12 Jun

go figure

Pitching is not supposed to be Ole Miss’ strong suit. Well, the Rebels have flipped that script. Continuing a strong show of arms in the Coral Cables Regional, Ole Miss’ Dylan DeLucia and Jack Dougherty combined on a four-hitter with 10 strikeouts in a 10-0 win Saturday against Southern Miss in the opener of the Hattiesburg Super Regional. USM, which has one of the best staff ERAs (3.26) in the nation, allowed nine earned runs in Game 1 of this best-of-3. Starter Hurston Waldrep had a wobbly outing, and the bullpen melted down after he departed. … Former Madison Central High standout Braden Montgomery hit one of Stanford’s incredible eight home runs in the Palo Alto Super Regional, but the Cardinal somehow lost to UConn 13-12 in Game 1. … Chris Stratton has been an effective reliever this season for Pittsburgh, but the Tupelo native’s outing against Atlanta on Saturday was a disaster. He faced five batters and all of them scored. He hit a batter, walked a batter and yielded three hits, including Ozzie Albies’ grand slam. He also allowed two inherited runners to score in the Braves’ eight-run seventh inning that led to a 10-4 win, the Braves’ 10th straight. Former Mississippi State ace Stratton saw his ERA jump from 3.75 to 5.63. … Ex-Bulldogs star Brandon Woodruff, out since May 27 with an ankle injury, is eligible to come off the injured list today for Milwaukee but is experiencing numbness in his pitching hand, delaying his return. He is 5-3 with a 4.74 ERA for the Brewers, who are in a freefall with eight straight losses. … LeDarious Clark, the East Mississippi Community College alum from Meridian, is enjoying a big season with Lancaster in the independent Atlantic League. He is batting .299 with eight home runs, 22 RBIs and 15 steals. Clark, 28, hit 18 homers and stole 28 bags for Lancaster last year after spending six lackluster seasons in the Texas system. … The Double-A Mississippi Braves have lost eight of 11 heading into today’s road trip finale at Rocket City. At 26-30, the M-Braves are in a virtual tie with Biloxi (25-29) for last place in the Southern League South. The Shuckers have also lost eight of their last 11.

11 Jun

short stories

They will be where the action is this weekend. They hit near the top of the order and play in the middle of the field. It won’t be a surprise if the opposing shortstops in the Hattiesburg Super Regional prove to be central figures in the outcome of the best-of-3 series. Southern Miss’ Dustin Dickerson is the leading hitter at .326 for the Golden Eagles, the No. 11 national seed aiming for a second-ever trip to the College World Series. Ole Miss’ Jacob Gonzalez was an All-SEC pick this season and is batting .274 with 17 home runs for a Rebels team seeking a sixth CWS trip. Dickerson played at Laurel’s West Jones High, where he was the Class 5A player of the year for a state champion in 2019. His father, Bobby, played college and pro ball and is now the infield coach for the Philadelphia Phillies. The younger Dickerson can pick it on defense; he made several big plays in USM’s run to the regional championship. He’s not a power hitter but did smack 24 doubles this season, driving in 32 runs and scoring 44. The good-hit, good-field label also fits the UM shortstop. Gonzalez, also the son of a minor league player (Jess), came to Oxford as a highly rated recruit from California. He has lived up to the promise, earning freshman All-America honors last season and making USA Baseball’s Collegiate National Team last year and this. He’ll be a high MLB draft pick in 2023. Taylor Park will be slammed for this series, which starts today (3 p.m., ESPNU). It’ll be loud. It’ll be intense. And it’ll be memorable, moreso for one of the two shortstops than the other.

10 Jun

on the rise

Baltimore has put Jordan Westburg, the former Mississippi State standout, on a fast track in the minors, and he is keeping up the pace. The No. 30 overall pick in the 2020 MLB draft, Westburg is 5-for-9 in two games at Triple-A Norfolk. He hit his first homer at the new level on Thursday night. Westburg, who has played shortstop and third base this season, batted .247 with nine homers and 32 RBIs at Double-A Bowie before the Orioles moved him up. He hit .285 with 15 homers and 79 RBIs at three levels in 2021, his first pro season. MLB Pipeline ranks Westburg as the Orioles’ No. 6 prospect. … Ex-State star Justin Foscue, who was drafted 14th overall in 2020 by Texas, hit a tape-measure homer for Double-A Amarillo on Thursday, the ball leaving the stadium and landing in a parking lot beyond left field (per video on milb.com). Foscue, a second baseman, is batting .300 with four homers and 22 RBIs in 30 games for Amarillo; he has had two stints on the injured list. He is rated the Rangers’ No. 5 prospect. P.S. Ole Miss product Mike Mayers, designated for assignment by the Los Angeles Angels late last month, has made one appearance at Triple-A Salt Lake. It didn’t go well for the veteran big leaguer: four runs in 1 2/3 innings. … Billy Hamilton, the former Taylorsville High star, is a free agent (again), having opted out of a minor league deal with Seattle on June 1. Hamilton was hitting .186 (with four stolen bases) at Triple-A Tacoma.

