03 May

numbers of note

540 – Strikeouts by Mississippi State’s pitching staff this season, most in the nation. The Bulldogs (32-10) punched out 37 in their three-game sweep of Texas A&M over the weekend.
31 – Wins by Ole Miss this season, marking the 23rd straight year (excluding the shortened 2020 season) that the Rebels have posted at least 30 wins. They swept South Carolina over the weekend.
30 – Runs scored by Southern Miss in taking the last three games of a four-game set at Rice. The Golden Eagles improved to 29-14 and 16-7 in C-USA, second in the West.
21 – Wins, against no defeats, for Jackson State in SWAC play this season. The Tigers have one series left, at home against winless Mississippi Valley State next weekend.
20 – Wins, against 16 losses, this season for Belhaven heading into this week’s ASC Tournament in Marshall, Texas. Ace Brett Sanchez has nine of those wins and just one loss.
20 – Wins, against eight losses, for MUW, which is ranked No. 2 in the USCAA poll and awaiting word of an invite to the postseason.
9 – Current losing streak for Alcorn State, which finished the regular season at 6-18, 6-16 SWAC.
9 – Straight wins for William Carey, which will take a 30-10 record into the SSAC Tournament in Mobile, Ala., this week. The Crusaders are the fifth seed and play 4-seed Mobile on Wednesday.
7 – Blue Mountain’s seed in the SSAC Tournament; the Toppers (14-18) get 2-seed Faulkner in the first round on Wednesday.
5 – Delta State’s seed in this week’s GSC Tournament in Oxford, Ala. The Statesmen (24-15) took two of three from Mississippi College over the weekend. MC didn’t make the tourney field.

01 May

see how they run

Jackson State can swing the bats: .308 team batting average. The Tigers have some quality arms: Nik Galatas is 7-2, Anthony Beccera 6-1 and Steven Davila 4-0 with five saves. But maybe the most impressive aspect of the Tigers’ game is their wheels. JSU, 25-8 and 19-0 in the SWAC after dismantling Alabama A&M 13-0 on Friday, leads the nation in stolen bases and has five players with double-figure totals in steals. They got four bags on Friday, running their total to 108, far and away the best in NCAA Division I. They don’t hit a lot of homers, just 20 on the year. But their old-school, kicking-up-dust style produces. They average 9.2 runs per game. Equon Smith leads the club with 20 steals in 21 attempts. Jatavious Melton, from Natchez, has 18; Madison’s Chandler Dillard 15; Columbia’s C.J. Newsome 14; and Raymond’s Chevy Dorris 12. Wesley Reyes is 8-of-9. The Tigers will enter the SWAC Tournament, set for May 19-23 at Madison, Ala., as the clear favorite for the title. And they’ll have to win the event to get an NCAA regional bid. It’d be a shame if they don’t; their speed and aggressiveness on the bases could cause problems for whatever regional heavyweights they might encounter.

30 Mar

theory of relativity

Frustration is relative. Mississippi State is hurting, having been battered in three straight games at home by Arkansas. “We got manhandled,” a downcast coach Chris Lemonis said in his postgame video conference. One Bulldogs player called the performance “embarrassing.” State, a consensus national top five last week, slipped to 17-7, 2-4 in the SEC and tumbled in the polls. Suddenly, the Bulldogs have things to prove. Comes now a game tonight at Dudy Noble Field against Mississippi Valley State, where frustration is at a whole ’nother level. The Delta Devils are 0-9, 0-6 in the SWAC. They’ve scored just eight runs all season. Their pitchers are struggling to get outs (.380 batting average against), but so is their defense (35 unearned runs allowed). Valley is 0-27 all-time against State. If there was ever a good time for the Devils to catch the Bulldogs, tonight isn’t it. Frustration is relative.

18 Mar

scoring machine

In its last five games, Jackson State has hung up these numbers: 16, 7, 10, 30 and 15. These aren’t football scores, mind you. While Deion Sanders and his gridiron gang have been drawing the lion’s share of attention lately, Omar Johnson’s baseball team has ripped off eight straight wins thanks mainly to a prolific attack. The Tigers beat Grambling 15-8 in a non-conference road game on Wednesday. They scored 47 runs in a three-game blitz of Alcorn State at Lorman over last weekend. JSU, which doesn’t play again until next week, is 11-5 and 6-0 in the SWAC. The pitching – see the 6.45 staff ERA – might need to shape up, but the offense looks to be in fine form. The Tigers don’t hit many homers, but they get on base (.403 OBP), steal bases (49 in 54 attempts) and score (8.5 runs per game). There are many contributors. Chandler Dillard, from Madison, is batting .409 with a .481 OBP, 20 RBIs, 14 runs and eight steals. Jatavious Melton (Natchez) has a .433 OBP, 14 runs and a team-best 10 steals. Chenar Brown is batting .321 with 15 RBIs, and Wesley Reyes (.338 OBP) leads the team with 15 runs. C.J. Newsome (Columbia) is getting on at a .392 clip. Staff ace Nik Galatas has benefited from the potent offense; he is 3-2 despite a 5.74 ERA. Anthony Becerra, another starter, is 2-1, 3.18. Bullpen stalwart Steven Davila has two wins and two saves with a 6.89 ERA. While pitching is typically the key to any championship run, JSU might just have enough offense to carry it in the SWAC.

09 Mar

spotlight on …

Of all the wins racked up by Mississippi colleges over the weekend, none was more significant than Millsaps College’s conquest on Sunday of nationally ranked Birmingham-Southern. The Majors, coming off the worst season in coach Jim Page’s long tenure, were 5-7 heading into their Southern Athletic Association opening series on the road against the No. 8 team in NCAA Division III. BSC is the defending SAA champion and D-III College World Series runner-up. The teams split a doubleheader to begin the series, setting up Sunday’s rubber game that the Majors won in blowout fashion, 12-7. Behind home runs from Fritz Walker III and Chris Hart, the Majors bolted to a 10-1 lead. Erstwhile football player Walker, batting .362, leads the team with four homers and 18 RBIs. Hart, a Northwest Rankin High product, entered the game just 5-for-45 on the season. He banged out three hits, including a grand slam that was his first homer of the year. An unsung hero for the Majors was freshman Brady Davis, who recorded the last five outs to snuff out any BSC comeback hopes. … Meanwhile, tough times continued for Mississippi Valley State, which was swept in a home SWAC series against Alabama State to fall to 0-13. Two of the Delta Devils’ six SWAC losses were by one run and two were by two runs. Valley hasn’t scored more than four runs in any game and has managed that total only twice.

28 Feb

in the spotlight

Rivalries in baseball may not boil the blood as they do in football and basketball, but they still have a special feel. Red Sox-Yankees. Dodgers-Giants. Mississippi State-Ole Miss. Similarly, Jackson State-Alcorn State isn’t just another conference series. The longtime rivals meet this weekend to open SWAC play. Today’s Game 1 and Sunday’s series finale will be played at JSU’s Braddy Field, with the middle game on Saturday moving to Smith-Wills Stadium. Fans of the two schools don’t need to be reminded that Alcorn State won the 2019 football game – in convincing fashion – and Jackson State swept the two men’s basketball games this season. There’s a measure of pride at stake this weekend. The Tigers lead the all-time series 158-101-1, according to an Alcorn press release. JSU is 3-4, led by a dynamic offense that features C.J. Newsome (.500, eight runs, three steals) and Jaylyn Williams (.500, six RBIs). Steven Davila has been JSU’s steadiest pitcher, with a 1.23 ERA over three appearances. Alcorn’s staff ERA is 7.16, though Joe Smith, a product of Jackson’s Jim Hill High, has pitched well (3.60 in two outings). Travaris Cole paces the 2-3 Braves’ attack at .391 with three homers and 11 RBIs. Tristan Garcia (.438) had a four-hit game at Ole Miss last week. P.S. It was announced Thursday that the SWAC Tournament will be played at Smith-Wills for the next three years. The 2020 dates for the eight-team, double-elimination tournament are May 13-17. This isn’t the first time the event will be played at the old ballpark on Cool Papa Bell Drive. The 2000 and 2007 tourneys were played there. The 2006 event was held at Trustmark Park in Pearl. From 1988-95, the SWAC played its championship in Natchez.

26 Feb

say what?

From the Didn’t See That Coming Dept., we have this score from Starkville: Texas Southern 8, Mississippi State 4. Anything can happen on a given day in baseball, but still, when a winless SWAC team takes down a consensus top 10 SEC club on its home field, that’s going to send reverberations far and wide. “This is the second-biggest win in the history of the university,” TSU coach Michael Robertson said in a school release. The only thing bigger, Robertson said, would be a 2004 NCAA regional win against defending national champion Rice. Bulldogs shortstop Jordan Westburg had this take: “This is a really big wake-up call. It should hurt. It should hurt for everybody on the team … .” TSU, now 1-9, took a 7-3 lead with a four-run fourth. K.C. Hunt and David Dunlavey, State’s first two pitchers, allowed those seven runs (only four earned) on six hits, four walks, three wild pitches and a hit batsman. The Bulldogs made two critical errors. They stranded 11 runners, scoring just once after the second inning. “We’re not competing right now in a lot of different ways,” State coach Chris Lemonis said in a school release. State (5-2), which lost to Oregon State on Sunday, returns to Dudy Noble Field today to face another SWAC school, Alcorn State, which battled Ole Miss tooth-and-nail last week before losing on an Anthony Servideo walk-off bomb. … Meanwhile, in Oxford on Tuesday, Ole Miss and Southern Miss put on a show befitting a rivalry game. The nationally ranked Rebels won 4-3, getting a clutch go-ahead homer from Hayden Leatherwood in the seventh inning and some gritty relief pitching from Braden Forsyth, who struck out two batters with the go-ahead run on base in the ninth. Leatherwood hit 22 homers the previous two years at Northwest Mississippi Community College. For USM, Will McGillis, a product of Hattiesburg’s Presbyterian Christian School, went 3-for-5 with a go-ahead homer in the top of the seventh.

