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franklin county times

Baseball is gaining a royal presence

By By Jeff Byrd / sports editor
May 30, 2003
While our Meridian Community College Eagles make their way back from the Rocky Mountains, the State's Big 3 hit the diamond today in search of more post-season glory.
Football may still be king in the south and in Mississippi, but there is no denying that baseball, has marked the state's high-mark on the collegiate athletic scene during this scholastic year.
Consider this:
Mississippi State is at home, again, for an NCAA Baseball Regional. The Bulldogs have a 40-18-1 record this year under one of the nation's top coaches in Ron Polk. A huge crowd in excess of 7,000 is expected at Dudy Noble Field where North Carolina, Missouri and Middle Tennessee State will try to spoil the Bulldog faithful's weekend.
At Hattiesburg, the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles are hosting an NCAA Baseball Regional for the first time in school history.
Under Corky Palmer, who made his name by leading the afforementioned MCC Eagles to three appearances in the Junior College World Series, the Golden Eagles have compiled an impressive record of 45-14.
This includes Sunday's winning of the Conference USA Tournament, for the first time, at Tulane in New Orleans. The tournament title was preceded by USM winning the C-USA regular season title out-right, also for the first time.
Today, USM will welcome Southern University (43-5), top-seeded Baylor and Murray State (24-29) to a sold-out Pete Taylor Park. Historically, the biggest crowds to see USM play baseball have been reserved for when Mississippi State visits.
That was the case last year when some 4,000 fans packed the park, about half of them wearing Bulldog maroon.
This time, it's the USM fans who have gotton baseball fever. USM Athletic Director Richard Giannini reports that all reserved tickets have been sold. The only thing left is standing room.
Rounding out the big three is Ole Miss. The Rebels are headed to Houston where they will take on traditional baseball power Wichita State. Ole Miss got into the tournament with a 35-24 record.
Last year, they were 37-19, but were left at home. So was USM.
Playing opposite of Ole Miss in Houston will be host Rice, one of the nation's top teams at 48-10 and McNeese State.
Baseball has been the only sport this academic year where the Big 3 have enjoyed this much success, namely reaching the NCAAs. Ironically, it is also the only major sport where the schools all regularly play each other every year.
Success in baseball, however, doesn't end with the Big 3. Like Austin Bishop's column, a few weeks ago, diamond prowess filters down to the small college level and, has MCC showed, the junior colleges.
Delta State University was ranked No. 1 in the nation in NCAA Division II. They won 50 games for the third straight year and hosted the South-Central regional in Cleveland.
Mississippi College got to host the NCAA Division III Southern Regionals in Clinton. That makes four NCAA regionals hosted in state, in the same year. That's unprecedented.
Yet with all the senior college success, it may well be our own MCC Eagles who have enjoyed the most success.
Coach Mike Federico's team finished fifth in the nation. Not bad for a team that most figured wouldn't even get out of the Region 23 Tournament.
Coming off a disappointing state tournament, the Eagles were thin on pitching which included a suspect bullpen, and an offense that struggled to score runs.
Yet they showed their mettle by beating a talented Delgado squad twice and then did the same to an equally-talented Gulf Coast club.
Meridian followed it up by beating Faulkner State on the road in Alabama in three games.
Congratulations and cheers are in order here for your success.
And here's kudos for all the state's successful baseball teams. Football may be king, but we have certainly found some worthy princes.