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.

28 May

circle the wagons

The resilience of the East Central Community College Warriors will be tested today in Enid, Okla. In its opener Monday at the NJCAA Division II World Series, ECCC squandered a 10-1 lead and lost to Madison (Wisc.) College 12-10. The third-seeded Warriors (51-8) play an elimination game today against Southeastern Iowa. Powered by home runs from Mo Little, Barret Rodgers and Cyrus Rone, ECCC led 10-1 after five innings with ace Luke Cooley on the bump. Cooley departed in the sixth after throwing 110 pitches (just 61 strikes), and six relievers were unable to close the door on Madison. The WolfPack (39-12) scored six times in the sixth, once in the seventh and four more in the ninth to steal the game. ECCC did not manage a hit over the last four innings. If there is a silver lining for the Warriors, they do have Marbin Lezcano (8-1, 3.17 ERA) available for today’s game. … Meanwhile, in San Diego, one of East Central’s most famous alums also had a rough day. Tim Anderson — who led the Warriors to a state title back in 2013 — committed two errors at shortstop in a pivotal seventh inning that cost Miami in a 2-1 loss to the Padres. Anderson also went 0-for-2 at the plate, dropping his average to .203. “I can’t be worse than that,” Anderson told mlb.com after the game. “So I can only get better, so that’s a positive.” The Marlins signed Anderson — .279 career hitter, 98 homers, 120 steals — to a one-year, $5 million deal in the off-season, hoping he could reverse a troubling trajectory. It hasn’t happened. A batting champion with the Chicago White Sox in 2019 and an All-Star in 2022, he slumped to .245 with just one homer last year. The White Sox declined an option in his contract and cut him loose. In 40 games for Miami, the 30-year-old Alabama native has yet to homer and has just three extra-base hits. Never a great fielder, he has six errors and .959 fielding percentage this season, both poor numbers.

17 May

catching up

LSU-Eunice, a seven-time national champion, completed a 4-0 run through the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament by beating Jones College 7-2 Friday in the title game at Poplarville. The third-ranked Bengals get an automatic bid to the D-II World Series in Enid, Okla. There are two at-large bids available in the 12-team field, leaving the door open for an MACCC team to get a call. East Central Community College is 51-7 and ranked No. 1 in the most recent D-II poll; Pearl River is 49-10 and ranked second; and Jones is 41-16 and ranked eighth. Jones eliminated ECCC in the regional on Thursday, and LSU-E put out Pearl River. … Drake Fontenot, Noah Magee and Braiden Jones combined on a six-hitter and Blayke Dendy and Brendan McCauley hit home runs as Delta State stayed alive in the NCAA D-II South Region tourney with an 8-0 win over host St. Leo (Fla.). The Statesmen (33-23) will be back at it on Saturday.

14 May

survival of fittest

The top three teams in the NJCAA Division II poll — and five of the top 17 — are playing today in Poplarville, all in the six-team Region 23 Tournament, from which one team will emerge and move on to the juco World Series. In the first round: No. 1-ranked East Central Community College, a 50-game winner, plays Meridian, which is ranked 17th; No. 2 Pearl River, the MACCC regular season champion and the top seed in the regional, plays upstart Hinds; and No. 3 LSU-Eunice, the seven-time national champ, plays eighth-ranked Jones. The SEC Tournament has nothing on this little get-together at Herring Park. ECCC is the defending region champ. PRCC won in 2022 and went on to claim the national title. LSU-E won the 2021 regional and the national title.
A few players to watch:
ECCC: Mo Little (.370, 11 homers, 71 RBIs, 18 steals) and Luke Cooley (8-1, 2.11 ERA, 105 strikeouts)
PRCC: Hollis Porter (.415, school-record 20 homers, 71 RBIs) and J.T. Schooner (11-3, 3.76, 92 K’s)
LSU-E: Tyson LeBlanc (.353, 54 RBIs, 50 runs, 30 steals) and Blake Lobell (12-0, 1.99, 105 K’s)
Jones: Brady Thomas (.389, 16 homers, 63 RBIs) and Beau Bryans (6-1, 3.82, 99 K’s)
Meridian: Blake Priester (.366, 14 homers, 65 RBIs) and Landon Waters (8-1, 2.05, 106 K’s)
Hinds: Thomas Marsala (.395, 12 homers, 54 RBIs) and Lincoln Sheffield (7-4, 3.59)
P.S. Props to William Carey University and closer John Snyder, whose 13th save nailed down a 6-5 win on Monday against Oklahoma Wesleyan in the NAIA Opening Round tourney at Hattiesburg. Carey (35-14) has won nine straight. … In the NAIA regional at Shreveport, Blue Mountain Christian’s opener against Talladega on Monday was suspended by rain.

