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

comin’ on strong

In the Baltimore Orioles’ loaded minor league system, it ain’t easy to stand out, especially for a player not ranked among their top prospects. But there at High-Class A Aberdeen goes Matthew Etzel, putting up eye-catching numbers. The Southern Miss product, a 10th-round pick by the Orioles in 2023, is hitting .293 with four homers, 23 RBIs, 20 steals, six doubles, two triples, 26 runs and a .392 on-base percentage. The lefty-hitting outfielder — 6 feet 2, 211 pounds — ranks in the top 11 in five offensive categories in the South Atlantic League. You won’t find Etzel’s name on MLB Pipeline’s chart of the Top 30 Baltimore prospects, four of whom rank in the top 22 on the overall minor league prospect chart. But his star is rising. He typically bats cleanup and plays center field for the IronBirds. “He is super exciting, definitely under the radar,” Aberdeen hitting coach Zach Cole recently told Orioles Beat. “He’s a guy that could climb the system pretty quick.” Etzel batted .317 with seven homers, 51 RBIs and 23 steals for USM’s Sun Belt Conference championship team in 2023, his only year in Hattiesburg after transferring from a Texas juco. P.S. Etzel’s alma mater rallied to win, 6-5 over Troy, in the SBC Tournament on Thursday and gets today off in Montgomery, Ala. … Jackson State won big again — 11-6 over Bethune-Cookman — in the SWAC Tournament in Atlanta and plays again today against the BCU-Texas Southern winner. … Mississippi State, afer losing to Vanderbilt in the SEC tourney, tackles top-seeded Tennessee in an elimination game today at Hoover, Ala. … Congrats to MHSAA state champions Brandon (Class 7A) and East Webster (3A), both of which completed sweeps on Thursday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

23 May

bubbles up

Jackson State, which won 33 games in the regular season, did not have a single player named first-team All-SWAC. As if to make a statement, the Tigers — the No. 4 seed from the East Division — demolished the 1-seed from the West, Texas Southern, by a 17-4 count on Wednesday in the SWAC Tournament. JSU put up 11 runs in the seventh inning of the run-rule victory in Atlanta. Myles White, a second-team all-league pick, drove in four runs for the Tigers, and Arjun Huerta homered and picked up five RBIs. Three Tigers had three hits, including Joseph Eichelberger (.366, .931 OPS). JSU gets Bethune-Cookman today in a winners bracket game. … Another day, another big knock for Connor Hujsak. The Mississippi State senior drove in the tying and go-ahead runs in the ninth inning of Wednesday night’s 5-3 win against 4-seed Texas A&M in the SEC Tournament. Hujsak, batting .347 this season, hit a walk-off homer against Ole Miss on Tuesday. Fifth-seeded MSU meets 8-seed Vanderbilt tonight in a winners bracket game at Hoover, Ala. The top four seeds in the tourney all lost on Wednesday. … Southern Miss’ late-season surge continued in its Sun Belt Tournament opener on Wednesday. Billy Oldham and Colby Allen combined on a five-hit shutout and hot-hitting Slade Wilks drove in two runs and Nick Monistere hit a three-run homer in a five-run eighth as the Golden Eagles beat Coastal Carolina 5-0 at Montgomery, Ala. USM has won 11 of its last 12. Next up is Troy in a winners bracket game today.

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.

