Mississippi State — make that defending national champion Mississippi State — starts its Fall World Series today at Dudy Noble Field. Game 2 of the annual intrasquad showdown is Friday and Game 3 Monday. The Bulldogs, who beat Samford last Saturday in the first of their two fall games, return Kamren James, Logan Tanner and Landon Sims from the championship club and national coach of the year Chris Lemonis added what Baseball America rates as the 10th-best recruiting class in the nation. State plays Alabama in Starkville on Oct. 15. … Southern Miss begins fall practice on Friday with the first of three intrasquad scrimmages set for the weekend at Taylor Park. Coach Scott Berry, who has 435 wins and is 34 shy of the school record, got a contract extension in the off-season after guiding the Golden Eagles to their seventh NCAA Tournament appearance. They lost in the Oxford Regional final. … Ole Miss, which started fall ball on Oct. 1, has games slated for Oct. 16 vs. Arkansas-Little Rock and Oct. 30 vs. Alabama, both at Swayze Field. The Pizza Bowl, the Rebels’ annual intrasquad showdown, is set for Nov. 12. Ole Miss is coming off a Super Regional appearance, a loss in three games at Arizona. … Three of the state’s HBCUs have new coaches this fall, including Reggie Williams, a former major leaguer, at Alcorn State and Stanley Stubbs, previously Rust College’s coach, at Mississippi Valley State. John Bates was promoted from Stubbs’ staff to replace him at Rust. … The NCAA Division I start date for 2022 is Feb. 18. Ole Miss will host Charleston Southern that day. State, USM and the SWAC schools have not released their full schedules.
In addition to the Mississippi products on the Mississippi State, Ole Miss and Southern Miss teams, there are quite a few on the rosters of other schools participating in this week’s NCAA Division I regionals. C-USA power Louisiana Tech, hosting a regional, is coached by Meridian native Lane Burroughs, who has coached all over the Magnolia State and recruits it heavily, as well. There are eight state connections with the Bulldogs, including Itawamba Community College product Kyle Crigger (3-2, 3.69 ERA), Seminary’s Adarius Myers (.256 in 36 games) and Hernando’s Ben Brantley (17 RBIs in 34 games). SWAC champion Southern University, in the Austin Regional, has seven state products on its roster. O’Neill Burgos, the ex-Jones College slugger who broke Jackson State’s heart in the SWAC final (see previous post), is one of the Jaguars’ top hitters at .300 with five homers. Starkville’s Jonathan Evans is a .271 hitter. South Alabama, bound for the Gainesville Regional, also has seven state connections and has gotten significant contributions from three pitchers: Pearl River CC alum Miles Smith is 6-1, 2.23; Hinds CC’s Jase Dalton is 5-3, 1.53 with four saves; and Northeast CC’s Tyler Samaniego has two wins and six saves. LSU suits up Drew Bianco, Oxford High product and son of the UM coach who is batting .229 with six homers. The Tigers are in the Eugene Regional. Alabama, in the Ruston Regional, has former Jones juco ace Will Freeman, who is 2-1, 2.41.
Jackson State went 24-0 in the SWAC, leads the league in batting (.316) and ERA (4.28), leads the nation in stolen bases (131) and enters the league tournament as the No. 1 seed. There is, however, another number stuck to the Tigers that’s not as sparkly. JSU’s RPI, per ncaa.com, is 96. If JSU doesn’t win the SWAC tourney in Madison, Ala., this week, the Tigers’ low RPI won’t rate an NCAA Tournament at-large bid. It’s a familiar refrain at JSU. The out-of-conference resume isn’t good enough. The Tigers were swept three straight to begin the season by a good Mercer team, then lost to nationally ranked Mississippi State and Ole Miss as well as Tulane and split two with Louisiana-Monroe. And since no other SWAC school ranks in the top 200 in RPI, the 24 conference wins don’t carry a lot of weight. So, the heat is on the Tigers to take the tourney title, which they haven’t done since 2014. Coach Omar Johnson, who has posted 15 straight winning seasons, said in an interview with WJTV-12 that his message to the players is “just stay in the moment … play and enjoy it.” He has a strong and balanced club that swept the league individual honors. Player of the Year Ty Hill is hitting .431, Chandler Dillard .367, Freshman of the Year Chenar Brown .357 with eight homers and 45 RBIs. Equon Smith, a .301 hitter, has 24 stolen bases and Jatavious Melton 22. Six Tigers have double-figure steals. Nik Galatas (9-2), Pitcher of the Year Anthony Becerra (8-1) and Mario Lopez (5-0) have been steady starters, Reliever of the Year Steven Davila (six saves, five wins) a rock in the bullpen. Johnson said he wants his pitchers to work fast and his baserunners to be aggressive, a formula that has worked exceedingly well. “We’ve been tested,” he said in the WJTV interview. “We’ve dealt with adversity and guys have come through.” P.S. The first HBCU World Series will be hosted by the Hank Aaron Sports Academy at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium. The best-of-3 series between the SWAC and MEAC champions will be played from May 28-30. (NCAA regional bids go out May 31.) The event was organized by Black College Nines and BCSG 360, who held a Black College World Series for smaller schools earlier this spring in Montgomery, Ala. Rust College participated.
The road to Lewiston, Idaho, will start in O’Fallon, Mo., for William Carey University, which has been assigned to the NAIA Tournament Opening Round hosted by fourth-ranked Central Methodist. Carey, champion of the SSAC Tournament, draws 19th-ranked Benedictine Mesa (Ariz.) to begin on May 17. The winner of the regional advances to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston. Tenth-ranked Loyola (New Orleans) is also hosting an Opening Round tourney, but Carey won’t get to make that short trip. Carey, as a 5-seed, beat the top-seeded Wolf Pack twice in the SSAC Tournament. Carey won the NAIA national title in 1969, one of only two championships by Mississippi four-year schools. (Delta State won the other.) The Crusaders’ Blake Freeman was named SSAC Tournament MVP after batting .474 with two homers (both in the title clincher) and was joined on the all-tournament team by pitcher Jorge Ramos and two-way star Sloan Dieter. … Jackson State, 24-0 and top seed from the East Division, will open SWAC Tournament play against West 4-seed Texas Southern on May 19 at Madison, Ala. Alcorn State, East 4-seed, gets West No. 1 Prairie View that same day. … Delta State heads to Pensacola, Fla., for the best-of-3 GSC Championship Series against West Florida starting on May 18. … MUW takes on Bryant & Stratton College-Albany (N.Y.) on May 17 in the first round of USCAA Small College World Series at DuBois, Pa. … And at Herring Park in Poplarville, the NJCAA D-II Region 23 Tournament, stacked with nationally ranked teams, begins May 17 with three games: Pearl River Community College vs. Hinds; Meridian vs. Itawamba; and LSU-Eunice vs. East Central.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.