Starkville Daily News

EMCC Lions look toward continued diamond success

- For Starkville Daly News

SCOOBA – On the heels of putting together their best season in seven years, the Lions of East Mississipp­i Community College are looking forward to continued success on the baseball diamond with a talented new team assembled and a fully turfed home field awaiting the first pitch of EMCC'S 2023 baseball season.

With 11 returners, 20 incoming freshmen and four transfers on this year's EMCC baseball roster, head baseball coach Brett Kimbrel understand­s the task won't be easy in attempting to replace more than 2/3 of last year's 28-19 Lions squad that finished third in the MACCC regular-season standings with a 20-8 conference mark and earned the No. 2 seed in the 2022 NJCAA Region 23 Baseball Tournament. However, the Lions' fifth-year baseball skipper and his assistant coaches Chase Reeves, Dylan Earnest and Braxton Lee remain confident despite the team's youth.

“Because we're so young with only 11 players returning from last year's team, we have a lot of moving pieces out there on the field,” Kimbrel said. “I'm cautiously optimistic, though, because there is a lot of competitio­n at each position and quality depth at every position.”

The primary returners from last year's EMCC squad that produced 11 players who moved on to the four-year level are outfielder Ethan Medlin (Lake Charles, LA/ Barbe HS) and middle infielder Coby Holmes (Saraland, AL), who both had 11 extra-base hits as everyday starters for the Lions a year ago. Medlin was ALL-MACCC Second Team last season.

A third returning sophomore who has seemingly cemented his name among EMCC'S frontline pitchers is Gulfport product Austin Garrison. The right-hander stepped to the forefront on the mound with a solid fall campaign after primarily playing behind current UAB junior Blayze Berry at shortstop for the Lions a season ago.

Other returning players for EMCC this season include: outfielder Brooks Buchanan (West Lauderdale HS); catcher/pitcher Zac Butler (New Hope HS); infielder Will Crawford (Corinth HS); pitcher Ian Dillon (Saltillo HS); infielder Carson Gault (New Albany HS); infielder Zack Griffith (Mize AC); pitcher Micah Johnston (Ripley HS); and outfielder Will Martin (Leake Academy).

With 24 newcomers on this year's youthful baseball roster, the 2023 EMCC Lions will feature four transfers consisting of infielder/pitcher Gray Berry (Northeast Mississipp­i Cc/west Point HS), left-handed pitcher Ben Riley Flowers (Central Alabama Cc/saraland, AL), catcher Tanner Parker (Meridian Cc/west Lauderdale HS), and infielder Evan Radford (Southern Miss/hoover, AL).

Last year's EMCC baseball success helped secure another talented incoming freshman class that is comprised of versatile players from successful high school programs. The Lions' competitiv­e collection of newcomers from the high school ranks includes: Ayden Alsobrooks (Of-lhp/starkville Academy); Drake Bayles (Rhp/copiah Academy); Heath Brunson (Rhp/pearl River Central HS); Hunter Brunson (Rhp/pearl River Central HS); Aiden Fancher (Of/winston Academy); Cooper Garrison (Inf-rhp/gulfport HS); Gates Gerhart (OF/NEW Hope HS); Cade Hamm (RHP/ Saltillo HS); Ethan Kimbrough (Inf/amory HS); Brandon King (Rhp/hancock HS); Turner Leathers (Rhp/tupelo HS); JR Moore (C/bessemer Academy/helena, AL); Jesse Roberts (RHP/EAST Webster HS); Ricardo Rodriguez (C-of/gulfport HS); Joe Scarboroug­h (Rhp-inf/resurrecti­on Catholic HS); Landon Scruggs (Rhp/center Hill HS); Walker Swearingen (Rhp/clarkdale HS); Caden Tate (Of/starkville HS); Jack Taylor (Of-rhp/corinth HS); and Jon Paul Yates (Inf/tupelo Christian Prep).

“We've got better all-around players and more competitiv­e players this year. You can see the competitiv­eness at each position,” Kimbrel said. “We're going to be young and inexperien­ced, but I don't think the players worry about that. And I don't worry about that with this team.”

Tigers plan more history with Owen, deep roster

BOONEVILLE, Miss. - Northeast Mississipp­i Community College head baseball coach Richy Harrelson believes that he has a team that could make history for the second consecutiv­e season.

The Tigers finished in the top five of the Mississipp­i Associatio­n of Community Colleges Conference standings and brought a postseason series to The Plex for the first time in its brief existence one year ago.

Fast forward to 2023 and Northeast brings back five starting position players plus nine pitchers from that successful squad. That includes three athletes that have already committed to continue their careers at NCAA Division I institutio­ns.

“We've never had a group like this here,”harrelson said.“i'm really grateful to be able to coach these guys.they're a very high character group. They show up every day and go to work. These guys want to win. It's going to be a fun year for us.”

Jackson Owen of Starkville headlines Northeast's returners as the reigning National Junior College Athletic Associatio­n Division II Defensive Player of the Year and Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner at catcher.

The Mississipp­i State University commit caught 15 runners attempting to steal and committed only two errors in 226 total chances. Owen also led the Tigers last spring with 10 home runs and finished second with a .360 batting average.

Joining Owen in the infield are Jackson Mccoy from Booneville and Tupelo's Noah Foster. Foster serves as the shortstop for Northeast after putting together a .421 onbase percentage with 12 stolen bases in as many tries.

Mccoy is headed to Southern Illinois University once his tenure as the Tigers' first baseman is complete. He topped Northeast as a freshman with a .366 batting average, 53 hits and 15 doubles.

Khi Holiday from Tupelo will anchor the Tigers' outfield for the second year in a row in center. Lock Elliott from Oxford and Oak Grove's Peyton Peoples split time between designated hitter and left field as well.

Holiday, who is a Southern (La.) University commit, may hold the title of fastest player on the team after swiping 15 bases last season. The duo of Elliott and Peoples combined for 29 hits, nine doubles and 27 runs scored.

Jackson Academy alumnus Jackson Conn and Nettleton's Davis Oswalt lead the tandem of sophomore hurlers for Northeast.

Conn went 4-1 in eight starts with 47 strikeouts while Oswalt was 5-3 with only 14 walks in 52.1 innings of work.

The Tigers boast seven left-handed arms on its roster, including Matthew Bullard, Drew Cartee and Brodey Lentz from the neighborin­g state of Alabama. Cartee is a transfer from Samford (Ala.) University while Lentz was an All-state selection as a junior.

Taylor Ballard of Tupelo, Conner Graves from Ripley, Myrtle's Jackson Mayer and Carter Phillips of Blue Springs are all lefties as well. Graves and Mayer were both 2022 Mississipp­i Associatio­n of Coaches All-state recipients.

Northeast gained another weapon on the mound with the arrival of Kelly Crumpton from Northwest Florida State College. He was a member of the The Clarion-ledger's Dandy Dozen listing in 2021 after originally signing with the University of Mississipp­i out of Oxford High School.

“Our pitching staff is probably deeper than it's ever been,” Harrelson said. “We feel like there's about 12 guys that we can run out there that are going to give us a chance to compete at a really, really high level. We're excited about them.”

Kristian Sprawling is the most decorated standout in the Tigers' freshman class after earning All-american honors at the prep level from Collegiate Baseball Newspaper. He was also a consensus All-state pick by both The Clarionled­ger and the MAC.

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