01 May

big wednesday

The Mississippi Braves play an 11 a.m. matinee today at Trustmark Park in Pearl, the pro game against Pensacola serving as an appetizer of sorts for tonight’s Ole Miss-Mississippi State clash at the same venue. The televised non-conference game (6:30 p.m./ESPN2) between the Rebels (23-20, 27th in ncca.com’s RPI) and Bulldogs (29-15, 28th in RPI) could have implications for their NCAA Tournament chances. UM took two of three from State in their SEC series last month. … Meanwhile, in Jackson, Tenn., William Carey University and Blue Mountain Christian will begin play today in the SSAC Championship. Carey (30-14) is the No. 2 seed and will open Pool B play against Thomas U. BMC (29-19) is the 8-seed and draws top-seeded Faulkner to start Pool A play. The winners of the two four-team pools will meet for the championship, with both getting bids to the NAIA Tournament. … The Belhaven University-MUW game originally scheduled for tonight in Clinton has been cancelled. The Blazers (23-15) have finished their regular season and will compete in the CCS postseason next week. P.S. The pairings are set for the MACCC’s best-of-3 play-in series, which begin Friday: East Central, ranked No. 1 in NJCAA Division II, hosts Northeast; No. 12 Northwest hosts Hinds; No. 13 Jones hosts East Mississippi; and Meridian hosts Copiah-Lincoln. The series winners advance to the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament next week in Poplarville, home of regular season champion Pearl River, ranked No. 2 nationally. … Eli Huebner of Meridian was named the MACCC hitter of the week after batting .500 with three homers, including two grand slams in one inning, in four games, while PRCC’s Caleb Dyess earned pitcher of the week honors following his six-hitter in the championship-clinching 7-1 win against Northwest on Saturday.

24 Apr

stat freaks

In the hitting-heavy MACCC, where runs tend to flow like the mighty Mississippi, a pair of state natives are tied for the national lead in scoring. Brady Magee, from Lake, has scored 66 runs for No. 2 East Central Community College, matching the total of Jeff Ince, a Brandon native, who plays for No. 3 Pearl River CC. ECCC has state’s RBI leader, Mo Little (Brandon), whose total of 67 ranks second in the NJCAA Division II stats. Hollis Porter (Hurley) of PRCC leads the league in homers with 19, which also ranks second in the nation. No. 12 Northwest has the MACCC’s top base stealer, Jacob Hill (Byhalia), with 35, which ranks ninth nationally. The state’s leading hitter is Gulf Coast’s Marc Stephens, batting .450 for the Bulldogs. Bryce Fowler (Madison) of PRCC leads in total hits with 76, ranking second in the nation. His teammate Porter has 72 knocks and Hinds’ Thomas Marsala 70, both sitting in the top 10 in the country. There is some quality pitching out there: Luke Lirette of Southwest leads D-II in total strikeouts with 104 (in 65 2/3 innings), and seven other MACCC pitchers rank in the top 10 in K’s. Beau Bryans (Madison) of 13th-ranked Jones is No. 2 in the nation in K’s per nine innings (14.63). ECCC’s Luke Cooley (Waynesboro) ranks seventh in the nation with a 1.86 ERA; he is 7-0. Meridian’s Landon Waters (Duck Hill) is second in strikeouts (95) and 10th in ERA (1.97). … Key games on today’s schedule: ECCC (44-4) hosts Southwest; PRCC (43-7) visits Jones (35-11); Northwest (35-13) travels to Itawamba; and Meridian is at Gulf Coast.

