Next year is already under way at Mississippi State, which has begun practice for the 2024 season, aiming to put the disappointments of 2023 in the rearview mirror. The first intrasquad game of fall ball for Chris Lemonis’ Bulldogs was scheduled for today. With a refurbished roster, including a highly rated 2024 recruiting class, following last season’s 27-26 finish, the 2021 national champions will play exhibition games at Louisiana Tech on Oct. 14 and against UAB at Dudy Noble Field on Oct. 21. The Fall World Series is set for Oct. 5-8 and a final scrimmage for Oct. 20. Southern Miss, under new coach Christian Ostrander, begins formal practice on Sept. 15. The Golden Eagles, 46-20 and an NCAA Super Regional participant in 2023, have some key players to replace from last year’s club. USM has not scheduled any outside exhibition games. Ole Miss has begun individual workouts and will play its first intrasquad game on Sept. 21. The 2022 national champs tumbled to 25-29 last season and also lost several standouts but reportedly have a strong class of recruits coming aboard. Mike Bianco’s team will play home exhibitions against Jacksonville State on Oct. 14 and Memphis on Oct. 29. (Memphis’ new coach is former Pearl River Community College star Matt Riser, a longtime coach at Southeastern Louisiana.) The Rebels’ annual Pizza Bowl intrasquad will be played on Oct. 31. P.S. Mississippi Valley State enters the fall with a new coach, CJ Bilbrey, and Jackson State has hired a new pitching coach: Justin Thomas, a former head man at NCAA Division III Bethany College. … Delta State will host an Alumni Weekend Sept. 22-23, with a scrimmage by the 2024 team set for Sept. 22 at Ferriss Field and an alumni game the next day. … D-III Belhaven University also has a new coach, Andrew Gipson, a former Blazers standout.
Take pause today from the MLB division and wild card races to honor the life of Doug Shanks, who had a far-reaching impact in baseball — and politics — in the Magnolia State. Jackson native and Provine High alum Shanks, who died Monday at 76, was instrumental as a City Commissioner in the 1970s in getting the New York Mets to move their Double-A team to Jackson and getting Smith-Wills Stadium built as their home. Three different pro teams that played there won six league titles from 1975-2005. Shanks coached youth baseball, including the Jackson 96ers, for many years; won state championships at University Christian School (now Hartfield Academy); and coached 14 seasons at Mississippi Valley State, where he won five division titles, reached the SWAC Tournament championship game and famously hosted Notre Dame for a three-game series in 2010. After retiring from Valley in 2015 — and being honored by the state Legislature — he took the coaching job at Central Hinds Academy. Shanks also launched the Cotton States League, a collegiate summer league that played its games at Smith-Wills in 2001, when the city didn’t have a pro team. The league still operates in New Albany. And he played a key role in getting the Dizzy Dean Museum built in Jackson in the mid-’70s; it is now housed in the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum adjacent to Smith-Wills. Shanks’ son Fred, a state Representative, said this in a Facebook post: “He lived a full life and was a bit of a Forrest Gump.”
Austin Riley: The ex-DeSoto Central High star smacked his fifth home run in four games, powering Atlanta to a 6-4 win Friday against Milwaukee in a matchup of first-place teams. Riley has 21 homers and 58 RBIs on the season and is batting .321 with 14 RBIs and nine runs in his last seven games. “I want to go out there and do my job as the third hitter, which is to drive in runs and do damage,” Riley told mlb.com.
Nathaniel Lowe: The former Mississippi State standout hit a two-run homer that put Texas ahead in the first inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers, who rallied to win 11-5 in another matchup of first-place teams. Texas had won six straight. Lowe, who also walked twice and scored another run for the Rangers, is hitting .440 with two homers, five RBIs and nine runs in his last seven games. He’s at .281 with 11 homers on the season.
Justin Steele: The George County High product notched his 10th win of the season — and third against rival St. Louis — as the Chicago Cubs won 4-3 in a matchup of National League also-rans. Steele, bouncing back from a rough outing, yielded one run in 6 1/3 innings and struck out a season-high nine. The All-Star left-hander is 10-3 with a 2.95 ERA on the year.
