Belhaven two-way player Westcott takes home Ferriss Trophy|College baseball

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 19, 2009

JACKSON — Score one for the little schools. For the first time in the six-year history of the Cellular South Ferriss Trophy, a collegiate player from somewhere other than one of Mississippi’s Southeastern Conference schools, took home the award.

Belhaven College’s Craig Westcott, a senior from Chalmette, La., won the annual award given to the top collegiate baseball player in Mississippi. He beat out the 2008 Ferriss Trophy winner, Ole Miss pitcher Scott Bittle, and fellow finalist Southern Miss shortstop Brian Dozier.

“I’m very surprised to win this,” Westcott said, while holding the trophy, which is named for College Baseball Hall of Fame coach Dave “Boo” Ferriss of Delta State and a former Boston Red Sox pitcher. “I mean, Scott (Bittle) and Brian (Dozier) are two unbelievable players.”

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Had he not felt so much unease after his junior season at West Florida University in Pensacola, Westcott would have never had a chance at such an award.

“I just didn’t feel comfortable at West Florida and I looked at transferring. I really liked coach (Hill) Denson at Belhaven and decided to go there,” Westcott said.

“As late as August, he was still trying to decide between us and Southeastern Louisiana. I’m glad he chose us,” said Denson, who coached at Southern Miss before retiring, then came out of retirement to take over at Belhaven, an NAIA school in Jackson.

Westcott proved to be a unique weapon for the Blazers, who won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference and then advanced to the NAIA Southern Regionals before being eliminated. Not only was Westcott the team’s pitching ace, he was also the Blazers’ top hitter in a 43-20 season.

“Usually, I’m like most college coaches, I want a player to only pitch or only hit, but I just couldn’t keep Craig out of our lineup. He was a great two-way player,” Denson said.

Mississippi’s major league scouts agreed. Twenty- seven of them voted on the award and their opinion carried a two-thirds weight on the voting.

“I think the scouts were right, he’s the best player in Mississippi,” Denson said. “They remain divided whether he’s a better hitter or pitcher. He has tremendous talent. As a pitcher, his fastball is very good, but it is his slider that is his out pitch. It’s good enough to make it to the big leagues.

“Having coached at Southern Miss, I know Craig could’ve excelled there and he would’ve been a great player at Ole Miss, too,” Denson said.

At Belhaven, Westcott went 11-4 with a 3.29 earned run average in over 90 innings of work. He had five shutouts and struck out 124 while walking just 27. At the plate, he hit .343, with 11 home runs and 65 RBIs.

Westcott played two years at Delgado Community College in New Orleans and then transferred to West Florida.

“I never pitched at Delgado, but I’m glad I got to at Belhaven. I was pretty surprised I did so well but that shows what a great mentor Coach Denson is,” Westcott said.

Bittle came in as the favorite to win the Ferriss Trophy again. All five of the previous winners had either played at Ole Miss or Mississippi State, including 2005 winner Brian Pettway, a former Warren Central standout.

Bittle, however, spent his second straight weekend series out of the lineup with a strained bicep and he will be out again for this week’s Southeastern Conference Tournament. Bittle will be near Hoover, Ala, on Wednesday but it will be to visit the most famous doctor in sports, Dr. James Andrews.

“I’ve got an appointment to see Dr. Andrews on Wednesday,” Bittle said. “It’s getting better, but I’m out of the SEC Tournament.”

Bittle has been big again for the Rebels, who on Sunday earned a share of their first SEC baseball title since 1977 with a win at Arkansas. Ole Miss will open SEC tourney play Wednesday against Georgia at the Hoover Met.

“Scott Bittle has meant everything for Ole Miss baseball,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “Scott is not our closer, he’s a winner. He’s started, he’s come in the middle of games and he’s closed. He has made more impact on a weekend series, than any other player in the SEC. Teams may have only seen him one time and for just five to seven innings, but he’s been dominant.”

Before he got shelved, Bittle was 5-2 with a 2.17 ERA. He has struck out 68 batters in just 45 2/3 innings. The Texarkana, Tex. native is still regarded as the state’s best pitching prospect going into next month’s major league free agent draft.

Dozier, meanwhile, saw his senior season end after just 35 games. During a midweek game, he broke his collarbone.

“It’s an eight-week injury and I’m in my fifth week of rehab,” Dozier said. He’ll miss this week’s Conference-USA Tournament which the Golden Eagles are hosting in Hattiesburg. Dozier hit a team-best .394 with 39 RBIs, 44 runs and 13 doubles for the Golden Eagles (29-21).

“Brian Dozier is the finest shortstop I’ve coached in 32 years,” said Southern Miss coach Corky Palmer, who announced his retirement from the school earlier this month. Palmer was honored at the awards ceremony held at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame.

“I’ve enjoyed my 32 years, but it was time. At least I’ve got a part-time job next year getting to raise money for the university,” Palmer said.


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