No. 2 seed EMCC Lions ready for NJCAA Region 23 Baseball Tournament in Poplarville

Published 2:40 pm Monday, May 16, 2022

SCOOBA — Making their first NJCAA Region 23 Baseball Tournament appearance since 2015, the second-seeded Lions of East Mississippi Community College are set for Monday’s first-round contest against No. 5 seed Jones College. Game 3 of the opening day of tournament play between the Lions and Bobcats is slated for a 7 p.m. start at Dub Herring Park on the Pearl River Community College campus in Poplarville.

The winner of the EMCC-Jones contest will advance to play the loser of Monday’s Game 1 between third-seeded LSU Eunice and No. 4 seed Hinds at 7 p.m. Tuesday evening. The EMCC-Jones loser will come right back the next day to take on the loser of Monday’s Game 2 pitting nationally top-ranked and tourney host Pearl River and No. 6 seed Northwest Mississippi. Game time for Game 4 is set for noon on Tuesday.

The week-long, double-elimination regional tournament is scheduled to continue through Friday (May 20). Game times Monday-Wednesday are slated for noon, 3:30 p.m., and 7 p.m. All tournament games throughout the week are set to be livestreamed at Tickets and tournament passes can be purchased online at Tournament information and updates can be accessed at

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Head coach Brett Kimbrel’s 27-17 EMCC Lions finished third in the MACCC regular-season baseball standings with a 20-8 record for their best conference mark since the 2015 EMCC team (29-18; 20-8 MACJC) finished as regular-season conference runners-up on the way to making the program’s first NJCAA Region 23 Tournament appearance since 2004. The 2015 Lions squad also earned a second straight No. 18 ranking in the final NJCAA Division II baseball poll.

Receiving votes in this year’s most recent NJCAA Division II baseball poll, East Mississippi earned the No. 2 seed for the upcoming NJCAA Region 23 Tournament after knocking off East Central in a best-of-three playoff series held in Scooba a week ago (May 5-7). After the two teams exchanged one-run wins with the Lions taking the first game, 9-8, and the Warriors responding with an 11-10 victory the next day, EMCC answered with an 11-1 run-rule triumph in the third and deciding game to advance to Poplarville.

During the course of regular-season play, EMCC swept seven conference opponents, including Monday’s opening-round tournament foe Jones College. Last month in Ellisville, the visiting Lions outscored the Bobcats, 22-3, and outhit them, 20-9, in posting 11-2 and 11-1 victories at Community Bank Park. Jones used a total of nine pitchers during the April 23rd doubleheader, while the Lions received complete-game pitching efforts from Kylan Stepter in the opener and Blayze Berry in the nightcap. In addition, the nine total hits allowed by EMCC’s pitching tandem were all singles.

Offensively, EMCC heads into postseason tournament play hitting .282 as a team with seven starters, including designated hitter and reigning MACCC Player of the Week Carson Gault, hitting .270 or better for the season. Leadoff hitter Ethan Medlin and Gault currently lead the way for the Lions in batting average at .362 and .357, respectively. Following right behind them in average are Berry and first baseman Wesley Sides, who rank among the team’s top two leaders in many primary offensive statistical categories.

Sides, a Mississippi College signee who starred at DeSoto Central High School, currently leads the Lions in home runs (11), runs batted in (36), runs scored (45), doubles (8), total bases (91), extra-base hits (19), slugging percentage (.607) and walks (28), while also batting at a .333 clip on the year.

Berry, who initially signed with Mississippi State following a standout prep career at Columbus’ Heritage Academy, is arguably the MACCC’s most valuable two-way player. The UAB signee owns the Lions’ top pitching record at 6-1 with three saves as well as currently ranking as one of the team’s top hitters with a .352 batting average. On the mound, Berry owns a 2.63 earned run average with 57 strikeouts and only 10 walks in 61 2/3 innings of work for the season. In addition, Berry has completed seven conference starting assignments on the year, and opponents are only hitting a collective .196 against the right-hander. At the plate, he paces EMCC with 57 total hits, while also ranking second on the club in RBIs (35), runs (41), doubles (7), extra-base hits (15), total bases (87), slugging pct. (.537), and stolen bases (11). After starting at second base as an EMCC freshman last year, Berry is the Lions’ starting shortstop this season when he’s not on the mound.

As a team, EMCC enters postseason tournament play tied for 10th in NJCAA Division II baseball and second in the MACCC with 60 home runs. The Lions feature eight different players with four or more home runs on the year. Following Sides’ team-leading 11 home runs – the most by an EMCC player since David Pimentel [14] in 2015 – sophomore third baseman Trey Trosclair is next with eight homers to go along with his 33 runs batted in and .270 batting average. Berry and freshman second baseman Coby Holmes (.299, 7 HR & 27 RBI) follow with seven home runs apiece, while Mississippi College signee Beau Bates (.293, 6 HR & 32 RBI) sits right behind them with six homers on the year. Medlin has five home runs at the top of EMCC’s lineup, while Kade Shannon and Hunter French have hit five and four homers, respectively, this season after having transferred from Jones College.

Along with Berry’s team-high six pitching victories (T-6th in MACCC) on the year, East Mississippi also features four-win hurlers Cade Davis (4-1), Kylan Stepter (4-3 & 1 save) and Jonah Caskey (4-0 & 1 save) plus a trio of two-win pitchers in Blake Wren (2-2), Andrew Lewis (2-3 & 2 saves) and Gabe Garner (2-1). Davis, a sophomore right-hander from Ripley, has struck out 51 and walked only 15 in 58 2/3 innings pitched.

As a pitching staff during regular-season conference play, the Lions ranked second in the MACCC in runs allowed (132), third in earned run average (4.89) and fifth in hits allowed (207).