28 Feb

18 and 500

Something special seems to be brewing at East Central Community College. Again. Down five runs in the eighth inning on Tuesday against visiting East Mississippi, the Warriors rallied to win, 10-8, in extra innings, moving their record to 18-0 and notching coach Neal Holliman’s 500th win at the Decatur school. ECCC, the defending MACCC and Region 23 champion, is ranked 10th in the NJCAA Division II preseason poll and will surely jump when the first in-season poll is released. The Warriors won twice on Tuesday, beating 13th-ranked Meridian 14-2 in the first game of the three-team round-robin event. They hit three homers in that one, including a Kelby Jordan grand slam. They belted four more bombs in the win against East, two by Mo Little and a walk-off shot in the 10th by Brady McGee. ECCC is averaging almost 11 runs a game and has a 3.74 staff ERA. The Warriors play again on Saturday in a round-robin at Hinds, meeting Southeastern (Iowa) and the host Eagles. P.S. Lewisburg High, off to a 5-0 start, is ranked fifth in the latest MaxPreps Top 25. The Patriots, led by preseason All-America pick Samuel Richardson, are playing this weekend in the Perfect Game Showdown, a 60-team event at the Hoover Met in Alabama. Brandon, DeSoto Central and Hernando are also in the field. … Jackson Prep (9-1) is No. 22 in the MaxPreps poll as the only other state school in the rankings.

27 Feb

leading the way

Pearl River Community College swept the MACCC individual honors for last week, with Hollis Porter taking the hitting award and J.P. Robertson the pitching laurels. Porter, from Hurley, hit .450 with three homers and 10 RBIs during No. 3 PRCC’s 4-2 week. The lefty slugger is tied for the NJCAA Division II lead with nine homers. Ex-Germantown High star Robertson threw six shutout innings, with nine strikeouts, in the Wildcats’ win over No. 20 Parkland. Robertson is 4-0 with a 3.00 ERA for 14-5 PRCC. … Barret Rodgers leads the nation with 30 RBIs for undefeated (16-0), 10th-ranked East Central CC, and Hinds CC’s Lincoln Sheffield is tied for the national lead with 37 strikeouts in 23 innings. … Jackson State’s Joseph Eichelberger, a junior outfielder from Georgia via Paul D. Camp CC, leads NCAA Division I in batting with a .692 average. … For the second time this season, Millsaps’ Wil Wood has earned the Southern Athletic Association pitcher of the week honor. Wood, a grad student, threw a no-hitter with 16 strikeouts against Westminster. He is 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA and 34 K’s on the season for the 8-3 Majors. … Mississippi College leads the Gulf South Conference in hitting with a .326 team average, followed by Delta State at .325. The Choctaws, 9-5 and 3-3 in the GSC, lead the league with 30 homers, topped by former DeSoto Central and East Mississippi CC standout Wesley Sides, who has seven bombs and a .488 average. DSU (9-5, 3-0) is also second in the GSC in runs with 122, having tallied 29 in a three-game sweep at Union University over the weekend. … William Carey University’s John Snyder is tied for the NAIA national lead with five saves. Rust’s Jalik Demar and Blue Mountain’s Hayden Redding are tied for third nationally with 13 stolen bases each.

21 Feb

february madness

This was a pretty cool idea: Twelve of the 15 teams in the MACCC got together Tuesday for three-way round-robin events at four locations. The other three teams will play a round-robin today. In Tuesday’s action, No. 3-ranked Pearl River Community College (12-3), No. 10 East Central (13-0) and unranked Mississippi Gulf Coast (10-2) went undefeated in their respective events. No. 13 Meridian (7-5) beat Coahoma but lost to Northeast in Booneville. At Goodman, Pearl River beat Itawamba behind two RBIs from Bryce Fowler and strong pitching by Eli Waters, then whipped host Holmes powered by Hollis Porter’s seventh home run of the year. At Ellisville, East Central — the defending state and region champ — blew past Copiah-Lincoln and host Jones by a combined 27-8 count. For the Warriors, Barret Rodgers drove in three runs against CLCC and Reid Hall picked up five RBIs vs. Jones. At Perkinston, Gulf Coast’s Brandon Cain won the opener vs. Southwest 9-1 with five stellar innings and then got four hits in an 11-10 thriller over East Mississippi. East, which beat Southwest, is 11-3. At Delta State’s Ferriss Field today, Hinds, Delta and Northwest will go at it.