13 Feb

and away we go

Things to look for this weekend when – weather permitting! — the NCAA Division I schools launch their season: At Mississippi State, ranked in the top 10 in just about every preseason poll, J.T. Ginn is the acknowledged ace, coming off a season that saw the right-hander claim national freshman of the year honors. But almost every other significant contributor from the 2019 College World Series pitching staff is gone. It’ll be interesting to see how roles start to shake out in the opening series against Wright State at Dudy Noble Field. … At Ole Miss, there is a lot of buzz about top-ranked Louisville coming to Oxford for the opening series, but there might be just as much about Rebels freshmen Jerrion Ealy and John Rhys Plumlee. What will the roles be for the football players doing double duty this spring and how much impact will they have on the diamond? Both were highly touted baseball prospects in high school – some considered Ealy the best prep player in the state – and both play center field. … At Southern Miss, the playing surface at Taylor Park is now artificial (Field Turf), which will play a little differently than grass and dirt. The Golden Eagles will break in the new field against Murray State in a three-game set. Minus Matt Wallner and a couple of other mashers from last year’s C-USA Tournament champs, the lineup will also have a new look. “We’re probably going to be a little bit different team in the fact that we’re going to have to manufacture some runs. On-base percentage is going to be very crucial for us,” coach Scott Berry said at media day last month. P.S. In the SWAC, Jackson State is at home against Southern Illinois, Alcorn State opens with Prairie View in New Orleans in the Andre Dawson Tournament (formerly the Urban Invitational) and Mississippi Valley State travels to McNeese State. … Alcorn’s second game in New Orleans, against Southern University on Saturday, will be televised by MLB Network at 1 p.m. … On the Trustmark Park College Series docket: USM and State play in Pearl on March 4, USM and Ole Miss meet there on March 31 and the Ole Miss-State Governor’s Cup clash is set for April 21. … Mississippi State will play Texas Tech in a two-game series at MGM Park in Biloxi on March 10-11. The matchup features teams that have gone to the College World Series in each of the last two seasons. … The C-USA Tournament is slated for Biloxi’s MGM Park May 20-24 of this year, its fourth year at the Double-A Shuckers’ home. A scheduling glitch was resolved when Overtime Sports, which is currently managing the C-USA tourney, reportedly agreed to pay the Shuckers to move a Southern League game from May 20 to another date (May 17) as part of a doubleheader. There is some question as to whether the C-USA event will continue in Biloxi beyond 2020.

07 Nov

remembering rat

So many iconic college coaches have worked in Mississippi over the years that the legacy of Willie E. “Rat” McGowan can get lost in the shuffle. McGowan, who died on Tuesday, was the Alcorn State coach for parts of four decades (1972-2009). When you start reeling off the names of the state’s coaching greats — Ron Polk, Boo Ferriss, Hill Denson, Bob Braddy, Mike Bianco, Mike Kinnison, Bobby Halford, Jim Page, et. al — McGowan belongs in the conversation. He accomplished impressive things at a small school with relatively limited resources for baseball. McGowan, who doubled as a football assistant coach during much of his time in Lorman, is Alcorn’s all-time leader in baseball victories with a 720-663-7 record. His last two teams each won 29 games, the school record. He was a four-time coach of the year in the SWAC and is in the conference’s Hall of Fame. The school’s baseball stadium bears his name. The only Alcorn player to make the big leagues – Al Jones, who pitched for the Chicago White Sox from 1983-85 – played for McGowan, as did a dozen others who were drafted. A McComb native, McGowan played baseball and football for the Braves in the late 1950s.

06 May

stalking a title

Jackson State will enter the SWAC Tournament next week as a 2-seed but sporting the credentials of a tourney favorite. The Tigers, who finished second to Alabama State in the Eastern Division, have won 17 of their last 20 games (two of those losses were to the Hornets). JSU also leads the league in hitting and ERA and is tied for second in fielding percentage. Clearly, it’s a well-rounded club, one capable of winning a third tournament title under coach Omar Johnson, who has never had a losing season in 13 years at the helm. The Tigers (29-21) play at Kansas on Tuesday and Wednesday in their final tuneups for the SWAC event, which starts May 15 in New Orleans. JSU opens with West 3-seed Texas Southern. Alcorn State, the No. 3 team in the East, plays Grambling in its opener. Mississippi Valley State, which finished last in the East, is ineligible for the postseason. The Tigers’ array of hitting heroes includes Jaylyn Williams (.411, 51 RBIs), Equon Smith (.374, 39 steals, 54 runs), Raul Hernandez (.363, eight homers, 51 RBIs) and Chris Prentiss (.372, 10 triples). Nikelle Galatas tops the pitching staff at 7-3, 4.30. Garth Cahill and Kevin Perez have five wins apiece. The wide net Johnson casts in recruiting is reflected in that group. Williams (Greenville) and Prentiss (Vicksburg) are Mississippi natives, Smith and Perez are from Florida, Galatas from California, Hernandez from Puerto Rico and Cahill from South Africa. The roster also lists players from Canada, the Virgin Islands, Nevada, Michigan and New York.