What sits between two celebrated baseball teams? Southern, (32-22) is a storied HBCU Baseball program and Mississippi State (46-13), a prennial baseball powerhouse.
The Mississippi State baseball program will host an NCAA Regional for the 14th time in program history, as the NCAA has tabbed Mississippi State as one of 16 regional hosts for the 2019 NCAA Baseball Championship.
Both schools finished atop their respective regular season conference winning their division with Southern claiming its conference title outright as both teams enter this weekend in Starkville, Mississippi, looking to advance and extend their seasons.
Mississippi State will play in a regional for the thirty-eighth time in school history, while this marks Southern’s eleventh overall NCAA Tournament appearance and first since 2009. The Jaguars head to the Starkville as a number four seed and face host and top seed Mississippi State on Friday, May 31st at 1 p.m. ET.
Both programs will be led by head coaches that have turned their programs around in a short period. Southern and Mississippi State face off to open the regional. This game is a test of two upstart baseball coaches who enjoyed a dominant regular season in 2019.
Kerrick Jackson was hired as the head coach of the Southern Jaguars baseball team on July 25, 2017. His first college coaching job came as an assistant for the Fairfield University Stags baseball program in 2001. The following season, Jackson became an assistant coach at Emporia State University. After leaving Emporia, Jackson spent the 2003 season as an assistant at Coffeyville Community College before moving on to Jefferson College for the 2004 and 2005 seasons.
Jackson coached at Nicholls State University from 2006-2007 and St. Louis Community College in 2008 soon becoming a Major League baseball scout for the Washington Nationals from 2008 to 2010. On August 14, 2010, Jackson returned to the collegiate ranks and was named the recruiting coordinator and assistant coach for the Missouri Tigers baseball program in the (SEC).
Prior to joining Southern, Jackson served as an MLB Player Agent responsible for preparing baseball players for the Amateur Draft. Under Jackson helm, Southern made NCAA Tournament in his second season.
Chris Lemonis was hired to lead Mississippi State on June 25, 2018 becoming the school’s 18th head baseball coach.. In his first season, he became the winningest first-year head coach in SEC history with 46 wins in 2019. Lemonis has had success at every baseball program that he has held a position with.
As an assistant coaching at the Citadel, his alma mater, Lemonis lead them to five NCAA Regional appearances in 12 seasons as an assistant coach. He then joined the University of Louisville baseball staff as a assistant, helping Louisville to seven postseason berths in eight years.
Then in 2015, Chris Lemonis headed to Indiana University to take his first head coaching job. In his first season at Indiana in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers made the NCAA Tournament during his second season while leading IU to back to back NCAA Tournaments before manning The Bulldogs.
Offensively, the Jaguars returned the entire roster from last season’s 9-33 team. Southern, is led by HBCU Baseball Black College Nines’ (BCN) All-Elite Player of the Year and SWAC Conference Player of the Year Tyler LaPorte, hitting .389 with 17 doubles, two home runs and 64 runs batted in.
BCN Elite team members Johnny Johnson, batting .347 with three home runs and 36 runs batted, Javeyan Williams, batting .388 with 41 RBI and Coby Taylor, with 10 home runs and 33 runs driven home also are offensive leaders. Bobby Johnson (brother of Johnny), with a.355 batting average and 22 RBI as well as Hudson Hampton, with 31 runs batted in, provide strong bats.
On the mound, the Jaguars are led by junior right hander Eli Finney (6-2) with a 4.45 earned run average and 49 strikeouts and senior reliever RHP Connor Whalen (4-0) with a 0.00 ERA. Coach Jackson can pick by committee LHP John Guienze (3-1), LHP Jacob Snyder (3-1) with a 3.20 ERA and Justin Freeman should see weekend action if needed.
Mississippi State is one of the best hitting teams in the nation. The Diamond Dawgs rank No. 2 nationally in doubles with 141 with three players all posting 20 or more doubles. It is the second time in school history three Bulldogs have 20-plus doubles in the same season.
Mississippi State features Jake Mangum (.363) 21 doubles, one home runs with 39 runs batted in, Tanner Allen batting .346 with 22 doubles, 6 home runs and 61 runs driven in, Justin Foscue (.339) with 21 doubles 14 HR and 56 runs driven in. Additionally, Dustin Skelton is hitting .302 with 10 HR and 48 RBI and Jordan Westburg with 18 doubles and 55 RBIs.
On the pitching side, redshirt junior Ethan Small (8-2) with a 1.80 earned run average, struckout 150 batters, was named a National Pitcher of the Year Finalist and SEC Pitcher of the Year and freshman JT Ginn (8-4) 3.49 ERA 100 Ks earned SEC Freshman of the Year. Closer Cole Gordon (4-0) has 9 saves and a 4.41 ERA.
Southern University enters into the contest having won its last four of five ballgames includes the SWAC title. Mississippi State, the 5th rank team in the nation, has won two of its last five games.
The challenge for Southern this weekend will be pitching. The Jags must get through Mississippi State’s heavy hitters who ripped apart the SEC playing long ball and looking for the big run producing inning. Of the 11 Bulldog losses in 2019, four of them have come in one-run games, with three of those against ranked opponents.
Southern has seven games they should have won during season but committed errors with two outs which should have prevented extended innings.
A good road test for Southern. Expect to play in Friday’s game in front of 10,000-plus home fans throwing a party.