13 May

taking flight

A seven-game win streak capped by a 38-run explosion in a three-game conference road sweep has propelled Southern Miss back into Baseball America’s Top 25. The 25th-ranked Golden Eagles are 34-17, 18-9 Sun Belt, and back in BA’s poll for the first time in two months. It’s the right time to be taking off, with four regular season games left — Ole Miss at home on Tuesday and a Sun Belt series at home vs. Texas State on the weekend — before the league tournament. The NCAA Tournament looms in the distance. Ozzie Pratt had a five-hit game on Sunday in a 14-6 romp past Arkansas State, driving in three runs and scoring three. But no Eagles player is hotter than Slade Wilks, the senior DH from Columbia. Wilks went 7-for-14 in the ASU series with three homers, seven RBIs and seven runs. He has a 24-game hitting streak. He leads the team with 13 homers, 53 RBIs and a .596 slugging average. With 45 career homers, Wilks is tied for sixth on USM’s all-time list with the legendary slugger Fred Cooley. Leadoff batter Dalton McIntyre — USM’s Ferriss Trophy candidate — has been a spark all season; the Meridian Community College transfer leads the team with a .388 average and has scored 39 runs and swiped 10 bases. But Wilks is the aircraft carrier for first-year coach Christian Ostrander. P.S. Mississippi State (33-18) slipped from 12th to 15th in the BA poll after losing two of three at third-ranked Arkansas over the weekend. … Delta State (32-22) is bound for the NCAA Division II South Region Bracket 2 at St. Leo, Fla. The Statesmen, seeded sixth in the eight-team regional, will open tourney play with Embry-Riddle (Fla.) on Thursday. … William Carey University and Blue Mountain Christian are scheduled to play today in their respective NAIA regionals, though weather may interrupt. Carey is hosting a four-team Opening Round event in Hattiesburg, while BMC is in the five-team tourney at LSU-Shreveport.

16 Mar

pen pals

It was quite an opening night of conference play for the state’s Big 3 NCAA Division I schools, with each scoring a win Friday before a big home crowd. Stars abound, but a trio of relief pitchers rate some special recognition. Here are the names to know:
Nolan Stevens, Mississippi State: The freshman left-hander from California came out of the bullpen in the fourth inning and worked 5 2/3, yielding one hit and one run with eight strikeouts in the Bulldogs’ 10-4 SEC win against No. 2 LSU at Dudy Noble Field. Hunter Hines hit two home runs, good for four RBIs, for State, now 14-5.
Connor Spencer, Ole Miss: The well-traveled senior from Hernando came on with two runners on in the eighth and retired the last five batters, registering his fourth save as the Rebels beat nationally ranked SEC foe South Carolina 5-4 at Swayze Field. Luke Hill went 2-for-4 with two RBIs for UM, 14-5 with eight straight wins.
Kros Sivley, Southern Miss: The sophomore lefty from Sumrall pitched the last 2 2/3 in relief of Nikko Mazza (4-0), allowing no runs on two hits and a walk for his second save in the 8-4 victory over Sun Belt rival Marshall at Taylor Park. Davis Gillespie went 3-for-4 with a bomb and five RBIs for the Golden Eagles, 12-6.

02 Jun

number crunching

Anything can happen on the field in a double-elimination tournament, but there are numbers on the stat sheet that bode well for Southern Miss’ chances in the Auburn Regional that starts today. In terms of run differential — a good measure of a team’s balance — USM, at plus-113, is far better than top seed Auburn (plus-69) or No. 3 Samford (plus-30), the Golden Eagles’ first-round foe. Penn, the 4-seed, has a plus-137, but the competition the Quakers faced in the Ivy League doesn’t compare to what the other three see in the baseball-crazy South. (The bottom three teams in the Ivy this season won a combined 24 games.) USM also has a far better staff ERA (4.60) than either Samford (6.00) or Auburn (5.80). Pitching coach — and head-coach-in-waiting — Christian Ostrander does a masterful job with young arms. Tanner Hall, the staff ace, is 12-3 with a 2.23 ERA. The junior right-hander, a virtual unknown at the start of the 2022 campaign, has won back-to-back conference pitcher of the year awards and has been a first-team All-America pick both years by Collegiate Baseball Magazine. But you gotta have some depth. USM can trot out four pitchers with sub-4.00 ERAs, an accomplishment in NCAA Division I ball. One of those four is closer Justin Storm, an intimidating (6 feet 6, 225 pounds) lefty who is 5-1 with eight saves, a 2.52 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 35 2/3 innings. Samford’s ace is Jacob Cravey (9-2, 3.19, CB second-team All-America, Southern Conference pitcher of the year), and the Bulldogs closer is Ben Petschke (14 saves, 4.29). Auburn’s top arm is starter Tommy Vail (5-1, 3.46). For the record, Auburn and Samford have a significantly better fielding percentage number (.978) than USM (.970), though the Eagles, with 41 wins, are hardly considered a poor defensive team. For what it’s worth, the Eagles have proven their mettle on the road, going 15-12 away from Taylor Park, including winning the Sun Belt Conference Tournament title in Montgomery, Ala. P.S. Kudos to Resurrection Catholic (Class 1A) and Lewisburg (6A) for winning MHSAA state championships on Thursday at Trustmark Park in Pearl.

