10 Jun

wrapping it up

The college season in the Magnolia State was tinged with disappointment. To paraphrase the Billy Beane character from “Moneyball,” If you don’t win the last game of the season, the rest is irrelevant. Winning the last game is what every team is gunning for. But while no school from Mississippi won a national championship, there was plenty of stuff to be proud of. William Carey made yet another trip to the NAIA World Series. The Crusaders won the SSAC Tournament, then hosted and won an NAIA regional before ending their run at 37-16. R.J. Stinson was a Ferriss Trophy finalist and John Snyder a second-team All-America. Southern Miss, under first-year coach Christian Ostrander, won the Sun Belt Tournament and got an NCAA Tournament bid, finishing 43-20, the program’s eighth straight 40-win season. Mississippi State rallied from a sluggish start to earn an NCAA bid and finish 40-23. The Bulldogs’ Dakota Jordan won the Ferriss Trophy, and Connor Hujsak made the SEC All-Tournament team after delivering two game-winning knocks. Delta State reached the GSC Tournament championship round and earned an NCAA Division II regional spot. Led by All-GSC third baseman Dylan Coleman, the Statesmen finished 33-24. Jackson State reached the title game of the SWAC Tournament and was three outs from winning it. The Tigers finished 36-20 and were ranked No. 2 in Black College Nines’ final HBCU Large School poll. Belhaven — led by CCS pitcher of the year Brett Sanchez and player of the year Owen Abney — reached the semifnals of the CCS Tournament and ended the season with a 25-17 mark. The Blazers also swept all three games from Maloney Trophy rival Millsaps. Blue Mountain Christian reached the SSAC Tournament final — losing to Carey — and earned the school’s first NAIA Tournament bid. The Toppers, who finished 31-23, beat Carey in a three-game series for the first time, and Arderrius Townsend was a first-team All-America choice. MUW went 22-15, setting a school mark for regular season wins. Southeastern Baptist of Laurel posted a 17-15 record, including a win over Division I Alcorn State. It was an especially tough year for Ole Miss, which wobbled in at 27-29, 11-19 in the SEC. The Rebels’ season ended in gut-wrenching fashion: a walk-off loss to Mississippi State in the SEC tourney. Mississippi College‘s season also ended with a thud: a three-game sweep at the hands of rival Delta State. The Choctaws wound up 20-25, 10-20 in the GSC. Millsaps endured a 14-27 campaign that ended with two one-run losses to Centre (Ky.) in the SAA postseason. Both Alcorn State and Mississippi Valley State struggled again, the Braves going 6-43 (5-25 SWAC) and the Delta Devils 12-34 (4-26). NAIA member Rust finished 16-33 overall (10-11 GCAC) but did win a couple games in the GCAC Tournament. Tougaloo went 13-35, 8-13 GCAC. P.S. Seven players from Mississippi jucos earned All-America honors in NJCAA Division II. Pearl River Community College first baseman Hollis Porter — the MACCC player of the year — was a first-team pick, along with Meridian catcher Blaise Priester. PRCC outfielder Bryce Fowler, Hinds outfielder Thomas Marsala and Jones infielder Brady Thomas made the second team, and East Central pitcher Luke Cooley — the conference pitcher of the year — and outfielder Mo Little were on the third team. ECCC got an at-large bid to the juco World Series and reached the semifinals, finishing 55-9.