P.S. Ole Miss alum Lance Lynn, reportedly a coveted trade piece, allowed four home runs in the Chicago White Sox’s 9-4 loss to first-place Minnesota. Lynn is 6-9 with a 6.18 ERA and has surrendered an MLB-high 28 homers. … Kemp Alderman, the 2023 Ferriss Trophy winner out of Ole Miss, has signed for $1.4 million with Miami, which drafted him in the second round. Other newly reported signees include Magnolia Heights’ Cooper Pratt (Milwaukee), Southern Miss’ Matthew Etzel (Baltimore) and Itawamba Community College’s Will Verdung (Atlanta). Of the 14 players drafted out of the state, only Tupelo High’s Johnathan Rogers, 20th-round pick by Detroit, is unsigned, per mlb.com. Former Pearl River CC star Bryson Ware, who played at Auburn, has signed with Philadelphia, and Hinds CC alum Landon Tompkins, a Louisiana Tech alum, signed with Pittsburgh. … Mississippi Valley State will name CJ Bilbrey as its new head coach, according to blackcollegenines.com. Bilbrey will replace Milton Barney Jr., who went 15-36 in his one season. Barney replaced Stanley Stubbs, who coached one season after replacing Aaron Stevens.
Jackson State hasn’t had a player picked in the MLB draft since 2017. For Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State, it’s been eight years since they had a player drafted. Seven players from those schools will get a little more exposure in the inaugural HBCU Swingman Classic, scheduled for tonight at T-Mobile Park in Seattle, where scouts and team execs will be gathered for the major league All-Star Game next week. Jackson State’s Ty Hill — a Ferriss Trophy finalist this year — and teammates Jatavis Melton, Jesse Caver and Erik Gonzalez, Valley’s Narvin Booker and Victor Figueroa and Alcorn’s Kewan Braziel are among the 50 players from historically black NCAA Division I schools invited to Seattle. In addition to workouts, two squads will play a game tonight (9:30 on MLB Network). No player from Mississippi’s three HBCUs is ranked among the top 200 draft prospects by mlb.com or Baseball America. More exposure might be just what one of them needs. “Not everyone goes to a Power 5 conference,” Ken Griffey Jr., who created this event, recently told MLB Network. Hill is a particularly interesting case. He hit .399 with a .507 on-base average for his three years at JSU. He walked 96 times, fanned 74. This past season, Hill — noticeably smaller than his listed 6 feet 1, 210 pounds — batted .387 with six homers, 16 doubles, four triples and 53 RBIs. He can handle third base, second or the outfield. Obviously, the Saltillo High product can play the game. Whether his abilities transfer to pro ball, who really knows? He might just need a chance. … Prior to the HBCU game is the MLB/USA Baseball High School All-American Game for 2024 draft prospects. Jackson Prep star Konnor Griffin, rated the No. 1 prospect by some services, is expected to play. He is an LSU commit. Also on the rosters are Noah Sheffield, son of Gary, and Adrian Beltre Jr. A replay of the game will air at 10 a.m. Saturday on MLBN. … The All-Star Futures Game is set for Saturday in Seattle at 6 p.m. (live on Peacock). Former Biloxi High star and 2019 Gatorade player of the year Colt Keith, a top Detroit prospect, is on the American League roster. The lefty-swinging third baseman is batting .335 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs between Double-A and Triple-A in 2023. Also watch for Biloxi Shuckers outfielder Jackson Chourio, a highly regarded Milwaukee prospect. Atlanta’s representative is right-hander Spencer Schwellenbach, who is at Low-A Augusta. The Futures Game will re-air on MLBN Sunday at 8 a.m.
Sal Frelick, who played for the Biloxi Shuckers in 2022, went 3-for-5 with two RBIs to help Italy upset The Netherlands in pool play today and reach the quarterfinals of the World Baseball Classic. Frelick, an outfielder, is one of Milwaukee’s top-rated prospects and likely will make his MLB debut in 2023. … Mississippi State product Jacob Robson went 4-for-4 with a walk, scored three times and drove in a run as Canada opened WBC play with an 18-8 win against Great Britain. Robson played independent ball last year and spent several seasons in Detroit’s system. He got some big league time in 2021. … Delta State swept a three-game series from Christian Brothers this weekend to improve to an eye-popping 77-4 all-time against its Gulf South Conference rival. … Surging Blue Mountain Christian suddenly dropped three straight at home against SSAC power Mobile to fall to 18-7, 3-3. The Toppers’ Josh Smith, the NAIA pitcher of the week, got roughed up for 10 hits, seven walks and five earned runs in the series opener. Mobile is 20-2, 6-0. … William Carey dropped two of three to Talladega in Hattiesburg in its SSAC opening series. The Crusaders, who had never lost to Talladega, are 16-6 overall. … After its controversial (see previous post) loss against New Orleans on Friday, Mississippi Valley State fell 35-3 to the Privateers on Saturday and 16-3 today. (Note: Valley’s Davon Mims was 1-for-8 with five strikeouts, presumably all legit, in Games 2 and 3.) … Mississippi State, 11-5 with five wins in a row, will play Nicholls State and Louisiana-Lafayette on Tuesday and Wednesday at MGM Park in Biloxi. … Former Ole Miss right-hander James McArthur was optioned to Triple-A by Philadelphia. The 2018 draftee has yet to make his big league debut. … There is a nice piece on former Jackson Mets standout Al Pedrique on milb.com. The new manager of the Double-A Reading Phillies has been playing, coaching or managing in pro ball since 1978. He spent parts of four seasons as the JaxMets’ shortstop in the early 1980s and played parts of three years in the majors. “What is beautiful about this game is you learn something every day,” Pedrique said.
