The Mississippi College baseball team lost their first series in nearly a month this past weekend. Although the pitching staff has kept the Choctaws in games, lack of offensive run support led to losses.
In the past six games, the Choctaws have given up an average of 1.2 runs per game. The Choctaws hosted Concordia Texas, then ranked #12 in Division III, and took on Louisiana College on the road.
Friday-night starter Brooks Fortenberry allowed 3 runs in his two complete-game efforts in those series. In those same two games, the Choctaws scored a single run, unable to capitalize on scoring opportunities with timely hitting. Fortenberry, a junior, has now struck out a team-leading 56 in 61.1 innings pitched, and has reduced his ERA to 2.05.
Blake Mcilwain follows Fortenberry, starting the second game of the weekend set for the Choctaws. Mcilwain added two complete games of his own, allowing only one run in the past two weeks. His finest effort came against LC, when he managed to keep the Wildcats hitless in seven innings of work. The senior gave up 6 walks in that game, but used 7 strikeouts to aid him as he pitched out of trouble. Mcilwain’s no-hitter was the first for MC since 2009. His 5 wins lead the team, and he holds a 2.91 ERA
Jayme Monroe, the final weekend starter for the Choctaws, kept up with his staff, allowing only 2 earned runs in his two starts. Monroe fired 8 innings of 1-hit baseball against Concordia, striking out 6 on his way to concreting the series win for the Choctaws. Against Louisiana College, the junior only allowed 4 hits, but he was replaced after 5 innings because the untimely hits and defensive error for MC led to the wildcats scoring 3. Monroe has a 4.47 ERA across his eight starts.
His replacement was Blake Roberts, the go-to reliever for the Choctaws. During the same stretch, the senior has pitched 4 innings of no-hit baseball, and he has not allowed a run since March 25. Roberts has hurled 26.1 innings on the year, striking out 20 and developing a 2.73 ERA.
Offensively, the Choctaws have struggled. In the past six games, MC never scored more than 2 runs. The team reached base, averaging more than 6 hits per game. The Choctaws currently have four players averaging .300 or better at the plate, but the hits haven’t been falling at the right times in order to convert baserunners into runs.
Zach Evans solved that problem twice, by hitting a home run in each series. Evans batted in 4 of the Choctaws’ 9 runs in the six game stretch, and has brought his batting average to a season-high .303. Marty Stringfellow leads the team with a 3.62 mark.
The Choctaws now stand at 15-14 (13-11 ASC). With eleven games remaining, the team must win out in order to qualify for postseason play in the NCCAA. This weekend, they will host Howard Payne University in a three-game series.
The Lady Choctaws have won 16 of their last 18, and are now 23-9 overall (19-8 ASC). The team has averaged 10 runs per game in that stretch, while only allowing an average of 1.9 runs per game. The Lady Choctaws have excelled offensively, but their defense and pitching has been strong as well.
Shay Mickens has contributed offensively with her speed on the basepaths. The junior has 31 steals on the year, with seven games remaining. The previous record was 30 steals, set by Jennifer Jones in 2011. Mickens has only gotten caught stealing five times. With a batting average of .339, she is one of nine Lady Choctaws to be at or above the .300 mark.
The most dangerous force at the plate is still Brooke Smitherman. Her average has fallen, but now sits at a lofty .561, complimenting her .742 on-base percentage and 1.045 slugging mark. Smitherman has accumulated 48 walks, 8 doubles and 8 homeruns. She has scored 32 runs and batted in 33.
Smitherman’s on-base mark leads Division III. The junior, who missed last season due to injury, is on pace to break multiple MC records, many of them her own marks she set in 2012. She has already beat her own 2012 MC record of 42 walks by 6, with six games left in the regular season. She has the first and second best marks for OBP, the top spot being a .548 mark in 2011. Her slugging percentage in 2011 also was an MC-best, at .836. She looks to take the batting average record this year as well, currently hitting .561 versus a 2009 .464 mark set by Rachel Hurley. Smitherman, as a junior, has more home runs in her career than any other Lady Choctaw, ever. She has 23, crushing the previous record of 18. Her 112 walks eliminate the previous career record of 75. Smitherman is not just the best player for the Lady Choctaws right now; she may be the best ever.
As a team, the Lady Choctaws have been solid defensively. The lowest fielding percentage for players who have started at least 14 games is .945. The team holds a .966 average.
The pitching for the Lady Choctaws has been strong. Lacie Patterson leads the team with a 1.69 ERA in 74.2 innings. The team has a 2.60 ERA.
The Lady Choctaws will host cross-town rival Millsaps on Wednesday at 6 p.m., before traveling to Texas for three games against LeTourneau this weekend. The team needs one more win to become eligible for postseason play in the NCCAA.
– Andy O’Brien, Sports Editor