26 May

it’s crunch time

With a win today, Jackson State will be back in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014. The Tigers (36-19) play old rival Grambling State in Atlanta for the SWAC Tournament championship. The winner — and only the winner — will get an NCAA berth. JSU has been a consistent winner under coach Omar Johnson, but getting into an NCAA regional out of a one-bid league is a tough task. The Tigers have only done it three times, twice under Johnson. The 4-seed out of the East Division this year, they got to the brink with a 4-2 victory against Bethune-Cookman on Saturday. Lenny Montesano went 3-for-4 with a homer and four RBIs, and Je-andrick Lourens and three relievers combined on a six-hitter. Do the Tigers have any pitching left for the title game? … Southern Miss goes for its second straight Sun Belt Tournament title today against Georgia Southern at Montgomery, Ala. The Golden Eagles advanced with a weather-interrupted, come-from-behind 7-5 win Saturday over Appalachian State. Nick Monistere homered and Slade Wilks had two more hits and two RBIs as USM won the marathon contest. Colby Allen got the last four outs for his seventh save. The Eagles, under first-year coach Christian Ostrander, are 40-18, having reached 40 wins for the eighth straight year. … William Carey University cruised into the NAIA World Series with an 11-game win streak but went 2-and-out in Lewiston, Idaho, falling to Cumberlands (Ky.) 6-4 in an elimination game on Saturday. Carey ends the season with a 37-16 record. … East Central Community College got off to a sensational start this season, winning its first 31 games, and will have a shot at a fantastic finish starting today in the NJCAA Division II World Series at Enid, Okla. The Warriors (51-7) lost in the Region 23 Tournament but received an at-large bid to the World Series and are seeded third. Led by All-MACCC outfielder Mo Little (.354, 11 homers, 73 RBIs) and MACCC pitcher of the year Luke Cooley (8-1, 2.20 ERA, 110 strikeouts), the Warriors will play Monday against the winner of the delayed Montgomery (Md.)-Madison (Wisc.) first-round game. … Four MHSAA champions were crowned on Saturday at Trustmark Park in Pearl: Vancleave in Class 5A, Sumrall in 4A, St. Andrew’s in 2A and Taylorsville in 1A. P.S. Landon Harper, former Southern Miss pitcher from Meridian, was promoted to the Double-A Mississippi Braves on Saturday. He joins Saucier native and Mississippi Gulf Coast CC alum Brandon Parker, a current M-Braves outfielder, on the list of Mississippians to suit up for the Pearl-based club. Others: Zack Bird, Brent Leach, Van Pope, Jay Powell, Austin Riley, Michael Rosamond and John Thomson.

24 May

riding high again

A season that began with high expectations — a No. 4 national ranking — for William Carey University reached a low point on March 7, when the Crusaders were 11-9 and no longer ranked. Flash to May 24, and Carey is back on a high, riding an 11-game win streak and seeded seventh in the NAIA World Series at Lewiston, Idaho. The Crusaders (37-14) were slated to play Indiana Southeast on Friday night. The sluggish start this season wasn’t totally unexpected, as Carey lost some key players (Patrick Lee, Bobby Lada, A.J. Stinson, et al.) from last year’s World Series team. “We’ve got three new guys in there, and it’s a learning experience for them,” longtime coach Bobby Halford said in a school release after a loss in the season opener on Feb. 1. “And some of the older guys just didn’t play well tonight. But that’s baseball. It’s a long season and I think we’ll be fine.” They are just that. Led by third baseman R.J. Stinson, a Ferriss Trophy finalist, and closer John Snyder, Carey won the SSAC Tournament and its NAIA Opening Round tourney without dropping a game. Stinson, the leadoff batter, is batting .403 with eight homers, 50 RBIs and 71 runs. Bailee Hendon has 10 homers and 58 RBIs. Jake Lycette has driven in 60 runs; Bridley Thomas has scored 48; and Jerod Williams has 16 steals. On the mound, Luke Lycette is 7-1 with a 4.30 ERA. Last year’s ace, Andrew Shirah, is 8-4 despite a 5.15, and Dario Herrera is 6-1. At the back end is Snyder, who has 13 saves, a 1.23 ERA, 43 strikeouts and just seven walks in 29 1/3 innings. In the dugout is Halford, who has over 1,300 wins. It appears to be a team that can bring home a national title, a feat last accomplished in 1969.

