It’s been a welcome week’s vacation for Saltillo’s Heath Baile

It’s been a welcome week’s vacation for Saltillo’s Heath Bailey, the potential Division II All-American choice from Delta State. The leadoff hitter and center fielder for the Statesmen admits, “I needed it bad. My legs were ripped up and raw.”

Although Bailey and his teammates were disappointed with not hosting an NCAA Tournament regional, they’re still excited about the prospect of playing at Abilene Christian in Texas. The Statesmen are 47-6 and ranked No. 1 in the final poll by Collegiate Baseball.

“Last year, we finished second in the (Gulf South) conference tournament and we were sitting around sweating it. It was tough to practice not knowing until that Sunday that we were in the NCAA Tournament. This time, that pressure is off.”

Bailey, who played on DSU’s 1994 College World Series team that finished No. 3 in the nation, said, “I think this team is more talented. In every category this team is a little better.

“But that ’94 team was hungry and knew how to win big games. I think this team is just as hungry. But we’ve still got to prove it in the regional. I’ll say this much, we’ll be disappointed if we don’t get to the World Series.”

Area players shine in TCAC

Northeast Mississippi college players have been busy in Nashville this week, playing in the Tennessee Collegiate Athletic Conference (TCAC) Tournament. Union and Freed-Hardeman Universities, of Jackson and Henderson, Tenn., respectively, are two of the NAIA tourney’s four teams, each playing for a regional bid.

Andy Rushing’s Union club (29-19, 16-9-1) features a trio of Union County standouts: Jason Hall of New Albany (.295), Robert Gordon of New Albany (.350, 55 runs) and Andy Kirk of Ingomar (.319). Alcorn Central’s Mark Wood (3-4, 18 appearances) is No. 4 in the Bulldogs rotation, while former ICC standout Chad Maricle in the club’s leading hitter at .407.

Freed-Hardeman (36-18-1, 15-11) has more area pitchers than Union and fewer position players. The position player is a four-year starter, infielder Thomas Clay of Aberdeen (.286, 15 stolen bases).

Amory’s Charlie Peden (7-4) and Corinth’s Brian Reid (7-3) are No. 1 and No. 2 in the starting rotation, while Hamilton’s Chris House (4-2) is the long reliever and occasional spot starter for Chuck Box’s Lions.

“Thomas has been a great player here, even though he’s struggled some this year,” Box said. “I don’t know where we’d be without Peden, Reid and House. In the past three years, we’ve made that (Northeast Mississippi) area our biggest priority in recruiting, in high schools and junior colleges.”

Bunts

While MSU head coach Ron Polk won’t concede anything, he admits, “We’re probably going to be the No. 5 seed in the SEC Tournament.” If so, the Bulldogs will play in Hoover Metropolitan Stadium at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against the No. 8 seed. The Bulldogs would have to win that game to qualify for double-elimination status. … MSU’s Rob Hauswald (.363) is on a 13-game hitting streak.

The best team in the SEC against non-conference opposition? No, not Ole Miss at 17-7. Arkansas was 24-2. … Iuka native Richy Harrelson of Ole Miss just missed SEC Player of the Week honors, going 6-for-10 with two homers, four RBI and adding a pitching win in the Mississippi State series.

Chris Burrows covers college baseball for the Daily Journal.

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