28 Mar

rising river

East Central Community College currently holds the No. 1 ranking in NJCAA Division II, but Pearl River CC is No. 5 with a bullet. The Wildcats swept two games from Hinds on Tuesday to run their win streak to 19. They are 32-5 and 12-0 in the MACCC, alone in first place. ECCC, which won its first 31 games of the season, lost for the second time in three outings on Wednesday, falling to Copiah-Lincoln 3-1 in Game 2 of a twinbill. ECCC is 32-2, 8-2. Seventh-ranked Jones beat Gulf Coast twice on Wednesday to improve to 29-5, 11-1; and No. 18 Northwest sits at 24-8, 9-1, after a sweep of Holmes. But Pearl River, which won the national championship two years ago, is the team of the moment. The ‘Cats belted 11 homers in a sweep of Itawamba on Saturday, then got great pitching on Tuesday from Thomas Crabtree — the league’s reigning pitcher of the week — and J.P. Robertson, former Germantown High star, in the 9-2, 6-1 sweep of Hinds. Hollis Porter, named the NJCAA D-II hitter of the week on Wednesday, homered in Game 1 and drove in three runs in Game 2. The Mississippi State transfer from Hurley is batting .425 with 15 homers, four shy of the school single-season record. P.S. Baseball America’s first projected field of 64 for the NCAA Tournament features four state schools, with Jackson State joining Southern Miss, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. UM and MSU — the national champs in 2022 and 2021, respectively — missed the tournament in 2023.

13 Jun


Southern Miss turned the page Monday night on a glorious era. Scott Berry’s storied tenure started at Pete Taylor Park on Feb. 19, 2010, with an 11-0 win over Northwestern State. It ended on the same field with a 5-0 loss to Tennessee in Game 3 of the Super Regional — not the ending USM faithful had dreamed of for their retiring coach but not a terrible way to go out. The school’s all-time winningest coach doffed his hard hat and took a final curtain call as a gold-clad crowd of some 6,000 gave him a standing O. Berry won 528 games, made nine NCAA Tournament appearances, won five C-USA regular season titles and four tournament titles. In its first year in the Sun Belt Conference, USM finished second in the regular season, won the tourney title and then went off and won a regional on the road. Berry coached dozens of award-winning players and sent a bunch to pro ball. On top of all that, Berry is just a great guy, easy to root for. A trip to the College World Series would have been a more fitting finish, but for the second straight year, with Omaha in their sights, the Golden Eagles ran into some white-hot pitching. In 2022, it was Ole Miss, which went on to win the national title. This time, Vols pitchers blanked USM’s powerful lineup over the last 15 innings of the last two games. UT’s Chase Burns allowed one baserunner in the final 2 2/3 Monday. He got Dustin Dickerson on a line drive to end the game and the era. Christian Ostrander, the former pitching coach, is now the man in charge, and he has a lot to live up to. He follows Berry, who followed the legendary Corky Palmer, who took the Eagles to their one CWS appearance in 2009. Palmer succeeded Hill Denson, whose wins record Berry surpassed and whose name is on the field. Denson followed Pete Taylor, for whom the ballpark is named.

09 Jun

what’s going on

It ain’t Red Sox-Yankees (also happening on this sports-packed weekend), but Counter Clocks-Blue Crabs is a burgeoning rivalry that should get the attention of Mississippi baseball aficionados. The Lexington Counter Clocks, managed by Biloxi native Barry Lyons, and the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs, managed by Jackson native Stan Cliburn, are slated for a three-game Atlantic League series at Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf, Md., beginning tonight. It is the first meeting this season of the two former big league catchers. Lyons is in his first year with the Counter Clocks, while Cliburn is a veteran of the independent league. Cliburn’s club leads the APBL North Division with a 21-13 record. Lyons’ team is 16-20, third in the South. The Blue Crabs’ top hitter is former Ole Miss standout Braxton Lee, batting .349. Ex-Rebels star Thomas Dillard is batting .235 with six homers and 17 RBIs for the Counter Clocks. … On the MLB docket, the two best teams record-wise, Tampa Bay and Texas, open a compelling three-game set tonight at Tropicana Field. On the undercard in this series is the first meeting as opposing players for the Brothers Lowe, former Mississippi State star Nathaniel of the Rangers and Josh of the Rays. A bunch of family and friends are expected to attend. … The Mississippi Braves and Biloxi Shuckers continue their Southern League series tonight at Pearl’s Trustmark Park. The Milwaukee-affiliated Shuckers have won two of the first three in the six-game set and lead the season series 7-5. … The NCAA Super Regionals begin tonight — Tennessee-Southern Miss starts Saturday — and one of the most interesting matchups is South Carolina-Florida, a longtime SEC rivalry. Both teams feature a Southern Miss transfer: Will McGillis is the Gamecocks’ usual leadoff batter and Hurston Waldrep is one of the Gators’ top starting pitchers. … The Cape Cod League, the best of the college summer loops, begins its centennial season Saturday. There are a handful of Mississippi products on the current rosters, including Mississippi State’s Ross Highfill and K.C. Hunt with Falmouth, State’s Hunter Hines with Yarmouth-Dennis and Ole Miss’ Mason Nichols with Hyannis. There is a lot of roster movement during the season, so there may be more Mississippians arriving later.