19 May

tournament time

The dust has settled — on the regular season, at least — and the conference tournament brackets are set for the state’s NCAA Division I schools. Dust will fly again on Tuesday in Hoover, Ala. As fate would have it, Mississippi State and Ole Miss will meet Tuesday in the one-game elimination round of the SEC tourney. Game time is 9 p.m. State (36-19) is the 5-seed, Ole Miss (27-28) the 12th. Texas A&M awaits the winner in the double-elimination phase. The SEC Tournament means a lot more to the Rebels, who’ll need to win the whole thing to get an NCAA bid. But rest assured, the Bulldogs would love to send the Rebels home. … Surging Southern Miss (37-18) is the No. 2 seed and will open Sun Belt Conference Tournament play Wednesday against an as yet undetermined winner from the single-elimination games on Tuesday. The tournament is in Montgomery, Ala. … Jackson State (33-18) is the No. 4 seed in the SWAC East and will begin tournament play Wednesday in Atlanta against the No. 1 team from the West, apparently either Texas Southern or Grambling State. … There’s more: In the NAIA World Series, William Carey is the seventh seed and will open Friday against 10-seed Indiana Southeast at Lewiston, Idaho. No. 2 Georgia Gwinnett awaits the winner. … The MHSAA State Championships schedule features four Game 1’s on Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl and three on Wednesday. On Tuesday, starting at 10 a.m., it’s Class 2A St. Andrew’s-East Union; followed by Class 3A West Marion-East Webster; Class 4A Sumrall-Ripley; and Class 7A Brandon-Hernando. On Wednesday, starting at 1 p.m., it’s Class 1A Taylorsville-Pine Grove; followed by Class 6A George County-Warren Central; and Class 5A Vancleave-Lafayette. Game 2’s are Thursday and Friday (in the same order), with any Game 3’s on May 25. … Delta State’s season ended on Saturday with a 17-6 loss to West Florida in the NCAA D-II South Region at St. Leo, Fla. The Statesmen finish 33-24.

16 May

double feature

They combined to throw 14 innings and allowed just one run on nine hits and a walk while striking out 17 batters. The Nos. 2 and 3 prospects in Atlanta’s organization, Hurston Waldrep and Spencer Schwellenbach, started Wednesday’s doubleheader for the Mississippi Braves and showed off the stuff that may land them in the major league club’s bullpen in the not-too-distant future. Waldrep, the former Southern Miss standout and a first-round pick in 2023, pitched all eight innings in Game 1 in his seventh start for the Double-A M-Braves. Regularly hitting 93-94 mph (per the Trustmark Park scoreboard), the right-hander (now 2-3, 3.32 ERA) scattered six hits in a 2-1 win against Biloxi. He struck out eight, including the side in the seventh inning, and skillfully pitched around some trouble, benefitting from a terrific defensive play by shortstop Nacho Alvarez that ended the fifth inning. The M-Braves won on a walk-off sac fly by Tyler Tolve in the first extra inning. Then came Schwellenbach, a second-round pick out of Nebraska (where he also played shortstop) in 2021 whose start in pro ball was delayed by injury. Making his Double-A debut, the right-hander threw six shutout innings, touching 97 mph while allowing three hits, one walk and punching out nine. He struck out two of the first three batters he faced. Schwellenbach was 2-1, 2.53, in six starts at High-Class A Rome before Wednesday’s promotion. He went 5-2 in A-ball in 2023 after not pitching (following Tommy John surgery) in 2021 and ’22. The light-hitting M-Braves scored the lone run of Game 2 on an RBI single by Yolbert Sanchez in the second inning. P.S. Congratulations to William Carey University, which punched its ticket to the NAIA World Series on Wednesday by winning the NAIA regional in Hattiesburg. The NAIA World Series begins May 24 in Lewiston, Idaho.

