CC standout Tim Anderson in as Miami’s starting shortstop. The former All-Star and batting champ reportedly has signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Marlins on the heels of a disappointing 2023 season (.245, one homer) with the Chicago White Sox. Jon Berti was in line for the Miami shortstop job.

20 Feb

eye on …

Frierson Field, Clinton. William Carey University and Mississippi College, both off to good starts, renew their rivalry today. For the NCAA Division II Choctaws (7-3), Wesley Sides is on a jaw-dropping tear, batting .552 with six homers and 15 RBIs. MC has two other hitters, Cole Drake and J.T. Vance, with four homers each. And Caleb Reese, who has three bombs, is sitting on 35 career homers, tied for second on the school’s all-time list. (Richey Hines is No. 1 on that chart with 57. Yes, 57.) MC’s staff ERA is a tad troubling: 5.89. NAIA Carey (7-3) has been sparked offensively by Braydon Coffey at .462 and R.J. Stinson at .382. The Crusaders have just three homers as a team but do sport a 3.74 ERA. Closer John Snyder has five saves. … MC leads the series 6-2, per Carey’s website. Carey leads 14-9, per MC’s. P.S. Former Mississippi State star Brandon Woodruff, who is unlikely to pitch this season after shoulder surgery, has re-signed with Milwaukee, a two-year deal. The former All-Star is 46-26 with a 3.10 ERA for his career.

17 Feb

opening acts

Shout-outs to some standouts from Opening Day in NCAA Division I:
Ethan Lege: The senior outfielder went 3-for-6 with a run and two RBIs, including the go-ahead knock in the 13th inning, as Ole Miss beat Hawaii 5-4 at Murakami Stadium.
Nikko Mazza: The junior right-hander out of Madison-Ridgeland Academy threw 5 1/3 shutout innings, allowing four hits and striking out eight, in Southern Miss’ 4-1 win over Marist at Taylor Park in Hattiesburg.
Bryce Chance: The junior outfielder, also an MRA product, hit a go-ahead two-run homer in the seventh inning as Mississippi State rallied past Air Force 8-4 before an announced 11,000-plus at Dudy Noble Field.
Davione Hull: The senior outfielder, from Grenada by way of Mississippi Valley State, went 1-for-3 with two RBIs, a walk and a steal in Jackson State’s 9-5 loss to Texas Southern in the Cactus Jack HBCU Classic in Houston.
Kalum Banks Jr.: The junior first baseman went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in Alcorn State’s 10-4 loss to Southern University in the Cactus Jack event.

15 Feb

here it comes

The wrapper comes off for NCAA Division I schools on Friday and there is great anticipation around the state as to what may be revealed in 2024. There is a new coach at Southern Miss and another at Mississippi Valley State. Star players are gone from every team, and the rosters at Ole Miss and Mississippi State, in particular, have been stocked with newcomers, many of them portal transfers. Here’s a quick look at some players to watch in the early going:
At USM, where Christian Ostrander takes over for Scott Berry as the man in charge, the key player might prove to be veteran Slade Wilks. The senior DH from Columbia hit .289 with 20 home runs and 58 RBIs for the 2023 Golden Eagles and was a Ferriss Trophy finalist. Ostrander calls him the “oak tree in that lineup.” USM, which went 46-20 last year and hosted a Super Regional (losing to Tennessee), opens at Taylor Park against Marist.
At State, where the Bulldogs return sluggers Hunter Hines (a Ferriss finalist) and Dakota Jordan, the emphasis has to be on improved pitching. Nate Dohm, 6-foot-4, 220-pound junior right-hander with strikeout stuff, figures to play a key role there. A transfer from Ball State in 2023, he went 6-4 with a 4.07 ERA in 17 appearances for a team that finished 27-26 and had an SEC-worst 7.01 ERA. Dohm and the Bulldogs start with Air Force at Dudy Noble.
At Ole Miss, where MLB draftees Jacob Gonzalez, Kemp Alderman (Ferriss Trophy winner) and Calvin Harris have moved on, the transfer portal brought in a host of newcomers. Notable among them is Luke Hill, a Baton Rouge native who played at Arizona State last season. Hill, who hit .314 with six homers and 42 RBIs as a freshman for the Sun Devils, takes over at shortstop, where Gonzalez was a three-year star. The Rebels, national champs in 2022, tumbled to 25-29 last year. They open at Hawaii.
At Jackson State, where last year’s 28-25 record and two-and-out finish in the SWAC Tournament was a disappointment, the Tigers must replace their best hitter, Ty Hill (a Ferriss finalist), and a top starter, Jesse Caver. Offensive spark could come from Myles White, a senior second baseman who batted .327 (.462 OBP), drove in 23 runs and scored 36 in 49 games. The Tigers open in the six-team Cactus Jack HBCU Classic in Houston, where they’ll play Texas Southern in their first game, Alcorn State in their second.
P.S. Alcorn, coming off an 8-40 season, opens against Southern University on Friday in the Cactus Jack event. Valley, 15-36 in 2023, will launch the C.J. Bilbrey era on Feb. 23 at Jackson State.