Clearly, there was something magical in the Mississippi air today. There was a walk-off homer in Oxford, another in Starkville and a late, tie-breaking rally in Hattiesburg. Kemp Alderman, former Newton County Academy standout, gave Ole Miss a 7-6 win against Purdue with a 10th-inning bomb, his second of the game and eighth of the season for the 13-2 Rebels. Kellum Clark, the former Brandon High star, hit the winner for Mississippi State in the ninth, his fifth jack of the season beating Lipscomb 4-3. Southern Miss scored a run in the seventh and four in the eighth — two coming on a homer by Danny Lynch — to beat Valparaiso 8-3. P.S. For anyone who might’ve missed it: One of the worst called strikes imaginable ended Mississippi Valley State’s 7-3 loss at New Orleans on Friday night. Home plate umpire Reggie Drummer punched out Valley’s Davon Mims on a 1-2 offering that was low and away, nowhere near the plate and almost a wild pitch. (The video is all over the Internet.) On the previous pitch, also a questionable called strike, Mims had taken exception, jumped into the air, twirled around and then tapped the plate with his bat. Apparently, Drummer didn’t like that. … Former Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College star Brandon Parker, a minor leaguer in Atlanta’s system, got a hit today in his first big league spring training at-bat.
Stepping up in a rivalry game is something special. Here’s a tip of the cap to three players who did so in three intra-state clashes on Tuesday night. In Oxford, senior Peyton Chatagnier went 2-for-3 with a homer and three runs to drive Ole Miss to an 11-5 win over Southern Miss in a matchup of nationally ranked rivals. Chatagnier is batting .400 with four homers, 11 RBIs and 14 runs for the 11-2 Rebels, who are ranked as high as No. 4. USM slipped to 8-4. At Lorman, freshman Victor Figueroa went 3-for-4 with five RBIs as Mississippi Valley State whipped Alcorn State 8-4. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Figueroa is hitting .359 with 12 RBIs for the Delta Devils (6-6). Alcorn fell to 1-11. At Pearl’s Trustmark Park, Stewart Bonnecaze was the leader of a pack of four Millsaps pitchers who combined on a three-hitter to propel the Majors to a 4-2 victory against Belhaven that evened the Maloney Trophy Series at 1-1. Bonnecaze, a freshman, worked four hitless innings, allowing just an unearned run and fanning five, to improve to 1-1 with a 4.66 ERA for the 8-7 Majors. Belhaven is 3-9. … Jones College, Itawamba Community College and Mississippi Delta CC will play a round-robin today at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson, an event originally scheduled to be played in Cleveland. Jones-Delta is at noon, Jones-ICC at 2:30 and ICC-Delta at 5. Tickets are $10.