01 Jun

banging on door

Sent back to the minors despite going 6-for-6 in his last two games for Minnesota, Matt Wallner has responded by banging out six hits, including two home runs, in his first two games for Triple-A St. Paul. He had a double, triple and homer on Tuesday, a homer and two singles on Wednesday. The former Southern Miss standout has crushed the ball with such ferocity that a St. Paul broadcaster called him “Judge-like.” A 6-foot-4, 220-pound lefty-hitting outfielder, Wallner is batting .298 with six homers and 21 RBIs for the Saints. He was at .368 in 19 at-bats for the Twins when they optioned him out to make room for Max Kepler, who came off the injured list. The Twins, clinging to first place in the American League Central, surely can’t keep Wallner down on the farm for long. … There are several other Mississippi products in Triple-A seemingly banging on the big league door. At Norfolk (Baltimore system), Mississippi State alum Jordan Westburg is batting .311 with 14 homers and 47 RBIs. The Orioles’ No. 3 prospect, who has played shortstop, third base, second and the outfield this season, hit nine homers in May. At Sugar Land (Houston), Oxford native and Ole Miss alum Grae Kessinger is batting .286 after a 3-for-7 effort in a pair of games on Wednesday. He hit his sixth homer and has 31 RBIs. At Louisville (Cincinnati), ex-USM star Chuckie Robinson went 2-for-4 with two RBIs on Wednesday and is batting .331 with six homers and 29 runs driven in. Robinson got a brief look with the Reds last season. At Jacksonville (Miami), Flowood native and ex-MSU standout Jake Mangum is hitting .307 after an 0-for-3 Wednesday. The speedy outfielder has two homers, 22 RBIs and seven steals. At Round Rock (Texas), Mississippi College product Blaine Crim is batting .255 with four homers and 18 RBIs and former State star Justin Foscue is at .272 with seven and 23 plus seven steals. At Albuquerque (Arizona), MSU alum Hunter Stovall is batting .296 with 27 runs in 32 games. P.S. Kudos to ex-Ole Miss standout Nick Fortes, who got his second career walk-off hit for Miami, an RBI single in the ninth against San Diego closer Josh Hader. … Tough day for Lance Lynn and Justin Steele, starting pitchers for Chicago on Wednesday (see previous post). Ole Miss alum Lynn gave up eight runs in four innings in a loss for the White Sox and George County High product Steele was pulled with left forearm tightness after throwing three perfect innings for the Cubs, who would go on to lose. … William Carey University’s great season ended with a 15-6 loss to Lewis-Clark State in a semifinal game at the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. The Crusaders won the SSAC regular season title, climbed to No. 8 in the national poll and finished 49-11; their last win in Idaho was coach Bobby Halford’s 1,300th at WCU. … Congrats to East Central, Purvis and East Union for winning series openers in the MHSAA state championships at Pearl. East Union’s Landon Harmon tossed a perfect game.

31 May

spotlight on …

Chicago will be hoppin’ today with both the White Sox and the Cubs in town, and a pair of Mississippi products will be on the mound for the home teams. At Guaranteed Rate Field, ex-Ole Miss star Lance Lynn looks to win his fourth straight start for the underachieving White Sox, scuffling along at 23-34. They meet the star-studded Los Angeles Angels. At Wrigley Field, former George County High star Justin Steele looks to recapture his early season form after going 0-2 in his last three starts for the disappointing Cubs (24-30). They play Tampa Bay, the best team in baseball. Lynn got off to an awful start in 2023, as did the ChiSox. He has improved to 4-5 and lowered his ERA to 5.83 by allowing just four runs in his last 19 innings. Today’s start will be the 297th career for the 36-year-old right-hander. For Steele, a 27-year-old lefty, today will be career start No. 45. He was 6-0 after beating St. Louis on May 10 but has been a bit wobbly of late. Cincinnati roughed him up for five earned runs in 3 2/3 innings on May 26, pushing his ERA to 2.77. P.S. No American League reliever has had a better May than Mississippi State product Kendall Graveman of the White Sox. He has not allowed a run in 11 outings, posting four saves and two holds. … In college ball: William Carey University lost for the first time Tuesday night in the NAIA World Series but will play on today against Lewis-Clark State, the home team in Lewiston, Idaho. … On the prep front: Kudos to Lewisburg, St. Stanislaus and Resurrection Catholic for winning series openers in the MHSAA state championships in Pearl.