08 Jun

cashing in

Since being recalled from the minors by Miami on May 27, ex-Ole Miss star Nick Fortes has gotten just 15 at-bats. Maybe the Marlins should get him some more. Fortes went 2-for-2 with a homer, four RBIs, three runs and two walks in Miami’s 12-2 win over Washington on Tuesday night. The 25-year-old catcher, who made his MLB debut last year, is 7-for-15 this season and is batting .348 with six homers and 13 RBIs in 19 career games. “Just trying to hit a hard line drive,” he told mlb.com about his approach at the plate. Marlins manager Don Mattingly also praised Fortes’ work with rookie pitcher Edward Cabrera, now 2-0 with Fortes behind the plate this year. A fourth-round pick out of Ole Miss in 2018, Fortes rose steadily through the minors, putting up good if not great numbers. He got an extended look last September when the Marlins were evaluating for 2022. They traded for Jacob Stallings to be their regular catcher this year, and Fortes was sent to the minors in spring training. He’s back now — and bidding to stick around. P.S. Mississippi State product Dakota Hudson recorded his second straight strong start (two hits, one run in seven innings) for St. Louis but got no-decision in a game the Cardinals lost to Tampa Bay. Hudson is 4-2, 2.76 ERA, in 11 starts. … Former Southern Miss standout Kirk McCarty, in his second big league appearance, yielded three homers in four innings and took a loss for Cleveland against Texas. Ex-State star Nate Lowe hit one of the homers, his sixth of 2022. … Former MSU slugger Hunter Renfroe returned to Milwaukee’s lineup from the injured list and went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts in a loss against Philadelphia. Biloxi Shuckers alum Josh Hader, who had not allowed a run this season, blew a save for the first time in almost a year when Alec Bohm hit a two-run homer in the ninth.

07 Jun

way back when

On this date in 1946 — in the gap between Babe Ruth and Shohei Ohtani — Claude Passeau enjoyed a double-duty performance of note. The Waynesboro native, pitching for the Chicago Cubs, shut out Brooklyn for nine innings and, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth at Wrigley Field, hit a two-run homer to win the game. Passeau, who went to high school in Moss Point and college at Millsaps, was 37 and in his next-to-last season in ’46, and he made the All-Star Game that year for the fifth time. Over his 13 seasons in the majors, Passeau went 162-150 with a 3.32 ERA and won a World Series game in 1945. His career win total is third-most by a Mississippi-born major leaguer. He also batted .192 with 15 career homers. P.S. Transaction watch: Mississippi State product Hunter Renfroe is expected to come off the injured list and play for Milwaukee tonight against Philadelphia. … Ex-Southern Miss standout Kirk McCarty was recalled from the minors for Cleveland’s doubleheader today and is penciled in as the Game 2 starter against Texas. … Meridian Community College alum Corey Dickerson has landed on the IL for St. Louis with a calf injury. … Former Ole Miss star Tyler Keenan, a 2020 draftee, was traded from Seattle to Toronto for big leaguer Ryan Borucki and is now playing at High-Class A Vancouver. … Former MSU star Jordan Westburg, also a 2020 draftee, has been promoted from Double-A to Triple-A in the Baltimore chain. … Ex-MSU standout Brent Rooker, recalled from Triple-A last week, was optioned back to the minors without getting an at-bat for San Diego.