The Mississippi Braves in conjunction with Jackson State will pay tribute to the Negro Leagues during tonight’s doubleheader against Pensacola at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The M-Braves will don the uniform of the 1938 Atlanta Black Crackers. JSU officials, as part of their Family and Friends Night celebration, will also honor former Tigers players who went on to big league careers. The M-Braves’ Negro Leagues tribute was originally planned for 2020, marking the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Negro National League, but the season was canceled by the pandemic. Cool Papa Bell, a National Baseball Hall of Fame member, is the most recognizable former Negro Leagues star from Mississippi; the entrance road into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum and Smith-Wills Stadium is named after the Starkville native. But an array of others from the Magnolia State also made a mark in black baseball. Here’s a few names to know: William Foster, who grew up in Rodney and attended and coached at Alcorn State, is also in the national Hall of Fame and is widely considered the best left-handed pitcher in Negro League annals. He starred on three pennant winners with the great Chicago American Giants teams of the late 1920s and early ’30s. Howard Easterling, from Mt. Olive, was a five-time All-Star and won a Negro League World Series title with the 1943 Homestead Grays. Jonestown native Luke Easter, the first black Mississippian to play in the majors, got his start in the Negro Leagues. The legendary slugger played until he was 49 and hit 385 career homers, 93 in the majors with Cleveland. Sam Hairston, from Crawford, won a batting Triple Crown with the Indianapolis Clowns in 1950 and played briefly for the Chicago White Sox in 1951. He is the patriarch of MLB’s first three-generation black family. Rufus Lewis, a Hattiesburg native, was a star pitcher from 1936-50 and won 18 games plus Game 7 of the Negro League World Series for the 1946 Newark Eagles. JSU officials will give a nod to Kelvin Moore, the first school alumnus to make it to the big leagues. Among those who followed are Oil Can Boyd, Dave Clark, Marvin Freeman and Wes Chamberlain. HBCU notes: Mississippi Valley State has named Milton Barney Jr. as its new coach. The former Gulfport High star and Alcorn State assistant coach replaces Stanley Stubbs, who resigned after one season reportedly due to health concerns. Barney is the son of Milton Barney Sr., a former Alcorn State football star, and grandson of Pro Football Hall of Famer Lem Barney, who starred at Jackson State. … JSU lost longtime assistant coach and former player Chadwick Hall, who has taken the reins at Tuskegee. … JSU recently added a power bat to its roster for 2023 with the signing of Peeko Townsend from Northwest Mississippi Community College. The 6-foot, 230-pound outfielder hit 11 homers in 42 games for the Rangers and belted eight in 18 games in the Cotton States League this summer.
Stanley Stubbs, who won championships at two colleges in Georgia and coached at Rust College the last two years, will be named coach at Mississippi Valley State on Wednesday. Stubbs succeeds Aaron Stevens, fired after an 0-20 season. Stubbs is a Booneville native who played at Northeast Mississippi Community College and was an assistant coach under Bob Braddy at Jackson State for several years. Rust, an NAIA program, finished 13-20 in 2021. Alcorn State has yet to name a replacement for Brett Richardson, who was not retained after a 7-20 season. … The Mississippi Braves are riding an eight-game losing streak as they head into a 12-game road trip that begins tonight at Pensacola. The Double-A club’s longest losing streak since it arrived in Pearl in 2005 is nine. At 40-32, the M-Braves no longer have the Double-A South’s best record. … Whatever happened to Corey Dickerson? Well, the former Meridian Community College star is expected to begin a rehab assignment this week for the Toronto Blue Jays. Dickerson was on the injured list (foot) with Miami when he was traded on June 29. The veteran outfielder hit .260 with two homers in 62 games for the Marlins. … No surprise really that the top two teams in the Cotton States League North feature the college summer league’s top two pitchers. Will Cook, of Holmes Community College, is 4-0 with a 1.38 ERA for the Tupelo Thunder, 13-6 heading into the season’s final weekend in New Albany. Camron Wright, a lefty from Itawamba CC, is 3-1, 1.66 for the North Delta Dealers, also 13-6. The Dealers took two of three from the Thunder back in June, with Cook notching Tupelo’s lone win. Wright pitched well in the rubber game but didn’t get a decision. … Among the array of stars who’ll be formally inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame on Saturday night are two baseball icons: former high school coach Jerry Boatner and renowned stadium architect Janet Marie Smith. In addition, Con Maloney, longtime owner of Jackson’s Texas League franchise, will receive the Rube Award, which recognizes lifetime contributions to Mississippi sports and is named in honor former sports museum director Michael Rubenstein.
Frustration is relative. Mississippi State is hurting, having been battered in three straight games at home by Arkansas. “We got manhandled,” a downcast coach Chris Lemonis said in his postgame video conference. One Bulldogs player called the performance “embarrassing.” State, a consensus national top five last week, slipped to 17-7, 2-4 in the SEC and tumbled in the polls. Suddenly, the Bulldogs have things to prove. Comes now a game tonight at Dudy Noble Field against Mississippi Valley State, where frustration is at a whole ’nother level. The Delta Devils are 0-9, 0-6 in the SWAC. They’ve scored just eight runs all season. Their pitchers are struggling to get outs (.380 batting average against), but so is their defense (35 unearned runs allowed). Valley is 0-27 all-time against State. If there was ever a good time for the Devils to catch the Bulldogs, tonight isn’t it. Frustration is relative.