Three former Mississippi Gulf Coast baseball players are heading to play for national championships starting this weekend, and that means a lot to Bulldogs coach Rodney Batts.
Former NJCAA All-American first baseman James Land has led William Carey to the NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. Delta State is headed to the NCAA Division II World Series in Grand Prairie, Texas, with shortstop Justin Nussbaum and NJCAA All-American catcher/designated hitter Brian Lane starting for the Statesmen.
"That's a special thing knowing this late in the season very few teams are playing and we've got three guys who are in two different World Series," Batts said. "For those three guys to be vying for a national championship and all three of 'em have a great shot at winning a world series, that's special for us and our program."
Land earned All-American honors at Perk as a freshman when he hit .422 with 10 home runs and 44 RBI. That big bat has translated to the next level in Hattiesburg.
"James has some things that other people don't," Batts said. "It's his power. He's got it in his blood. He's a legitimate power hitter, but not only can he pull the ball for great power, his greatest attribute is hitting the ball with power to back side of the field, the other way."
Land has led the Crusaders to a 42-18 record by lead the team with a .391 average, 19 home runs and 17 doubles. He twice had three-home run, seven-RBI games this year.
That production earned him Southern States Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors
"That's a tribute to him and the way he's worked up there," Batts said. "He's really worked at hitting and bought into their philosophy. He's hit 19 home runs in a really big ballpark at William Carey. That says a lot about him and the power he has."
Carey plays Hope International on Friday.
Lane has stepped into the starting lineup at Delta State and earned First-Team All-Gulf South Conference and NCBWA Division II All-South Region Second Team honors. He leads the team with 15 doubles and his .349 batting average is second-best on the squad. He's got three home runs and 37 RBI.
He went 5-for-12 with a home run, a double and two RBI to earn a spot on the NCAA South Region All-Tournament Team.
Like Land, his best attribute has translated. Lane has more walks (15) than hits (12), ranking as the 17th toughest player in the country to strike out. In two years in Perkinston, he walked 22 times and struck out just 17.
"Brian is a hitter. His hand-eye coordination is tremendous," Batts said. "He's carried that over from here to Delta State. He's a guy that doesn't strike out a lot, he doesn't swing at a lot of bad pitches, therefore he gets good pitches to hit."
Nussbaum has started all but one game at shortstop for the Statesmen. He's only batting .243, but he's still gotten 30 RBI. That's tied for fifth most on the team, and he's been clutch. Nussbaum had a two-run single to open the scoring in the region title game.
He's handling business with the glove, chalking up a .937 fielding percentage.
"Justin is just a gritty player," Batts said. "He's a contact-oriented guy. He may not have put up the numbers he wanted to this year, but he's been a mainstay in their offense and a mainstay at short. That's the biggest thing, contributing on the defensive side."
Delta State opens its World Series against Lindenwood on Saturday at 7 p.m.
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