17 May

what’s going on …

In Hattiesburg today, William Carey University is in the championship phase of the NAIA Opening Round tourney, awaiting the winner of the Ave Maria-Houston-Victoria game. Carey already has beaten both of those teams and will advance to the NAIA World Series with another victory, either today or Thursday. … In Eunice, La., today, East Central Community College takes on LSU-Eunice in a winners bracket game and Pearl River meets Itawamba in a losers bracket game of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 Tournament. ECCC, the MACCC champion, has wins over ICC and Meridian in the tournament. LSU-U, ranked No. 1 in the nation, has wins over Northeast and Pearl River. Meridian and Northeast have been eliminated. … In Hattiesburg this weekend, Southern Miss, chasing a Sun Belt Conference title, plays host to Louisiana-Lafayette in a three-game league series to end the regular season. The Golden Eagles will honor retiring coach Scott Berry on Friday. There will be a lot of emotion at Taylor Park. … Jackson State, trying to maintain momentum for the SWAC Tournament, heads to Daytona Beach, Fla., for a league series against Bethune-Cookman. The Tigers are just 12-15 in the SWAC but have won their last four series. … Taps have been played on Ole Miss’ postseason chances, but Mississippi State clings to hope as it hosts Texas A&M to wrap up the regular season. State is 8-19 in the SEC, trailing both Georgia and Missouri by 2 games in the standings. Those three are vying for the last two SEC tourney berths. MSU basically needs to sweep A&M and get some help from LSU (vs. Georgia) and Auburn (vs. Missouri). … The MHSAA playoffs are down to the final 24 with North and South championships to be decided this week. In Class 6A, Northwest Rankin and Gulfport will battle for the South crown and Germantown and Lewisburg for the North. The state championship series in all six classes will be held at Trustmark Park in Pearl from May 30-June 2.

08 May

turn the beat around

If you’re looking for a defining moment in Southern Miss’ resurgent season, zoom in on April 22, when the Golden Eagles were smacked around 20-7 at Coastal Carolina, their second straight blowout loss there. How would USM respond? By bouncing back for a 15-7 win on April 23 that ignited a win streak that reached 10 games on Sunday. “The biggest turnaround is the attitude and the purpose we have when we go to the plate …,” USM coach Scott Berry told Hattiesburg’s WDAM. “Our guys have been able to cool the storm down a little bit.” Indeed. After beating South Alabama 6-1 on Sunday at Taylor Park, USM is 32-15 and 17-7 in the Sun Belt Conference, tied with Coastal for the league lead. The win streak is the longest in the nation. The national polls will surely take notice again. All nine batters in the USM lineup got at least one hit on Sunday, and three pitchers combined on a five-hitter, with Nikko Mazza working the last five and striking out nine. Dustin Dickerson leads the Eagles’ offense with a .322 average. Slade Wilks has provided big power with 18 homers and 52 RBIs, and Matthew Etzel has swiped 16 bases while batting .300. The pitching hasn’t been as formidable as in 2022; the staff ERA is 4.98. But there are reliable arms. Tanner Hall, a preseason All-America pick, has pitched like the ace he is with a 9-3 record and 2.71 ERA. Justin Storm has eight saves, and Mazza is 5-1 with two saves. Will Armistead has pitched to a 2.33 ERA in 11 appearances. How far will this surge carry the Eagles? Two more conference series await, then the SBC Tournament at Montgomery, Ala., then an NCAA Tournament berth. Stay tuned. P.S. Delta State plays on today in the GSC Tournament, taking on Valdosta State in Oxford, Ala. After an opening loss, the eighth-seeded Statesmen have won two straight in the double-elimination event. … William Carey apparently ran out of pitching in Sunday night’s GCAC Tournament title game, surrendering 17 hits and 12 walks in a 22-10 loss to Mobile in Hattiesburg. Carey (44-9) is expected to receive an NAIA Tournament bid on Thursday. … Belhaven bowed out of the CCS Tournament in LaGrange, Ga., with a pair of losses on Saturday.

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.

