College baseball looking goodBy RICK CLEVELAND,
Over this past weekend – one filled with outstanding college baseball play – one Mississippi observer tweeted: “Can we just put a baseball on our state flag and be done with it?”
He was joking, I think.
But we do play college baseball a whole lot better than we choose sides in a civil war. Novel idea: Celebrate success instead of failure in one corner of our flag.
Seriously, the 2019 season is but a puppy and already we can see we probably are in for another special season. Last year, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Southern Miss all went to the NCAA Tournament, and State, improbably, made it all the way to the College World Series. In Division II, Delta State and Mississippi College made the national tournament.
All five of those schools are ranked in their prospective polls this season. And all are off to good starts.
The past weekend was highlighted by an intrastate matchup of Southern Miss and Mississippi State in State’s new, $68 million Dudy Noble Field where the grounds crew was every bit as good as the baseball. Seriously, if you live here you know how much it rained last week and weekend. Yet, they played all three games and you wouldn’t have known we were in our monsoon season by the condition of the field.
Two games were classics. Southern Miss won the opener 1-0 in 10 innings. State scored in the bottom of the ninth to win the third game 4-3. And, in between, State’s prized freshman JT Ginn showed why the Dodgers offered him $2.5 million after drafting him in the first round. Ginn pitched seven innings of two-hit baseball and struck out nine. He makes throwing 95 mph fastballs look exceedingly easy.
State, which struck out 36 USM batters in 28 innings, finished the second weekend of the season with a 6-1 record and should go higher in the polls. Southern Miss was 4-2 after the heart-breaking loss on Sunday. And as USM coach Scott Berry put it, “We won’t face better pitching all season than we did this weekend. State has some absolutely electric pitching arms. With that pitching, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them go deep again this season. That said, I wouldn’t mind seeing them again later this season.”
Of course, he wouldn’t. That would mean it happens in the NCAA Tournament. And it might. Important to note: Purdue, the team USM swept in its opening series, won a game at powerhouse Texas and was competitive with the Longhorns throughout this past weekend.
Like USM, Ole Miss was 4-2 after winning a weekend series on the road against Tulane. Pitchers are supposed to be ahead of hitters early in the season but the Rebels are averaging nine runs per game through six.
Seemingly nobody can get Thomas Dillard out. Get a load of this: Through six games, Dillard was hitting .522 with four home runs, two doubles, a triple, and a whopping 15 runs batted in. Yeah, I’d walk him – and opponents have five times. (He’s also two for two in stolen bases.)
Ole Miss students apparently are going to waste a lot of beer in the right field area at home games this season with their trademark beer showers. Through six games, the Rebels had cranked out 12. What happens when the weather warms up?
At Delta State, baseball coach Mike Kinnison is now the school’s athletic director. The dual duties aren’t affecting the baseball team in any negative way. In fact, the athletic director might have to give the coach a raise. Through the weekend, the Statesmen had won all 10 games they have played. Through 10 games, the team earned run average was a sick 0.95.
Mississippi College was off to a 9-3 start through Sunday games and is expected to challenge arch-rival Delta State again in the Gulf South Conference. The two don’t face off until the last weekend in April when they’ll play three games at Frierson Field in Clinton. That’s a lot of baseball from now.
In Mississippi, it’s good baseball.
Rick Cleveland (email@example.com) is a Jackson-based syndicated columnist.