29 May

top of the heap

The ride has been anything but smooth for Milwaukee, but the Brewers have reached Memorial Day — a traditional benchmark — in first place in the National League Central. They beat San Francisco 7-5 on Sunday to snap a three-game skid and move to 28-25, 1.5 games up on Pittsburgh in a weak division. Devin Williams and William Contreras — two of several Mississippi connections on the Milwaukee roster — were key figures in Sunday’s win. The remarkable Williams, a former Biloxi Shuckers star, got the last four outs for the save; he is 8-for-8 with an 0.54 ERA. Catcher Contreras, a former Mississippi Braves standout and a 2022 All-Star for Atlanta before being traded, contributed a two-run homer and an RBI single; he is batting .250 with five bombs and 16 RBIs. The Brewers have nine players from their opening day roster on the injured list, including ace Brandon Woodruff, the Mississippi State product, and promising rookie Garrett Mitchell, a Shuckers alum. The team has wobbled through a 10-15 May but still sits atop the division. “We keep grinding through it,” Williams told mlb.com. (Ex-State star Ethan Small was sent back to Triple-A after a rocky outing in his 2023 debut.) … For the record, there is a Mississippi thread running through all of the six teams currently in first place in the big leagues. In Tampa Bay, there is former M-Braves catcher Christian Bethancourt, a highly rated prospect when he passed through Pearl a decade ago. He has taken a winding path to Tampa. In Minnesota, ex-Southern Miss star Matt Wallner was recently recalled from the minors and might be sticking around, having gone 7-for-11 with a homer, four RBIs and two walks in his last four games. In Texas, MSU product Nathaniel Lowe continues to rake for the power-packed Rangers: .273, five homers, 29 RBIs. In Los Angeles (Chavez Ravine branch), there is a trio of former M-Braves: the irrepressible Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward and Evan Phillips (an unsung bullpen piece who has seven saves and a 1.77 ERA). And in Atlanta, the bulk of the club is M-Braves alums: Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Max Fried, Michael Harris II, Charlie Morton, Austin Riley, Spencer Strider, et al. And Orlando Arcia was on the first Biloxi club back in 2015. DeSoto Central High grad Riley hit his 10th homer in Sunday’s win against Philadelphia and is batting .357 over his last seven games. P.S. Shout-out to Scott Berry and Southern Miss, which won the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship on Sunday, getting big homers from Dustin Dickerson, Danny Lynch and Slade Wilks and lockdown relief work from Justin Storm. Denied an NCAA regional host bid despite their 41-17 record (and 19-2 finishing kick), the Golden Eagles await the announcement today of their regional destination. Baton Rouge? Tuscaloosa? Fayetteville? … East Central Community College was eliminated from the NJCAA Division II World Series after an 11-10 loss to Frederick (Md.) CC in Enid, Okla. The Warriors won both the MACCC title and the Region 23 crown en route to the World Series.

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.

25 May

the other guys

Though neither Ole Miss nor Mississippi State qualified for the SEC Tournament, there are Magnolia State connections among the eight teams still alive as of today in Hoover, Ala. Bryson Ware, a former Germantown High and Pearl River Community College standout, was a second-team All-SEC player for Auburn this season and showed out Wednesday, going 2-for-4 with a homer, two RBIs and a steal in the Tigers’ 6-4 loss to Vanderbilt. Ware’s 23rd homer of the season matches the school record. Auburn is coached by Amory High and Itawamba CC alum Butch Thompson, a former Mississippi State assistant coach. The Tigers meet Alabama today in an intriguing elimination game. On the Crimson Tide roster is Wayne Academy product Will Hodo, who batted .289 this season but has been sidelined of late by an injury. Alabama fell into the losers bracket with a loss to Florida, whose starting pitcher was Hurston Waldrep, one of the stars of Southern Miss’ NCAA Tournament team in 2022. Waldrep, 7-3 with a 4.83 ERA for the Gators in the regular season, pitched into the sixth inning on Wednesday; he was long gone by the time the Gators won in the 11th. Arkansas’ starter on Wednesday was Cody Adcock, a right-hander who began his college career at Ole Miss before transferring. He pitched two innings in the 11-inning win over Texas A&M. The Razorbacks may be without starting shortstop John Bolton, a Hinds CC alum, for the entirety of the tournament. The slick-fielding Bolton, a .202 hitter, was injured the last weekend of the regular season. Former Lewisburg High star Brady Tygart, 2-0 with a 3.31 for Arkansas this season, figures to make an appearance before the Hogs are done. Today, they’ll play LSU in the winners bracket. On the Tigers’ roster is freshman Aiden Moffett, the highly touted pitcher out of Taylorsville who made one (very poor) appearance this season and apparently is redshirting. LSU beat South Carolina on Wednesday. The Gamecocks have played all year without Jacob Compton, a DeSoto Central and Northeast CC alum who transferred in from Memphis, where he was All-AAC in 2022. The slugging first baseman was injured in preseason. South Carolina plays A&M in an elimination game today. The Aggies’ director of player and program development is Chuck Box, a Columbus native who previously coached at Jackson Prep and Hartfield Academy. P.S. Kudos to Southern Miss, which opened Sun Belt Conference Tournament play with a 7-1 win over James Madison as Tanner Hall notched his 12th victory. USM gets Troy today in Montgomery, Ala. Jackson State lost its SWAC tourney opener to Grambling State 8-7 despite a combined seven hits from Omar Gomez and Marcus Atterberry. JSU meets Bethune-Cookman today in an elimination game in Atlanta.