27 Mar

taking stock

They are dazed and confused at Mississippi State and Ole Miss, both still winless in the SEC at 0-6. Defending national champion Ole Miss — clearly missing injured ace Hunter Elliott — allowed 28 runs in getting swept at home by Florida over the weekend. The Rebels’ staff ERA is now 5.68. Not to be outdone, State yielded 55 runs to visiting Vanderbilt, jacking the Bulldogs’ ERA to 6.70. All three SWAC schools also were swept in conference series over the weekend. Jackson State is now 1-5 in the league, Mississippi Valley State and Alcorn State both 0-6. Alcorn, 1-18 overall after a 2-39 2022 season, seems to have fallen and can’t get up. On the positive side, Southern Miss beat Georgia Southern two out of three at Taylor Park and moved to 3-3 in the Sun Belt. The Golden Eagles play Ole Miss on Tuesday at Trustmark Park in Pearl. The hottest team in the state is NCAA Division III Belhaven, which has won 10 in a row and stands at 6-0 in the CCS. On Tuesday, the Blazers visit D-III rival Millsaps, coming off a sweep of SAA foe Sewanee and carrying a five-game win streak. In the NAIA ranks, William Carey scored 56 runs in a sweep of SSAC opponent Stillman. The Crusaders — led by Patrick Lee (.426, 11 homers, 47 RBIs) — are 23-6, 7-2 SSAC. Blue Mountain Christian won two of three from Faulkner and moved to 21-11, 6-6 SSAC. In D-II, Delta State and Mississippi College both came up clutch in the rubber game of their GSC series. Brendan McCauley’s two-run hit in the ninth inning propelled DSU (9-6 in the league) past Auburn-Montgomery, while Kolby McWilliams capped a rally by MC (6-9 GSC) at Lee with a seventh-inning RBI knock. NAIA Rust is 4-2 in the GCAC and 8-14 overall, while league rival Tougaloo is 4-21, 1-5. Tougaloo visits Jackson State on Wednesday. D-III MUW is 2-16. P.S. Jones College has won seven straight and moved to the top of the MACCC standings with a 9-1 league mark. The Bobcats, ranked 11th last week in the NJCAA Division II poll, are 24-6 overall. East Central Community College is second in the standings at 7-1, Pearl River third at 8-2.

20 Mar

lost weekend

Well, that was awful. Mississippi’s six NCAA Division I teams went 2-16 over the weekend. Two and sixteen. Kudos to Southern Miss and Jackson State for winning a game each and preventing a complete wipeout. Ole Miss may have suffered the hardest fall. The Rebels were beaten by a collective 27-4 at Vanderbilt. They managed just 13 hits the entire weekend. Remarkably, Ole Miss (14-6) fell only nine spots in the new Baseball America poll, from No. 6 to 15. And there’s no rest for the weary in the SEC: Florida, ranked No. 2, comes to Oxford next weekend. Mississippi State (13-8) went 0-3 at Kentucky; Southern Miss (12-7) went 1-2 at Texas State in its Sun Belt debut; and Jackson State (13-5), which had been playing really well, went 1-2 at home against Alabama A&M to start SWAC play. Meanwhile, the struggles continued for Mississippi Valley State (6-13), swept by Florida A&M, and Alcorn State (1-14), swept by Prairie View A&M. Note: Props to William Carey University (20-6), which went on the road and took three straight SSAC games from Brewton-Parker, and Delta State (12-13), which won two of three GSC games at home against Union.

01 Jan

still on top

Two Mississippi colleges won national championships in 2022, and one of them will start the new year where it finished the old. Pearl River Community College, defending NJCAA Division II champ, is ranked No. 1 in Collegiate Baseball Magazine’s preseason poll. The Wildcats went 45-11 in claiming the program’s first national crown, joining NCAA Division I champ Ole Miss in that regard. Star hitters Tate Parker and D.K. Donaldson have moved on from Poplarville, but the Wildcats’ cupboard remains well-stocked. “We are extremely talented and expect to have more depth on the mound than last year,” PRCC coach Michael Avalon told CB. Among the Wildcats’ four returning regulars are third baseman Alex Perry, who hit .385 with 17 homers and 22 stolen bases, and shortstop Gabe Broadus, a Southern Miss commit who batted .382 with 39 bags. Seven pitchers also return. … Hinds CC is ranked 12th in CB’s poll, with Jones College checking in at No. 17 and Meridian CC at No. 20. LSU-Eunice, a traditional Region 23 powerhouse, is ranked third. … USM, 47-19 and a Super Regional participant last year, is ranked 18th by CB in its D-I poll, followed by Mississippi State at No. 22 and Ole Miss at No. 24. The Golden Eagles are projected to win the Sun Belt in their first year in the league. MSU and UM are pegged fourth and fifth in the SEC West. In the SWAC, Jackson State is slotted fourth in the East Division with Mississippi Valley State sixth (last). Alcorn State is picked to finish sixth in the West.