12 Feb

strong start

Power bats are in no short supply in the Mississippi junior college circuit. It’s early — yes, very early — in the 2024 season, but there are three MACCC products in the top eight in NJCAA Division II in home runs. Evan Radford is tied for the lead with five, and Dom Jackson and Hollis Porter have hit four each. Radford, a 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore, is batting .450 with 13 RBIs for East Mississippi CC. A transfer from Southern Miss, he hit 12 homers for the Lions in 2023. Mississippi Gulf Coast CC’s Jackson, 6-3, 215, a freshman from Florida, is hitting .600 with 13 RBIs for the Bulldogs. Pearl River CC’s Porter, 6-4, 220, from Hurley by way of Mississippi State, has 10 extra base hits (1.129 slug) for the Wildcats. Four other state juco players have three homers to date: Meridian’s Cooper Chaplain, Hinds’ Thomas Marsala and East Central’s Brady McGee and Barret Rodgers.

29 Jan

on the juco menu

The junior college season, which will serve up an array of delectable games this week, delivered quite the appetizer on Saturday. Kaden Irving belted a go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning to propel Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College to an 8-7, season-opening win against Baton Rouge in Perkinston. Saucier native Irving, 6 feet 2, 235 pounds, is a reverse transfer from Ole Miss. “We know what he’s capable of,” Gulf Coast coach Bob Keller said in a school release. “We’re glad he chose us.” Marc Stephens went 3-for-4 with two RBIs for the Bulldogs, who play again today at Baton Rouge. Pearl River, ranked No. 3 in the NJCAA Division II preseason poll, opens Tuesday against Coastal Alabama South in Poplarville. No. 13 Meridian opens Friday in the Panama City Beach Baseball Classic, facing Wallace-Dothan of Alabama. PRCC is also in the Panama City event, a three-day, 16-team affair featuring juco teams from across the South. Tenth-ranked East Central, the defending MACCC and Region 23 champion, opens Saturday in a twinbill against Marion Military Institute of Alabama. Other openers of note: Itawamba is at Bevill State (Ala.) on Wednesday; Hinds hosts Logan College (Ill.) on Friday; Holmes welcomes Bevill State on Saturday; and Northeast hosts Columbia State (Tenn.) on Saturday.

23 Jan

poll positions

To the list of life’s certainties, you can add this: When an NJCAA poll comes out, several Mississippi schools will be near the top. The Division II preseason poll was released Monday and three state jucos are ranked in the top 13: Pearl River Community College is No. 3, East Central No. 10 and Meridian No. 13. PRCC went 45-13 in 2023 and returns left-hander Conner Ware, an LSU signee, and Jonah Katsaboulas, an infielder who hit .292 last season. The Wildcats open Jan. 30 in Poplarville against Coastal Alabama South. ECCC won the state and Region 23 championships last year and welcomes back second-team All-America Mo Little, who hit .340 with 12 homers as a freshman. … Preseason polls can and often do miss the mark. Case in point: William Carey University wasn’t ranked in the NAIA coaches preseason poll in 2023 but went 49-11 and reached the World Series. The Crusaders are ranked fourth in the 2024 preseason poll, which was released back in the fall. … Neither Ole Miss nor Mississippi State, both coming off rough years, appears in the d1baseball.com Top 25. But, in the site’s 2024 transfer class rankings, UM checks in at No. 7 — ex-Arizona State shortstop Luke Hill being the most notable newcomer — and State at No. 24. In the site’s freshman class rankings, State is No. 9 and UM No. 15. … Jackson State is ranked No. 5 in Black College Nine’s HBCU large school rankings and Rust College is No. 3 in the small school class. JSU finished 28-25 in 2023. Rust, an NAIA member, went 25-25 and won the regular season title in the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference. P.S. The new National Baseball Hall of Fame class will be announced today, and there is a decent chance that former Jackson Generals pitcher Billy Wagner will make the cut for Cooperstown.