06 Jun

handing out awards

The big prize was, of course, the regional championship, which Southern Miss secured on Monday by overpowering Penn 11-7 at Auburn, Ala. Fittingly, Dustin Dickerson, the junior shortstop from Laurel, was the winner of the Auburn Regional’s Most Outstanding Player award. He went 8-for-22 with four home runs and eight RBIs. He belted a huge three-run shot in Monday’s finale. The Golden Eagles dominated the all-tournament team, with six players making the list: Tanner Hall, Rodrigo Montenegro, Nick Monistere, Danny Lynch and Carson Paetow in addition to Dickerson. (Somehow, there just wasn’t room on the 11-man squad for Tate Parker, Will Armistead or Justin Storm.) USM (45-18) now waits to learn if it will be rewarded with a Super Regional at Taylor Park, where it set attendance records this year. … Elsewhere in the NCAA Tournament, former Madison Central star Braden Montgomery was named to the Stanford Regional all-tourney team; he homered for the Cardinal in Monday’s clincher. Former USM pitcher Hurston Waldrep, now at Florida, made the Gainesville Regional all-tourney team for the champion Gators, and USM alum Will McGillis, a grad transfer at South Carolina, made the all-tournament team for the Columbia Regional champion Gamecocks. … In MLB, Mississippi State alum Nathaniel Lowe was the star of the day for Texas, smacking a walk-off single as the red-hot Rangers beat St. Louis 4-3. It was the fourth career walk-off hit for Lowe, who went 2-for-5 to raise his average to .283. … Former State standout Justin Foscue, now in the Rangers’ minor league chain, and USM product Matt Wallner, a Minnesota prospect, were named to MLB Pipeline’s Prospect Team of the Week on Monday. Foscue posted a 1.521 OPS for Triple-A Round Rock last week. Wallner batted .423 with three homers for Triple-A St. Paul; he was also named the International League’s player of the week. … Colt Keith, the former Biloxi High star, was named the Double-A Eastern League’s player of the month for May after hitting .374 with five homers and 27 RBIs for Erie in the Detroit organization. … On the local front, Mississippi Braves outfielder Landon Stephens and left-hander Luis De Avila were selected as the Farm Bureau player and pitcher of the week after the Double-A club’s series at Birmingham. The M-Braves begin a six-game series against rival Biloxi tonight at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

29 May

road trip

Southern Miss will load up the bus and head east about 300 miles for its NCAA regional assignment. The Golden Eagles are the 2-seed in the Auburn Regional and will open Friday against Samford, another Alabama school. Top-seeded Auburn will play Penn on Friday. USM is 41-17 and champion of the Sun Belt Conference. Auburn (34-21-1) went 1-2 in the SEC Tournament. Samford, a 36-win team that won the Southern Conference Tournament, is led by John Anderson, who has 22 homers, and Jayden Davis, a .363 hitter. Also on the Bulldogs roster is Hinds Community College alum Josh Rodriguez (.271, 11 homers), an outfielder, and Kace Garner, a Northwest Rankin grad who played at Meridian CC and Mississippi State before landing at Samford. A backup catcher, he hit .143 in 19 games. One of Auburn’s big sticks is Bryson Ware, former Germantown High and Pearl River CC standout who was a second-team All-SEC pick this season. The Tigers are coached by Amory High and Itawamba CC alum Butch Thompson, a former Mississippi State assistant coach. The winner of the Auburn Regional will meet the winner of the Clemson Regional, which also includes Tennessee, in the Super Regional round.

