Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Rick Cleveland: Time for college baseball.

Mississippi's boys of spring – at least the ones who play college baseball – rarely disappoint. The spring of 2017 is no exception.

Mississippi State and Southern Miss both entered the week with Top 25 RPIs nationally. Ole Miss, after sweeping Alabama over the weekend, was trending back in that direction. In the SWAC, Jackson State entered the week with a seven-game win streak. And Delta State was doing what Delta State baseball always does, which is win big.

Let's take a look at where those five programs stand, as the weather warms and the season heads into the home stretch (this is written before this week's mid-week games):

Southern Miss (26-7, 11-2) – Scott Berry's Golden Eagles are off to the second-best 33-game start in school history and lead Florida Atlantic and Old Dominion by one game each in the Conference USA standings.

Berry returned, for the most part, a veteran team, but a freshman from Minnesota has claimed a large share of the headlines. Matt Wallner, all 6-feet-5 inches and 228 pounds of him, has slugged a team-leading 11 home runs from the left side and is hitting .336. What's more, pitching out of the bullpen, Wallner (right-handed with a 97 mph fast ball) has a 2-0 record with three saves and a 1.98 earned run average. Virtually unknown to start the season, he was named a mid-season All-American (along with State's Brent Rooker).

Wallner has plenty of help. USM is hitting a robust .307 as a team. Junior Taylor Braley joins Wallner in doing double duty with a .339 batting average and a 3-0 record as a mid-week starter. Ace reliever Nick Sandlin, a freshman All-American last year, is 5-0 with three saves and a 0.33 ERA.

Mississippi State (22-12, 8-4) – First-year coach Andy Cannizaro has experienced a career's worth of pitching arm injuries in his debut as a head coach. And yet, his pieced-together rotation and bullpen has the Bulldogs tied for first place in the SEC West entering the week.

How? Start with slugger Brent Rooker, surely a leading a candidate for national player of the year. Rooker just experienced one the most productive weeks in Mississippi baseball history. A five home-run week pushed him to 15 on the season. He's hitting .448 with an amazing 56 of his team's 197 runs batted in. That's right: One human being has batted in nearly one-third of his team's runs.

When he's not doubling as a starting pitcher, Jake Mangum, last year's C Spire Ferris Trophy winner, is hitting .374.

Ole Miss (22-11, 6-6) – Mike Bianco's Rebels have experienced many growing pains, none more stressful than being swept at home by State March 30-April 1. The Rebels lost those three games by a total of four runs and dropped to 18-11 and 3-6 on the season at the time.

Since then, Ole Miss knocked off USM in a mid-week game at Pearl and then swept Alabama to re-gain its footing and then some. After another mid-week game against USM at Hattiesburg, the Rebels play a huge series at LSU this weekend.

Bianco, in his 17th season at Ole Miss, could never have guessed this team would be struggling so at the plate this spring. The Rebels were hitting .247 entering the week. With so many first-year players in the lineup some of that is to be expected, but as Bianco put it last week, “It's not just the freshman. Some of our veterans are struggling, as well.”

Pitching and defense have carried the day for the Rebels, especially in the bullpen where closer Dallas Woolfolk leads the way with his 3-1 record, six saves and 1.07 earned run average. Opposing hitters are batting only .220 against the Rebels staff, only .138 against Woolfolk, a sophomore from Southaven.

Jackson State (26-11, 12-3) – Alabama State was supposed to be the class of the SWAC, but JSU is only half a game behind ASU in the league standings heading into a three-game showdown this weekend in Montgomery. Omar Johnson's JSU baseball teams have hit and run their way to most of their success over the last decade and 2017 is no different. The Tigers hit .325 as a team and have stolen 88 bases in 37 games.

Delta State (29-8,12-4) – Three sure things: Death, taxes and Delta State baseball winning big. A new player is leading the old, winning tradition. Cincinnati native and JUCO transfer Zack Shannon entered the week hitting .436 with 10 home runs and 57 RBI. The Statesmen, who entered the week with a seven-game win streak, are hitting .320 as a team.

Rick Cleveland is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist. His email address is

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Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS