Seven collegiate baseball players and one hopeful hailing from Marion County returned to the field in recent days playing in two new summer leagues.
The Deep South Collegiate League in its inaugural season contains six players from the area and will potentially give fans the opportunity to watch live baseball in their own backyard again. Pearl River Community College righty Shelby Terrell (West Marion) and Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Aiden Singley (Columbia) are playing for Team Caver. Columbia’s Landon Sanders, who has yet to sign, is playing for Team Larson, along with Hinds Community College southpaw Tate Duncan (Columbia Academy). Trey Hobgood (PRCC, Columbia) is suiting up for Team Crim, and Grady Lucas (Mississippi Valley State, Columbia) is playing for Team Floyd.
In the Southeast Collegiate League, Wiley Cleland (Columbia Academy) and Logan McDowell (Columbia), who are college teammates at Louisiana-Monroe, are playing for the Royals. The league began Monday night with the Royals playing the Braves in a doubleheader at PRCC. They will also play at Co-Lin and a yet-to-be-determined site in Jackson.
The leagues were created to continue college players’ development and give them a return to normalcy after the season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Cleland said prior to the doubleheader Monday he’s super excited to get back into the swing of things. He said he’s been trying to work out and stay in shape, but nothing beats being able to get live reps in while staying close to home.
“There’s really no way to possibly (stay in game shape),” he said. “You do the best you can with it, and I’ve tried to get some live looks from my buddies whenever the pitchers want to throw. That’s all you can do really.”
Deep South is playing in three locations throughout the summer: Laurel Sportsplex, Pearl River Community College’s Dub Herring Park and Columbia High School. It consists of eight teams that will play 16 games each, beginning this past Saturday and concluding July 23.
Columbia will host 32 games this summer with 16 doubleheaders and benefited from Lamar County’s restrictions. Oak Grove and Sumrall were also going to be potential sites and split those 32 games with Columbia, but with the coronavirus restrictions in that area Columbia was able to get them all.
Columbia head coach Kyle Lindsey has known the organizer of the league, Colton Caver, who is an assistant coach at Gulfport High School, for a while and let Caver know CHS would love to be a part of it. There won’t be any fans allowed at Columbia through the end of June, but Lindsey said it will be revisited soon and might allow fans in July. The school district has a rental policy for its facilities and will be paid for field usage, according to Lindsey.
During Saturday’s action, Team Caver beat Team Crim 4-0 with Terrell throwing a scoreless inning and Singley going 0-for-2 while manning second base. Terrell said it was rough having the season cut short by the pandemic, especially because there was nothing that could be done about it, but he was glad to be back on the mound Saturday in a live game.
“I’m glad we’re able to get out there and play some ball again,” he said. “It was nice to have a little break to work on some things, but I was ready to get back on the field and be able to play again. The best thing about it is just being out there with your friends and having a good time.”
Singley said it’s amazing to get back on the diamond and play the game he loves against quality competition.
“I’ve just been to itching to play baseball,” he said. “With the year being cut short, it really killed me and devastated me.”
When the high school season was canceled, Singley didn’t think he would ever play again at Columbia’s John Sapen Field, but now he gets the chance to rectify that wrong.
“To get the home field advantage and get to a play a few games there, that’s a blessing. I’m glad I get to play a few more games there,” he said.
Hobgood started at third base and hit third in the lineup for Team Crim. Team Floyd lost to Team McCarty 5-3, and Team Larson lost to Team Garner 5-2.
The players had to fill out applications and be accepted to join the league, which was expected to only have two or three teams. But with so many quality players wanting to participate, it continued to grow to its current eight-team status.
The only player among the eight not currently affiliated with a collegiate team is Sanders, who was drawing a lot of recruiting interest when play came to a halt. The power-hitting first baseman also was an ace for Columbia and will get the chance to show college coaches he belongs at the next level.
“It’s a great opportunity for a guy like Landon to play in it, compete against college guys and compete for a (scholarship) offer,” Lindsey said. “If we were in a regular year and played the season out, he would’ve signed no problem. But with the way this was shut down, it kind of left him behind the 8-ball. It gives him the opportunity to get out there and play against that level of competition and be seen.”
Games played at PRCC will be livestreamed at prccmedia.com in a pay-per-view format for $7 per day. Lindsey said he’s talked to Caver about livestreaming the Deep South games at Columbia, but the final details haven’t been worked out yet.
Caver said via email Monday that he hopes to make the league an annual occurrence.
Deep South games will be played on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, while Southeast League games will be on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.