20 Apr

where things stand

For what it’s worth in mid-April, Baseball America projects Southern Miss as an NCAA Tournament team and the No. 15 national seed, hosting a regional in Hattiesburg. Still a long way to go until the NCAA Baseball Selection Show on May 29, but the 25th-ranked Golden Eagles are trending in the right direction at 22-13 overall and 10-5 (tied for second) in the Sun Belt Conference. USM takes on first-place Coastal Carolina (11-4) in a three-game series this weekend at Myrtle Beach, S.C. USM swept James Madison last weekend, powered in part by SBC player of the week Slade Wilks, who homered twice, including a grand slam, and tied a school-record with eight RBIs in Sunday’s series finale. Wilks, out of Columbia Academy, is batting .333 with 14 homers and 39 RBIs. … In the mighty SEC, both Mississippi State and Ole Miss have a lot of work to do to impress the NCAA selection committee. State (22-15, 5-10) is tied for fifth with Auburn in the West Division and visits the Tigers this weekend. After last week’s gut-wrenching series loss at Starkville, Ole Miss (21-16, 3-12 and seventh in the West) gets to host No. 1 LSU this weekend. … It has been a tough year for Mississippi’s SWAC schools. Jackson State is 19-16 overall but just 4-11 in the league, fourth in the East and battling for a league tournament berth. Mississippi Valley State is 2-13 and 10-27, Alcorn State 2-12, 5-26. … It has also been a tough year for the state’s Division II schools. Delta State is 21-21 and 11-12 (ninth) in the Gulf South Conference. Mississippi College is 15-27 and 9-15 (11th). The top eight teams make the GSC Tournament. … In NAIA, William Carey University sits atop the Southern States Athletic Conference standings with a 14-4 record after sweeping Mobile last weekend. The nationally ranked Crusaders (32-9 overall) visit scuffling Blue Mountain Christian this weekend. The Toppers are 6-15 in the SSAC, 23-21 overall. … Rust College is tied for first in the NAIA Gulf Coast Athletic Conference with an 11-4 mark. Tougaloo is fifth in the six-team loop at 5-9. The league tournament is set for Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium April 27-30. … NCAA Division III Belhaven is second in the Collegiate Conference of the South standings at 10-4. The Blazers (18-15 overall) have one conference series remaining before the league tournament that starts May 3. … D-III Millsaps, on a six-game losing streak, is sixth in the Southern Athletic Association at 7-11 (16-21 overall) with one league series remaining. The postseason starts April 28 with four best-of-3 series, followed by a double-elimination tournament. The Majors reached the SAA championship series last year as the No. 6 seed under a different format. … MUW, a D-III independent, is 4-22. No record is available for Southeastern Baptist, an NCCAA school in Laurel.

13 Jun

look who’s back

Regardless of which school you root for, you have to be impressed by what the collective bunch has done in baseball. Ole Miss is going to the College World Series. Nineteen times in the last 66 years, Mississippi has sent one of its NCAA Division I schools to Omaha, with Mississippi State winning it all in 2021 in its 12th visit. It ain’t easy to get to Omaha. The postseason, starting with conference tournaments, is a grinder. Sixty-four teams get into the NCAAs; eight get to Omaha. Five No. 1 seeds didn’t get out of their regional this year. The overall No. 1 seed (Tennessee) just lost in the Super Regional. Southern Miss, a regional host, survived a five-game dogfight to advance but seemingly had nothing left for Ole Miss in the Hattiesburg Super Regional, failing to score a run in two games. So Ole Miss, which barely made the NCAA field after a mercurial regular season, is Omaha-bound as a regional 3-seed. This will be the Rebels’ sixth trip, second under Mike Bianco, the school’s all-time winningest coach who nevertheless has taken a lot of heat for his teams’ postseason shortcomings. But what’s past is past. Bianco’s current club may have caught lightning in a bottle this postseason. They’ve pitched. They’ve hit. They’ve won five straight, practically in a stroll. It figures to get tougher in Omaha, but would you bet against them? It’ll be interesting to see how UM fans turn out at the CWS. MSU fans took over the ballpark last year, playing a large role in the Bulldogs’ success. That first D-I natty was a big deal for the Magnolia State. Another would be no less special.

01 Jun

behold the power

Fear the Fighting Camels? Beware the ’Noles? If power is the key to winning these days, then the teams to watch in the Starkville and Oxford Regionals, respectively, are Campbell and Florida State. Campbell (35-16) has more total home runs (65) and the best homers-per-game average (1.27) of the four teams bound for Starkville. Matthew Christian leads the Camels with 16. Campbell pitchers also have done a good job of limiting homers, having yielded just 33. Samford (35-22), which plays Mississippi State in the first round, punched its ticket to the NCAAs with two huge homers in the ninth inning of the Southern Conference title game: a game-tying shot by Towns King and a walk-off bomb by Max Pinto. Sonny DiChiara has 16 of Samford’s 64. On the flip side, Samford pitchers have given up 70 homers. Logan Tanner (team-best 16 round-trippers) and the other State sluggers may be salivating over that stat. State (40-15) sits at 60 as a team, eight more than its pitchers have allowed. Another masher of note in that regional is Virginia Commonwealth’s Tyler Locklear, who has 16 bombs. The Rams (37-14) have allowed only 37 homers. … In Oxford, where the red cup crowd really digs the long ball, Florida State (30-22) comes in with 74 homers (1.42 per game, 18th in the nation). The Seminoles’ Mat Nelson is tied for the national lead with 22. FSU opens regional play against Southern Miss (37-19), which has belted 67 bombs, led by Reed Trimble with 14. Ole Miss (41-19) has slugged 75 homers (1.25 per game), led by Kevin Graham’s 14. Tim Elko, perhaps UM’s best power source, has 13 despite missing a big chunk of time with an injury. Rebels pitchers have allowed 65 homers, a relatively high number. Notably, UM’s opening opponent, Southeast Missouri State (30-20), is a relatively power-starved team with just 37 homers. Wade Strauss hit 14 of those.