07 Jun

power play

Before the hype gets cranked up for the super-duper Super Regional set for Hattiesburg this weekend, let’s pause for a moment to appreciate the jaw-dropping performance by Ole Miss’ Tim Elko. The senior first baseman batted .778 and slugged 2.111 — yes, 2.111 — in three games in the Coral Gables Regional. His batting line from Monday’s game: 4-6-4-5. (Plus two walks.) You won’t see something like that very often. Elko belted three home runs in the Rebels’ 22-6 demolition of Arizona in the regional title game, a first in his five-year career and a first for any UM player in an NCAA Tournament game. He also broke the school record for homers in a season with 22. Brian Pettway hit 21 in 2005. With 44 career bombs, Elko is within sight of the Rebels’ career record of 48, set by Kyle Gordon in the 1980s. Elko’s place in Ole Miss lore was secured last season when he made that inspired return from an ACL injury and helped the Rebels reach a Super Regional. His performance in Coral Gables was icing on the cake — and, of course, he’s not done yet. We’ve been fortunate in the Magnolia State to witness some amazing slugging exploits in the last few years. Delta State’s Zack Shannon set the state all-classification record with 31 homers in 2018. He hit 50, second only to Dee Haynes’ 69 on the school’s career list, in his two years in Cleveland. In 2019, Matt Wallner hit 23 bombs for Southern Miss, matching the school record. He hit 58 in his three years in Hattiesburg, setting a school mark. (He’s now mashing homers in Double-A ball for Minnesota.) Current USM slugger Christopher Sargent — who batted .524 in five games in the Hattiesburg Regional — has rather quietly cranked out 21 homers this season with at least two more games to play in the Super Regional. … With Mississippi State, the defending national champ, sitting at home this postseason, no Bulldogs are mounting any assault on the school’s single-season home run record of 29, shared by Rafael Palmeiro and Bruce Castoria.

06 Jun

momentum

You know the old saying in baseball: Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher. The focus today is on who might take the mound for Southern Miss and Ole Miss, both hoping to catch a wave. USM got clutch pitching efforts from Hunter Riggins, Tyler Stuart and Justin Storm in winning a pair of elimination games Sunday in the Hattiesburg Regional. The Golden Eagles now face a winner-take-all game against LSU at 3 p.m. at Taylor Park. Can coach Scott Berry get some quality innings from Tanner Hall, the C-USA pitcher of the year who worked eight innings on Friday? The bullpen is stretched thin. Five pitchers threw on Saturday night. It took six to get through Sunday. Ole Miss is in a much more enviable position in the Coral Gables Regional. The Rebels are 2-0 going into today’s championship round against Arizona, a team they beat on Saturday. The Wildcats had to win twice on Sunday to stay alive; they’ll have to do that again today. UM has used five different pitchers — Brandon Johnson closed both games — and yielded just five runs while punching out 35. Derek Diamond, who has had a disappointing season (4-4, 6.57 ERA), could get a shot at redemption today. Arizona roughed up Diamond in their Super Regional meeting in 2021. Outs are hard to get when the heat rises in tournament baseball, but if USM and Ole Miss can summon some more clutch pitching, we’ll get that dream matchup in the Super Regional next weekend.

05 Jun

random (but relevant) numbers

200 — Wins for Michael Avalon as coach at Pearl River Community College, No. 200 being the national championship-securing 7-2 victory over Madison (Wisc.) College on Saturday in Enid, Okla. The Wildcats got homers from Tate Parker and Alex Perry, two RBIs from World Series MVP D.K. Donaldson and 12 strikeouts from Cole Tolbert and Turner Swistak, who combined on a six-hitter. PRCC follows Jones College (2016) as NJCAA Division II national champs. William Carey University (1969), Delta State (2004) and Mississippi State (2021) have won national titles at the four-year level.
3 — Hits by Peyton Chatagnier, including a key two-run double in the eighth inning that propelled Ole Miss to a 7-4 win against Arizona in the first round of the Coral Cables Regional. The Rebels get 1-seed Miami today; the Hurricanes used a three-homer game by Yohandy Morales to beat Canisius 11-6.
4 — Runs by LSU, three after two were out, in a stunning ninth-inning rally that led to a 7-6, 10-inning win against Southern Miss in the Hattiesburg Regional winners bracket. On a day when crooked numbers were flying all over in the NCAA regionals, these teams combined for 18 hits, five homers, eight walks, three HBPs, 28 strikeouts and 357 pitches in a 3-hour, 44-minute grinder played before 5,211 emotionally drained fans at Taylor Park. USM tries to rebound today against Kennesaw State, hoping (?) for another crack at the Tigers.
6 — Combined hits by Matt Wallner (four) and Blaine Crim in Wichita’s 8-7 win vs. Frisco in a Double-A Texas League clash (see previous post). Wallner, a USM alum, hit his 11th homer and drove in three runs for Wichita. Ex-Mississippi College star Crim boosted his average to .301 with a 2-for-5 effort and scored twice for Frisco.
21 — Hits in his last 15 games by Austin Riley, the DeSoto Central High product who tripled and homered in Atlanta’s 6-2, 11-inning win against Colorado. Riley is batting .339 with six homers and 12 RBIs over his last 15 games. He has 14 bombs all told for the Braves, who have won four straight to reach 27-27 on the season.