28 May

worth noting

With a sixth-inning double Saturday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Corey Dickerson reached a pretty cool milestone: 1,000 career hits. McComb native Dickerson, 34, got his first big league hit in 2013 with Colorado, which drafted the lefty-hitting outfielder out of Meridian Community College in 2010. Now with Washington, Dickerson has played for eight different clubs over his career and has been an All-Star and a Gold Glove winner. He has 136 career homers and 460 RBIs. The career hits leader among Mississippi natives is Dave Parker with 2,712. Three others (Buddy Myer, Ellis Burks and Frank White) reached the 2,000-hit level. … Former Southern Miss star Matt Wallner now has 18 career hits after a 4-for-4 effort for Minnesota on Saturday. Wallner, who has played in just 28 games over his young MLB career, hit his first homer of 2023 in the win against Toronto; he hit two last season. … USM will play for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title Sunday in Montgomery, Ala., after beating Appalachian State 11-1 in an elimination game on Saturday. USM lost an earlier game to the Mountaineers. In the win, Will Armistead threw a seven-inning four-hitter and Matthew Etzel and Reece Ewing banged out three hits apiece in a 15-hit attack. … East Central Community College got run-ruled 12-2 by Southeastern Iowa on Saturday in the NJCAA Division II World Series and plays an elimination game Sunday vs. Frederick (Md.) CC in Enid, Okla. … William Carey University won its opener Friday against Bellevue (Neb.) and will play again Monday in the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. R.J. Stinson hit an RBI double and scored on a Jake Lycette sac fly to give the Crusaders a 6-4 lead in the bottom of the eighth. Preston Ratliff pitched the ninth to nail down the win, Carey’s 48th of the season.

18 May

carey by number

William Carey University won the championship of its NAIA Opening Round tournament on Thursday in Hattiesburg to advance to the NAIA World Series starting May 26 in Lewiston, Idaho.
Here’s a by-the-numbers look at Carey’s accomplishment:
4 — NAIA World Series appearances for Carey, including a national title in 1969.
47 — Wins this season, a school record.
8 — Carey’s national ranking in the latest NAIA coaches poll.
4 — Top 10 teams in the 10-team NAIA World Series, including No. 1 Southeastern (Fla.), No. 3 Georgia Gwinnett and No. 6 Westmont (Calif.)
1,298 — Career wins for coach Bobby Halford.
38 — Seasons Halford has coached the Crusaders.
3 — Best finish (in 2017) by a Halford-coached Carey team in the NAIA World Series.
27 — Runs scored in Thursday’s clincher (a 27-4 win over Ave Maria at Wheeler Field).
5 — Times this season the Crusaders have scored 20 or more runs in a game.
99 — Hits this season by R.J. Stinson, who added two on Thursday and is batting .401 on the year.
4 — RBIs by Jake Lycette (who homered) and Patrick Lee in Thursday’s game. Lycette also scored four times, as did Bobby Lada.
9 — Wins this season, against zero losses, by Dario Herrera, who pitched six innings against Ave Maria.

31 Jan

play ball!

William Carey University lifts the lid on the 2019 college season today with a home game against Missouri Baptist at Wheeler Field in Hattiesburg. There could be some karma at work for the Crusaders this season; 50 years ago Carey won the NAIA national championship. WCU lost many of the key contributors from its 2018 team, which went 36-25 and played in an NAIA regional. “Last year’s team was built on speed evidenced by their 150 stolen bases as a team. This year we should have a little more power in the lineup with the guys we have coming back and the addition of new guys,” longtime coach Bobby Halford said in a school release. Back are second baseman Caleb Ledet, who batted .336 with 31 runs in 43 games; outfielder Lucas Scott (.283, 11 steals, 47 games); right-hander Devin Smith (7-4, 3.65 ERA); and righty Lake Robertson (2-2, two saves, 6.11). Newcomers to watch include South Alabama transfer outfielder/closer Kyle Bayles, a onetime Meridian Community College standout, and Pascagoula High All-State shortstop Patrick Lee. P.S. On Friday, Delta State opens at home against East Central University, Mississippi College visits Harding in Arkansas and Blue Mountain launches at home against William Wood. Tougaloo starts on Saturday against Selma in Alabama. Next week brings the openers for Belhaven University (Feb. 8 at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson against LeTourneau) and Millsaps College (Feb. 9 at Twenty Field in Jackson, also vs. LeTourneau). The NCAA Division I start date is Feb. 15: Mississippi State begins the Chris Lemonis era at renovated Dudy Noble Field against Youngstown State, Ole Miss hosts Wright State, Southern Miss opens at home with Purdue, Jackson State welcomes Boston College and Alcorn State plays Prairie View A&M in the MLB Urban Invitational at New Orleans. Mississippi Valley State opens Feb. 19 at Stillman in Alabama.