19 May

familiar refrain

Jackson State went 24-0 in the SWAC, leads the league in batting (.316) and ERA (4.28), leads the nation in stolen bases (131) and enters the league tournament as the No. 1 seed. There is, however, another number stuck to the Tigers that’s not as sparkly. JSU’s RPI, per ncaa.com, is 96. If JSU doesn’t win the SWAC tourney in Madison, Ala., this week, the Tigers’ low RPI won’t rate an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. It’s a familiar refrain at JSU. The out-of-conference resume isn’t good enough. The Tigers were swept three straight to begin the season by a good Mercer team, then lost to nationally ranked Mississippi State and Ole Miss as well as Tulane and split two with Louisiana-Monroe. And since no other SWAC school ranks in the top 200 in RPI, the 24 conference wins don’t carry a lot of weight. So, the heat is on the Tigers to take the tourney title, which they haven’t done since 2014. Coach Omar Johnson, who has posted 15 straight winning seasons, said in an interview with WJTV-12 that his message to the players is “just stay in the moment … play and enjoy it.” He has a strong and balanced club that swept the league individual honors. Player of the Year Ty Hill is hitting .431, Chandler Dillard .367, Freshman of the Year Chenar Brown .357 with eight homers and 45 RBIs. Equon Smith, a .301 hitter, has 24 stolen bases and Jatavious Melton 22. Six Tigers have double-figure steals. Nik Galatas (9-2), Pitcher of the Year Anthony Becerra (8-1) and Mario Lopez (5-0) have been steady starters, Reliever of the Year Steven Davila (six saves, five wins) a rock in the bullpen. Johnson said he wants his pitchers to work fast and his baserunners to be aggressive, a formula that has worked exceedingly well. “We’ve been tested,” he said in the WJTV interview. “We’ve dealt with adversity and guys have come through.” P.S. The first HBCU World Series will be hosted by the Hank Aaron Sports Academy at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. The best-of-3 series between the SWAC and MEAC champions will be played from May 28-30. (NCAA regional bids go out May 31.) The event was organized by Black College Nines and BCSG 360, who held a Black College World Series for smaller schools earlier this spring in Montgomery, Ala. Rust College participated.

28 Jun

bottom lines

The college season in Mississippi ended with such cruel irony. Mississippi State, which won so many big games in comeback fashion, was eliminated from the College World Series by a bottom-of-the-ninth rally by Louisville. Having allowed time for the hangover to pass, we can now look back on the 2019 season as one with more than its share of thrills. State, under first-year coach Chris Lemonis, won 52 games, went 37-5 at the “New Dude” (renovated Dudy Noble Field), made its 38th NCAA Tournament appearance, hosted a regional and a Super Regional and made its 11th CWS trip. The Bulldogs earn top-of-the-class honors in the state, but quite a few others belong on the honor roll. Ole Miss made its 23rd NCAA appearance and fell one win shy of the CWS, losing at Arkansas in the Super Regional to end the year at 41-27. Southern Miss went on a late-season roll, winning the Conference USA Tournament and earning its 16th NCAA bid. The Golden Eagles fell in the Baton Rouge Regional to LSU and finished 40-21. Jackson State went 31-24, notching a 13th straight winning season under Omar Johnson. Delta State won another Gulf South Conference title and reached the Super Regional round of the Division II Tournament, falling out at Tampa. The Statesmen went 42-14 in what turned out to be the legendary Mike Kinnison’s last year as coach. Mississippi College also put up a second straight winning season (28-17) under fourth-year coach Jeremy Haworth and just missed a second straight D-II regional invite. Blue Mountain went 26-25-1 in the NAIA ranks, and Mississippi University for Women went 18-13 as a non-scholarship independent and made the USCAA postseason tournament. That’s eight four-year schools with winning seasons. William Carey (24-26), Millsaps (10-33) and Belhaven (11-29) endured rare down years, while Alcorn State (14-31), Mississippi Valley State (8-27) and Tougaloo (5-29) continue to seek the right formula for their programs. Fall ball will be here in a blink.