04 Jun

bunch of stuff

There is a lot to digest from a not-so-sleepy-or-dusty third of June: In the Hattiesburg Regional, the anticipated Southern Miss-LSU winners bracket game will take place tonight (6 p.m.) after the Golden Eagles blanked Army 2-0 and the Tigers rallied past Kennesaw State 14-11 on Friday. The Pete (Taylor Park) will be packed. … At Coral Cables, Fla., Ole Miss’ regional opener against Arizona was pushed back to today because of rain. … In Enid, Okla., Pearl River Community College pummeled Madison (Wisc.) College 19-1 to set up a decisive Game 3 in the NJCAA Division II World Series. No. 1-ranked PRCC rode the bats of Alex Perry (home run, three RBIs) and D.K. Donaldson (three RBIs) and the pitching of Dakota Lee (six innings, one run). … At Pearl’s Trustmark Park, the Mississippi Braves’ Jalen Miller reportedly hit a home run over the batter’s eye in center field — no mean feat — en route to an extra-inning win against Montgomery in the Double-A Southern League. … In Appleton, Wisc., ex-Hattiesburg High standout Joe Gray Jr. had a 4-for-5 game, including his seventh homer and ninth stolen base, for High-A Wisconsin. Gray, a highly rated Milwaukee prospect, is batting .202 in his second stint at that level. … At Chicago’s Wrigley Field, Corey Dickerson, the former Meridian CC star from McComb, hit his first two homers of the season for St. Louis in a blowout win against the Cubs. Dickerson, who chose to wear Mark McGwire’s No. 25 in his first year with the Cardinals, has 130 career homers and has hit as many as 27 in a season. He is batting .194 in sporadic playing time. … Ex-Mississippi State standout Brent Rooker has been called up by San Diego. The former Minnesota Twins outfielder, traded this spring, was hitting .242 with nine homers at Triple-A El Paso. … Ole Miss product Lance Lynn, on the injured list all year for the Chicago White Sox, made his second rehab start for Triple-A Charlotte and yielded three runs in four innings. … Colorado announced that left-hander Ryan Rolison, another former UM star, will undergo shoulder surgery and miss the remainder of the season. A highly rated prospect, Rolison has been on the IL all year. … And last but certainly not least, Jackson Academy outfielder Dakota Jordan received the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year award. The MSU signee, who aims to play football and baseball, hit .524 with 16 homers this season. He is ranked as the No. 176 MLB draft prospect by MLB Pipeline.

03 Jun

in a word

If you had to assess Southern Miss with one word, it would be: pitching. The Golden Eagles have a deep and talented stable of arms that enters the Hattiesburg Regional with a 3.04 ERA, among the nation’s best. Tanner Hall was C-USA pitcher of the year and the state’s Ferriss Trophy winner. For LSU, the 2-seed in the regional, the word would be power. The Tigers raked 107 home runs, led by the remarkable Dylan Crews with 21. Army, the 4-seed, is mostly about speed. The Black Knights swiped 101 bases this season, led by Hunter Meade with 31. Kennesaw State is a curiosity. The Owls’ pitching is highly suspect; they don’t hit a ton of homers or steal a bunch of bases. But KSU does have Josh Hatcher, an All-America candidate who hit .386 with 13 homers, 55 RBIs and 60 runs and twice hit for the cycle in 2022. (Unfortunately, he doesn’t pitch.) USM (43-16, 22-10 at Taylor Park) does enough with the bats (.283, 77 homers) that it should prevail in the regional and make the Super Regional. But LSU, which didn’t have a typical season (38-20, 17-13 SEC), certainly poses a threat. In a published poll, four Gannett “experts” split between USM and LSU as the regional favorite. (All four picked Miami to come out of the Coral Gables Regional, where Ole Miss is playing. That regional champion plays the Hattiesburg champ in the Super Regional.)