Delta State Northeast Mississippi baseball’s home away from home – is ranked No. 1 in the nation. So what else is new?
That’s right. Ferriss Field, named after the legendary player-coach Dave “Boo” Ferriss, ended a 32-year tradition of day baseball by installing lights to the 1,500-seat stadium.
It must be working. Bill Marchant’s Statesmen are 23-1 overall, 6-0 in the West Division of the Gulf South Conference and ranked by Collegiate Baseball as the nation’s best Division II team.
Northeast Mississippi has a heavy stake in the rich tradition at Delta State. Many of the area’s prep and juco coaches are former DSU performers or student coaches.
That list includes Corinth’s John Smillie and Ingomar’s Norris Ashley, who played on the 1968 edition that finished as runners-up in the Division II College World Series.
Other area teams and coaches with Delta State ties include Brian Long at Itawamba AHS, Michael Nanney at Mantachie, Vince McLemore at Amory, Mike Patterson at Itawamba Community College, Steve Lyles at South Pontotoc and Lewis Earnest at Hamilton. And that’s only a partial list.
The heritage continues as eight area performers figure heavily in this year’s 23-1 start. That doesn’t include Oxford’s Jay Flynt or Nettleton’s Brian Rea, who are redshirting as freshmen to preserve four years of eligibility.
TAYLOR, SLEDGE ARE COVER BOYS
This season’s media guide cover, framed between the new lighting system, features fifth-year seniors Corey Sledge of Aberdeen and Marc Taylor of Bruce.
Taylor, a smooth-fielding shortstop, is one of two starters remaining from the 1994 club that finished third in the NCAA Division II World Series.
Sledge was also a member of that series team. He has successfully battled through assorted injury problems and is hitting .358 in his final year as the club’s DH.
Delta State’s two most productive hitters are area products: outfielder Heath Bailey of Saltillo (.400, .712 slugging percentage, 18 stolen bases) and first baseman Spencer Holman of Hamilton (.457, .829 slugging percentage, team leader in homers-5).
The club’s two most pleasant surprises are also area products: pitcher Jeremy McClain of Houlka and corner infielder Will Lowrey of Biggersville.
McClain is the No. 3 starter in the rotation and is 4-0 with an ERA of 0.96. Lowrey, who transfered from Mississippi College, is hitting .373 and shares the third base role with Corinth’s Sean McGrath (.417 on-base percentage).
Ripley pitcher Wade Canty (1-0) completes the area’s list of Statesmen, while Lafayette County’s Doug Robbins, who started in the outfield last season, now serves as a graduate assistant coach.
Delta State went 44-13 for a .772 winning percentage in 1988, but the Statesmen are far ahead of that pace, especially considering the start in the Gulf South Conference.
But the winning percentage record won’t be nearly as sweet without a sixth trip to the College World Series. Delta State was within one out of making it last year before losing in the South Central Regional Tournament finals.
“It’s still early. Very early,” said assistant coach Mike Kinnison. “But yeah, there’s no question we’re very happy to be where we are right now.”
Chris Burrows is a sports writer for the Daily Journal.