17 Apr

clash of titans

For one day at least — make that today — the center of the state’s baseball universe is Dub Herring Park in Poplarville. Pearl River Community College (42-5), ranked No. 2 in NJCAA Division II and riding a 29-game win streak, hosts East Central CC (40-4), which is ranked No. 4 and started the season with 31 straight wins while rising to No. 1. The host Wildcats are 22-0 in the MACCC; ECCC’s Warriors are 16-4. PRCC hits .345 as a team with 77 home runs. The big bopper in the lineup is Hollis Porter, raking at .431 with 18 homers and 56 RBIs. The Wildcats’ pitching staff features a 2.43 ERA and three eight-game winners, led by J.P. Robertson (8-0, 2.28). Mo Little, a preseason All-America pick, leads ECCC with a .372 average, nine homers, 62 RBIs and 16 steals. Luke Cooley is the Warriors’ ace: 6-0, 1.89 ERA, 13.3 K’s per nine innings. Today’s twinbill starts at 3 p.m. … Two other big doubleheaders are on today’s MACCC docket: No. 12 Jones College (33-9) visits Meridian, which was ranked 13th in preseason, and No. 15 Northwest (31-12) hosts East Mississippi.

01 Apr

poll positions

Slumping East Central Community College dropped one spot in the NJCAA Division II poll, while surging Pearl River CC climbed one spot. Former No. 1 ECCC (33-3 with three losses in its last five games) is now No. 2 behind LSU-Eunice; Pearl River (34-5 with 21 straight wins) moved up to fourth from fifth. Jones (29-5) is No. 7 and Northwest (25-9) sits at No. 17. … Pearl River’s all-around strength is fairly remarkable: The Wildcats are No. 2 in the country in runs and home runs, second in ERA and fourth in fielding percentage. … In Baseball America’s new NCAA Division I poll, which is dominated by SEC teams, Mississippi State (19-10) checks in at No. 19 despite losing two of three (via walk-offs) at Florida, which ranks fourth. Arkansas remains No. 1 after a sweep of LSU last weekend and will host Ole Miss this coming weekend. Former Lewisburg High star Brady Tygart is 3-0 with a 2.51 ERA as the Razorbacks’ No. 3 starter. Madison Central High alum Braden Montgomery, who plays for No. 3 Texas A&M, is the SEC’s player of the week after going 7-for-14 with three homers in a sweep of Auburn. … William Carey University (22-10) has won 11 of 12 and surely will get back into the Top 25 in the next NAIA coaches poll. The Crusaders were preseason No. 4. … Jackson State was ranked No. 2 in Black College Nines’ HBCU Large School poll last week but will surely tumble after getting swept at Florida A&M by a collective 29-5 over the weekend. JSU is 19-8, 5-3 SWAC.

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.

24 Mar

take cover

Those weren’t UFOs — or UAPs, if you prefer — flying around Dub Herring Park in Poplarville on Saturday. Those were baseballs, and 11 of them went out of the yard for home runs as No. 5 Pearl River Community College battered Itawamba CC 13-3 and 18-1. Nine different players homered for the Wildcats (30-5, 10-0 MACCC), with Hollis Porter — the Mississippi State transfer from Hurley — going deep twice to push his national-best total to 14. Alex Wade also hit two bombs. “I was really proud of our guys. They swung it really well,” PRCC coach Michael Avalon said in a school release. The Wildcats had 26 hits all told in the 15 innings of play. Not to be overlooked are the dominant efforts of winning pitchers Caleb Dyess and J.T. Schooner. … Meanwhile on Saturday, East Central CC, the No. 1 team in the latest NJCAA Division II poll, saw its 31-game win streak snapped by Northwest, which beat the Warriors 8-7 in Game 2 of a twinbill in Decatur. ECCC is 31-1, 7-1 in the league. The unranked Rangers are 21-8, 7-1. Tenth-ranked Jones swept Coahoma to move to 27-5 and 9-1.