12 Jun

stars come out

The Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference, which had four teams in the top 13 of the final NJCAA Division II poll in mid-May, placed six players on the D-II All-America teams announced today. Meridian CC’s Cole Boswell made the first team. The Southern Miss signee, the MACCC pitcher of the year, went 11-1 with a 2.49 ERA and averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings for the Eagles, who finished 38-12 and were ranked No. 3 in the final poll issued before the postseason. Four state juco products made second-team A-A, led by Itawamba infielder Will Verdung, the state’s position player of the year and another USM signee. Verdung hit .389 with 15 homers and 49 RBIs. Also on the second team: Pearl River’s Cooper Cooksey, who led the nation with a 1.32 ERA; Hinds infielder Dylan Coleman; and Mo Little, DH for East Central, which won the state and Region 23 titles and played in the juco World Series. Gulf Coast outfielder Sean Smith made the third team. P.S. In case you missed it: Cooper Pratt, shortstop/pitcher for Magnolia Heights Academy, won Mississippi’s Gatorade Player of the Year award for 2023, joining an impressive list. An Ole Miss signee and highly rated MLB draft prospect, Pratt hit .469 with 38 steals and went 10-0, 0.14, on the mound for the MAIS 5A champions. Dakota Jordan, a Jackson Academy alum now at Mississippi State, won the 2022 award, preceeded in recent years by Braden Montgomery of Madison Central, Blaze Jordan of DeSoto Central, Colt Keith of Biloxi and J.T. Ginn of Brandon. Montgomery is now at Stanford, while Blaze Jordan, Keith and Ginn are in pro ball.

20 May

enid-bound

How do you get to Enid, Okla.? Practice, yes, but there is a little more to it. In East Central Community College’s case, to get to Enid and the NJCAA Division II World Series, you had to win the Region 23 Tournament against a field that included the No. 1 team in the country, the defending national champion and two other ranked teams. The Warriors pulled it off, beating top-ranked LSU-Eunice 8-2 in a winner-take-all game at Eunice on Friday. Under coach Neal Holliman, in his 17th season, the Warriors have won four state titles, including this year’s. This is their first region title and first World Series berth. Eli Collins, a Southern Miss signee, went 2-for-3 with a homer, three RBIs and three runs to power the ECCC offense on Friday. Five pitchers combined on a six-hitter with 13 strikeouts. From unranked in the preseason, the now No. 8 Warriors (37-17) will head to Enid as one of the 10 regional champions. The brackets will be announced Tuesday, and the double-elimination tournament begins May 27 at Allen Memorial Ballpark. Pearl River won the national title in 2022 and Jones College did it in 2016.

