The Boys of Winter | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

The Boys of Winter

Waterproof Arctic weather gear? Check.

Gloves? Check.
Thermal underwear and socks? Check.
Hand and foot warmers? Check.
Thermos or flask? Check, and keep it out of sight.
Chains for tires? Check.
What are you preparing for? A mid-winter trip to the mountains? A stroll up a glacier?
Nope, just assembling the required equipment for a trip to an early season college baseball game in Mississippi.
Jackson State, Belhaven and Millsaps all opened their seasons at home last weekend. William Carey and Delta State opened on the road. At least the Statesmen had the good sense to go to Florida. Most Mississippi football fans have never experienced conditions as inhospitable as those that face college baseball fans.
Still, there's nothing like a day or night at the ballpark, especially when the weather warming up in March. That's when the conference games get hot and heavy, too.
Last season was one of the most successful in state college baseball history. Seven schools — Mississippi State, Ole Miss, Southern Miss, Delta State, Millsaps, Mississippi College and William Carey reached postseason play. All seven appear to have reloaded for another postseason run this season.
The other four schools that field teams could be in the postseason hunt, too. Belhaven's 30-31 finish was an aberration for a traditionally successful program. Mississippi Valley State has made huge strides in recent seasons under coach Doug Shanks. The Delta Devils won the SWAC East title last season and they're the preseason pick to win it again. Jackson State, which was in an NCAA Regional not so long ago, is picked to finish second and Alcorn State is the third-place pick.
Here's a brief preview of the Magnificent Seven:

Ole Miss
Last year: 35-27, finished second in NCAA Regional at Houston. Outlook: The Rebels are ranked No. 17 in the Baseball America preseason poll. Ole Miss will again be led by a pair of former Hillcrest Christian stars and preseason All-Americans , first baseman/pitcher Stephen Head (.337, 44 RBIs/4-1, 1.40 ERA) and outfielder Seth Smith (.333, 35 RBIs). Season opener: Feb. 20, Birmingham Southern at Oxford

Southern Miss
Last year: 47-18, won Conference USA regular-season and tournament titles, finished second in NCAA Regional at Hattiesburg. Outlook: The Golden Eagles are ranked 29th in Baseball America's preseason poll. Six starters are back including preseason All-America catcher Brad Wilcutt (.325, 12 homers, 61 RBIs). The pitching rotation will be led by Anthony DeWitt (8-2, 3.331 ERA). Season opener: Feb. 20, Northwestern (La.) State at Hattiesburg.

Mississippi State
Last year: 42-20-1, finished second in NCAA Regional at Starkville. Outlook: The Bulldogs are ranked 30th in the Collegiate Baseball preseason poll. State returns six starters including infielder Thomas Berkery (.269, 6 homers). Jeff Lacher (6-0, 3.61 ERA) is the top returning pitcher. Season opener: Feb. 27, Western Kentucky at Starkville

Delta State
Last year: 52-10, won Gulf South Conference title and played in NCAA South Regional. Outlook: The Statesmen are ranked third in the Baseball America preseason poll and are picked to win the GSC. As usual, DSU is loaded with talent led by pitcher Matt McAlpin (11-3, 3.22 ERA) and outfielder Jud Thigpen (.378, 15 homers). Season opener: Feb. 7, swept West Florida 5-1 and 6-3 at Pensacola, Fla

Mississippi College
Last year: 34-15, won American Southwest Conference title and hosted NCAA Regional at Clinton. Outlook: The Choctaws are ranked 12th in one preseason poll and picked to win the ASC East title. Pitching-rich MC is led by pitcher Sam Graham (7-2, 4.14 ERA) and top hitter Mark Chisholm (.364). Season opener: Friday, Feb. 13 against Thomas (Ga.) at New Orleans.

Last year: 28-17, won Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference championship and played in NCAA Regional at Clinton. The Majors are led by SCAC Pitcher of the Year Doug Garner (8-3) and all-conference outfielder Stuart Phillips (.355). Season opener: Feb. 7, beat Sewanee 3-0 at Millsaps.

William Carey
Last year: 37-22, won Gulf Coast Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament titles and finished second in NAIA Region 13 tournament. Outlook: The rotation will be anchored by All-American pitcher Justin Hennington (4-2, 13 saves, 1.78 ERA). The top hitters are Eric Adkins (18 homers), Craig Bush (.367) and Nick Easley (.362). Season opener: Feb. 7, lost to Faulkner 13-3 at Montgomery, Ala.

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