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

meanwhile, out west …

While much of the state’s attention will be focused on Hattiesburg’s Super Regional this weekend, some will be keeping track of the events in Corvallis, Ore., and Palo Alto, Calif. Auburn, coached by Amory’s Butch Thompson, is in the Super Regional hosted by Oregon State. (The winner of that best-of-3 series is paired against the winner of Ole Miss-Southern Miss in the first round of the College World Series.) On the Tigers’ roster is former Germantown High and Pearl River Community College star Bryson Ware, batting .228 in 47 games. Thompson is in his seventh season as coach of the Tigers, the No. 14 national seed. He played at Amory High and Itawamba Community College — he is in the Indians’ Hall of Fame — and served as an assistant coach at Mississippi State from 2009-15. In Palo Alto, you’ll find Braden Montgomery, the ex-Madison Central star and 2021 Gatorade player of the year who is one of the key players for Stanford, the No. 2 national seed. The Cardinal is playing host to UConn. Montgomery, the Cardinal right fielder, is hitting .301 with 16 homers and 51 RBIs. The Pac-12 freshman of the year has also pitched in 15 games, posting a 5.79 ERA. The Palo Alto Super Regional is in the same CWS bracket as Hattiesburg and Corvallis.

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.

08 Jun

name-dropping

These names you know: Tim Elko, Doug Nikhazy and Taylor Broadway – heroes for Ole Miss in their regional title game victory over Southern Miss – and Kamren James, Logan Tanner and Landon Sims – stars for Mississippi State in their regional clincher against Campbell. Here’s a couple of names you need to know looking ahead to this weekend’s super regionals: Niko Kavadas and Garrett Irvin. Kavadas was the South Bend Regional MVP for Notre Dame, which comes to Dudy Noble Field for its first super regional appearance in 19 years. Kavadas, 6 feet 1, 235 pounds, went 6-for-11 with six walks and belted five home runs for Fighting Irish (33-11) in their regional sweep. Kavadas, a lefty hitter, is batting .309 with 21 homers and 62 RBIs on the year. Irvin was the Tucson Regional MVP for Arizona, which will host Ole Miss in the super regional at Hi Corbett Field. Irvin threw a three-hit shutout (no walks, 10 strikeouts) against UC Santa Barbara in the regional, registering his sixth win in his last seven decisions. The left-hander, who also beat NCAA tourney participants Stanford and Oregon down the stretch, has a 3.51 ERA on the season for the 43-15 Wildcats, the No. 5 national seed. … Only two Magnolia State schools are still standing in what has been another banner year for baseball in the state. USM gave Ole Miss all it could handle in the Oxford Regional final and finishes 40-21. Jackson State went undefeated in the SWAC regular season and suffered a gut-wrenching defeat in the tournament title game. Delta State made it to the finals of the GSC Tournament and advanced to the Division II South Region tourney before bowing out. William Carey won the SSAC Tournament title and went to an NAIA regional, ending its season at 36-12. East Central Community College made the final game of the NJCAA Division II Region 23 tourney, handing eventual national champ LSU-Eunice one of just seven losses it suffered all year.

07 Oct

welcome to the show

Former Mississippi State ace Dakota Hudson is scheduled for his first career postseason appearance today for St. Louis, starting Game 4 of the National League Division Series against Atlanta, a must-win situation for the Cardinals. Hudson, 16-7 with a 3.35 ERA this season, does have some experience in pressurized situations, having started three postseason games for State in 2016. He went 0-2, losing to LSU in the SEC Tournament, taking a no-decision against Southeast Missouri State in the Starkville Regional and losing to Arizona in Game 1 of the Super Regional at Dudy Noble Field. He got knocked around by LSU, yielding nine hits and four runs (two earned) in five innings of a 6-2 loss at Hoover, Ala. (Jared Poche got the win for the Tigers.) Hudson wasn’t sharp against SEMO in the regional, lasting just 3 1/3 innings and allowing four runs, but the Bulldogs rallied to win. His best performance came against Arizona, a start that came the day after the 6-foot-5 right-hander was drafted 34th overall by the Cardinals. He worked 6 1/3, allowed seven hits, one walk and one run – but the Bulldogs lost 1-0 to the Wildcats’ Bobby Dalbec. Arizona took the Super Regional the next day. Hudson signed with St. Louis and two years later made his big league debut. Today, he makes his biggest appearance at Busch Stadium. MSU has paid for several billboards that have gone up in St. Louis wishing Hudson good luck. P.S. Billy Hamilton, the ex-Taylorsville High star, stole third base as a pinch runner and scored the tying run during the Braves’ ninth-inning rally in Game 3 on Sunday. Hamilton, in his first postseason, has scored two runs in his two appearances. … In the other NLDS, Southern Miss alum Brian Dozier started and went 0-for-2 for Washington in its loss to Los Angeles, which can take the series in Game 4 today at Nationals Park. Dozier, in his third postseason, is batting .174. He homered in his very first at-bat for Minnesota in 2017 but has only three hits in 22 ABs since.

07 Jun

long strange trip

Mississippi State’s Bulldogs are in Nashville this weekend, and the burning question is: How did this Bulldogs team get here? Not here, as in Nashville, but here, as in this Super Regional, as the last Mississippi team still playing in 2018? You look at their numbers, they aren’t too good. Middle of the pack in the SEC in batting average and runs, dead last in on-base percentage. Tied for 12th in homers and tied for 13th in steals. Only two SEC clubs made more errors. Bulldogs pitchers had just the 11th-best ERA in the league; they were third in strikeouts but also third in walks allowed. Yet here they are, playing league rival Vanderbilt in a best-of-3 for a berth in the College World Series. It was a long strange trip. They started 0-3 and saw their coach fired. They also started 0-3 in the SEC – swept by Vandy – and were 10-10 overall on March 18. They were 19-19, 5-10 SEC on April 20 when they pulled off a three-game sweep of No. 3 Arkansas. Where’d that come from? Alas, after losing two of three to Kentucky in mid-May, the record was 27-24 and 11-15 and an NCAA bid looked doubtful. Then, out of nowhere, the Dogs swept No. 1 Florida. And yet, even that momentum was quelled when they lost their SEC Tournament opener to LSU. Then they were routed by Oklahoma by a football score in the Tallahassee Regional. That’s gotta be it, right? Well, no. Out of the loser’s bracket, seemingly against all odds, they won four straight to take the region title. And now the NCAA has sent the Dogs to Nashville, a somewhat controversial decision, to play a Vandy team that has also had a tumultuous year. Can this long strange trip possibly reach Omaha? For State, it’s like the Grateful Dead once sang, “Together, more or less in line, just keep truckin’ on.”

09 Jun

intangible force

We compile batting average, on-base percentage, earned run average, strikeouts per nine innings, fielding percentage and all those other stats, and they tell us something, if not quite everything, about a team. There is no stat for energy level, and that might be the most telling factor in the outcome of the Super Regional in Starkville that starts Friday. Mississippi State, which fairly cruised through its regional at Dudy Noble Field, should be fully charged. Visiting Arizona, on the other hand, who knows? The Wildcats have traveled some 12,000 miles since May 19, according to a story on the school’s web site. In their regional tournament, at Lafayette, La., they fell into the loser’s bracket and had to win three games in roughly a 27-hour span to advance. Their ace, Nathan Bannister, threw a reported 198 pitches over four days to help keep the ‘Cats alive. One has to wonder if there is enough juice left for Arizona to get past Dakota Hudson, Jake Mangum, Jack Kruger, Austin Sexton and friends in a three-game series in front of the rowdy Dudy Noble throng. The Wildcats (42-21 in a “rebuilding” year) do have some arms: Bannister (11-2, 2.63), lefty J.C. Cloney (6-4, 2.86), Bobby Dalbec (9-4, 3.28, seven saves). Ryan Aguilar provides some power (seven homers, 21 doubles), and Zack Gibbons is a .380 hitter. But the Bulldogs (44-16-1) appear to have more pitching and more hitting. And even if they don’t, surely they’ve got more energy.

09 Jun

numbers of note

2 — Number of home runs this season for Taylorsville High product Billy Hamilton, who hit his latest on Sunday in Cincinnati’s 4-1 win over Philadelphia. Hamilton is batting .253 with 23 stolen bases.
3 — Months former Mississippi State star Mitch Moreland is expected to miss after having ankle surgery. “It’s to the point where I’m hurting the team …,” the Texas Rangers first baseman told ESPNDallas.com about his decision to go under the knife. Moreland is batting .246 with two homers; he hit 23 bombs in 2013.
12 — Hits, in nine MLB games, for Tommy La Stella, the former Mississippi Braves standout now starting at second base for Atlanta. La Stella, a .340 hitter in Pearl last season, is batting .400.
14 — Runs scored by the M-Braves in their victory over Chattanooga at Trustmark Park on Sunday. The M-Braves are 1½ games out of first in the Southern League South with six to play.
16 — Hits this season for Ole Miss freshman Colby Bortles, who delivered his latest on Sunday, a two-run, eighth-inning single that helped the Rebels beat Louisiana-Lafayette 5-2 in their NCAA Super Regional. Game 3, with a College World Series trip on the line, is tonight at 6.
35 — Number of Mississippi-connected players picked in the MLB draft, from West Lauderdale High catcher Blake Anderson at No. 36 overall to Gulfport High third baseman Daniel Keating at No. 1181.
38 — Points lost off his batting average since May 21 by Ole Miss product Seth Smith. Smith, batting .301 with six homers and 21 RBIs for San Diego, is 7-for-34 (.206) over his last 10 games with just one RBI.