23 May

the path ahead

East Central Community College, champion of possibly the toughest region in the country, was given the No. 3 seed in the upcoming NJCAA Division II World Series and will open tournament play on Saturday against 6-seed Southeastern (Iowa) in Enid, Okla. This is the first trip to the juco World Series for the Warriors (37-18), who would love to follow Pearl River’s lead and come home with the national championship. The Wildcats won it all in 2022. ECCC coach Neal Holliman was named the MACCC coach of the year, and two of his players, Eli Collins and Mo Little, made first-team all-conference. Itawamba’s Will Verdung, who hit .389 with 15 homers this season, was named the MACCC player of the year, and Meridian’s Cole Boswell (11-0, 2.00 ERA) was named pitcher of the year. Both have signed with Southern Miss. Meridian, which finished second to ECCC in the regular season, had four players named to the MACCC first team, with Dalton McIntyre, Blaise Priester and Gunnar Dennis joining Boswell. Pearl River had three: Logan Walters, Cooper Cooksey and Will Passeau. Hinds had two players selected: Connor Chisolm and Dylan Coleman. Also on the first team were Gulf Coast’s Sean Smith, Northeast’s Khi Holliday and Jones’ Beau Bryans. P.S. Baseball America’s latest projected NCAA Tournament field has USM going to Baton Rouge as a No. 2 seed behind LSU. The Golden Eagles (37-16) will begin their chase for the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title on Wednesday vs. James Madison at Montgomery, Ala.

21 May

coming attractions

Tournament time arrives this week for the nation’s major colleges, many of which are still battling for NCAA Tournament bids. Southern Miss shouldn’t have to fret about a regional berth, but the Golden Eagles would certainly like to collect a Sun Belt Conference tourney title for outgoing coach Scott Berry. USM (37-16 with 15 wins in its last 16 games) is in its first year in the SBC and enters the tournament in Montgomery, Ala., as the No. 2 seed (behind Coastal Carolina). The Golden Eagles will play Wednesday at Riverwalk Stadium against the winner of Tuesday’s play-in game between James Madison and Old Dominion. … Jackson State (28-23) enters the SWAC Tournament as the 4-seed from the East Division and will play West No. 1 Grambling State on Wednesday at Georgia Tech’s Chandler Stadium in Atlanta. JSU beat Grambling in their only meeting in the Andre Dawson Classic back in March. Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State did not qualify for the SWAC tourney. … The SEC Tournament starts Tuesday in Hoover, Ala., but Mississippi State and Ole Miss — the last two national champions — won’t be there. (And since there is no NIT in baseball, their seasons are over.) MSU went into the final weekend with a chance to qualify for the SEC field but lost two of three to Texas A&M and came up short. … William Carey will open Friday in the NAIA World Series against Bellevue (Neb.) at Harris Field in Lewiston, Idaho. Carey is the No. 4 seed in the 10-team field. Region 23 champ East Central Community College will get its next assignment on Tuesday when the NJCAA Division II World Series brackets are announced. The Enid, Okla., tournament starts Saturday.