14 Feb

going camping

Major league spring training camps are open and buzzing in Florida and Arizona. Here’s the list of Mississippians (natives and school alums) who are or soon will be in MLB camps:
40-man roster
Hitters
Nick Fortes (Ole Miss), Miami; Justin Foscue (Mississippi State), Texas; Adam Frazier (MSU), Kansas City; Grae Kessinger (UM), Houston; Nathaniel Lowe (MSU), Texas; Hunter Renfroe (MSU), Kansas City; Austin Riley (DeSoto Central HS), Atlanta; Brent Rooker (MSU), Oakland; Matt Wallner (Southern Miss), Minnesota; Jordan Westburg (MSU), Baltimore.
Pitchers
Garrett Crochet (Ocean Springs), Chicago White Sox; J.P. France (MSU), Houston; Kendall Graveman (MSU), Houston (injured); Dakota Hudson (MSU), Colorado; Lance Lynn (UM), St. Louis; James McArthur (UM), Kansas City; Michael Rucker (Columbus), Philadelphia; Nick Sandlin (USM), Cleveland; Ethan Small (MSU), San Francisco; Justin Steele (Lucedale), Chicago Cubs; Chris Stratton (MSU), Kansas City; Spencer Turnbull (Madison Central HS), Philadelphia; Colby White (MSU), Tampa Bay.
Non-roster invitees
Hitters
Blaine Crim (Mississippi College), Texas; Colt Keith (Biloxi HS), Detroit; Jake Mangum (MSU), Tampa Bay; Chuckie Robinson (USM), Chicago White Sox; Errol Robinson (UM), Baltimore.
Pitchers
Jonathan Holder (MSU) Texas; Zac Houston (MSU), Tampa Bay; Konnor Pilkington (MSU), Arizona; Drew Pomeranz (UM), Los Angeles Angels; Chad Smith (UM), New York Mets; Jacob Waguespack (UM), Tampa Bay; Hurston Waldrep (USM), Atlanta; Will Warren (Jackson Prep), New York Yankees.
Current free agents
Hitters: Tim Anderson (East Central CC); Corey Dickerson (Meridian CC); Billy Hamilton (Taylorsville); Pitchers: Mike Mayers (UM); Brandon Woodruff (MSU).

12 Feb

opportunity knocks

A long wait is over for Spencer Turnbull. The ex-Madison Central High standout, cut loose (non-tendered) by Detroit in November, reportedly has signed with Philadelphia, a one-year, $2 million contract with incentives. Right-hander Turnbull became, on May 18, 2021, the first Mississippian (native or school alum) to throw a no-hitter in the big leagues. He was 4-2 with a 2.88 ERA when he went down with an arm injury in June of that season. Since then, he has rarely been healthy. He missed the rest of the ’21 season and all of ’22 after Tommy John surgery and posted a 7.26 ERA for the Tigers in seven games in an injury-plagued 2023 season. Now 31, Turnbull is 12-29, 4.55, in 61 career appearances. He is expected to get a crack at the Phillies’ rotation in camp — which opens in Florida on Wednesday — but more likely will start the year in Triple-A. P.S. Five players with Mississippi ties are on USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award preseason Watch List: Konnor Griffin of Jackson Prep; Dakota Jordan of Mississippi State; Shane Lewis, a Warren Central alum now at Troy; Braden Montgomery, a Madison Central product now at Texas A&M; and Brett Sanchez of Belhaven University. The award goes to the top amateur player in the country. Former MSU star Will Clark won it in 1985.