Magnolia State creeps to the top of baseball rankings

From Issue 8

Kevin Graham watches his solo home run sail into the right field bleachers. (Photo courtesy of Ole Miss Baseball)

Many fans were disappointed in 2020 when the college baseball season was cancelled in mid-March due to the COVID-19 outbreak. For a while, it was unknown whether or not there would be a college baseball season in 2021, especially one with fans. However, the 2021 college baseball season has been off to a great start so far, with a pair of teams from Mississippi ranked in the top 5 in America. Many schools have recently begun to expand their stadium capacity limit, and now have close to full capacity at their games. Both players and fans are both glad to have a sense of normalcy now at a college sporting event for the first time in over a year.

The team at the top of most rankings is Vanderbilt University. Vanderbilt has arguably the two best starting pitchers in America, Kumar Rocker and Jack Leiter. Both pitchers throw their fastballs in the mid to upper 90s and complement it with unhittable offspeed. These two are likely to be the first and second overall selections in the upcoming MLB Draft. Combine these two arms with an already elite lineup, and the Commodores are likely the toughest team to beat in college baseball. Outside of Mississippi, other teams such as Florida and Arkansas are also considered top 5 teams.

In Starkville, Mississippi State is off to an impressive 17-4 start. The Bulldogs’ pitching has been outstanding so far, only giving up an average of two runs a game. State has several arms who could be selected early on in the MLB draft, such as Christian MacLeod and Eric Cerantola, and several underclassmen who will see themselves drafted highly when they are eligible in the coming years. State returns a veteran lineup with hitters such as Tanner Allen and Rowdey Jordan along with several other key contributors from previous teams. MSU is off to a great start in SEC play after they won two of three games against LSU in Baton Rouge this past weekend. Their next series will be in Starkville against a top five Arkansas Razorbacks team. MSU could be a very dangerous team going forward if the offense reaches its potential.

In Oxford, Ole Miss has also had a very impressive start to the year, with a record of 17-4. The Rebels’ pitching staff has been tremendous so far, highlighted by projected top ten draft pick Gunnar Hoglund, who currently leads the nation in strikeouts. They also return two other talented starting pitchers in junior Doug Nikhazy and sophomore Derek Diamond. To this point, Ole Miss’ offense has been inconsistent, but very good when at its peak. The Rebels’ offense has been highlighted by upperclassmen Tim Elko and Kevin Graham. Both have batting averages over .340 and are capable of hitting the ball out of the park. This past weekend, Ole miss won all three games against Auburn, scoring 26 runs in three games. Ole Miss’ next series will be on the road against a solid Alabama team.