15 May

heavyweight class

To win the state championship this season, East Central Community College had to navigate a 28-game gauntlet of nationally ranked teams and longtime rivals. Now the going really gets tough.
Five of the top 14 teams, including Nos. 1, 3 and 4, in the NJCAA Division II poll are gathered in Eunice, La., this week to determine the Region 23 champion in a six-team, double-elimination event that figures to be a tooth-and-nail battle.
The field includes the defending national champion, third-ranked Pearl River Community College, and seven-time national champion LSU-Eunice, the nation’s top-ranked team. Also in the tourney are four other Mississippi schools: No. 4 Meridian, No. 8 East Central, No. 14 Itawamba and Northeast, which just missed a Top 20 ranking. The survivor of the Region 23 Tournament, which starts today, gets a berth in the Division II World Series in Enid, Okla.
“That’s it, that’s the goal,” said East Central coach Neal Holliman, who has won four Mississippi titles but has yet to claim a region crown or juco world series berth in 17 years in Decatur.
The Warriors (33-16), who got a bye into the region field, are rested and as ready as they can be for the challenge ahead, Holliman said.
“To win the regular season championship in our league (the MACCC), that might be tougher than winning a tournament championship,” he said. “The regular season is like a two-month tournament. Playing two double-headers every week, it wears and tears on your guys. We’re very proud to have come through.”
“It’s an incredible accomplishment to say that you’ve survived and made it to the regional,” said Pearl River coach Michael Avalon, whose 2022 team also survived the regional and then won the national title in Enid, just the second by a Mississippi juco.
Holliman had high expectations for this year’s East Central team, which returned the likes of Eli Collins, Leighton Jenkins and Grant Edwards from a 30-win club in 2022.
“We felt like we’d be pretty productive,” the coach said. “You never say, ‘Oh, this team is gonna win a championship,’ even though that’s always the goal. But we felt we had a good group and had a chance to do productive things.”
Things started slowly. On March 7, before conference play began, the Warriors’ record was 8-10.
“That surprised us a little,” Holliman said. “We weren’t playing bad. It wasn’t the Bad News Bears out there, but we weren’t executing in any phase like we were capable of. We have some players with a lot of versatility, and we were trying to find the best formula to have the best team, where everybody fits. Once we got settled into our roles, we took off.”
The Warriors went 23-5 in the league. They swept nine league doubleheaders and split the other five. They had a nine-game win streak and two five-game streaks. They clinched the championship on April 28, the last day of the regular season, by beating East Mississippi in the opener of a twinbill.
They haven’t played a game since. The other Mississippi teams in the region field got there by winning a best-of-3 play-in series. East Central has spent its off time working out and playing intrasquad games. “Our goal for this time was to have the guys prepared and hungry but rested,” Holliman said.
Collins, a Southern Miss signee from Laurel, was a sparkplug for the Warriors, batting .424, driving in 51 runs, scoring 66 and stealing 27 bases. Jenkins, a North Alabama commit from Collinsville, hit .355. Mo Little, a freshman from Brandon, supplied 10 homers and 65 RBIs while batting .350, and Ramie Harrison, from Philadelphia, hit .358.
Edwards, a New Orleans signee, was a whirlwind on the mound, going 4-0 with a 3.38 ERA, three saves and 57 strikeouts in 42 2/3 innings. Luke Cooley, from Waynesboro, went 5-1, and David Burton, from Decatur, posted five saves.
“We’re not a one-dimensional club. To go 23-5, you can’t be one-dimensional,” Holliman said.
There is a bundle of talented players in the regional, and pro and college scouts will be there to watch. LSU-E has its usual array of stars, and the Mississippi contingent will roll out several players who rank among the national leaders in various categories: ICC’s Will Verdung (.402, 16 homers); Meridian’s Dalton McIntyre (.462, 33 steals); Pearl River’s Alex Perry (.377, 62 runs); Northeast’s Khi Holiday (.363, 76 runs); Meridian’s Cole Boswell (11-0, 2.60); Pearl River’s Cooper Cooksey (9-0, 1.26); and Northeast’s Matthew Bullard (9-0).
“It’s six good teams,” Holliman said. “Eunice has a great program. All the Mississippi schools have faced good competition all year. It’ll just depend on who plays best that week and executes in the crucial moments.”
First-round games at Bengal Stadium
Meridian-Pearl River, noon
LSU-Eunice–Northeast, 3:30 p.m.
East Central-Itawamba, 7 p.m.

17 Apr

poll positions

East Central Community College, which has surged to the top of the MACCC standings, has finally cracked the Top 20 of the NJCAA Division II poll. The Warriors, 17-3 in the league and 27-14 overall, are ranked 17th, fourth among the four state jucos in the poll. Pearl River, 17-5 in conference and the defending national champ, is No. 3, Meridian No. 5 and Jones No. 15. Heads up: Pearl River visits Decatur on Tuesday for a rather large doubleheader; the jucos always play single-day twinbills. In the last week, ECCC has swept Delta (at Moorhead), swept Jones (at Ellisville) and split with Itawamba. Neal Holliman’s Warriors also have registered sweeps against Hinds, Northwest, Copiah-Lincoln and Northeast. Eli Collins, a former Northeast Jones High star, is batting .445 with 40 RBIs, 55 runs and 25 steals. Brandon’s Mo Little leads the team with nine homers and 58 RBIs while batting at a .352 clip. On the bump, Luke Cooley (Wayne Academy) is 4-0 with a 3.29 ERA and David Burton (Newton County) has five saves. The team’s success really shouldn’t be a surprise: The Warriors have won three state titles in the last 10 years. … William Carey University, 31-9 heading into a home game today against Mobile, is 31-9 (13-4 SSAC) and ranked 16th in the latest NAIA coaches poll. The Crusaders swept a doubleheader from No. 7 Mobile on Friday.