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A closer look at MSU's opening weekend opponent: Washington State


Washington State will open up its 2012 campaign at Dudy Noble Field

Washington State will open up its 2012 campaign at Dudy Noble Field


Matt Stevens


STARKVILLE -- In its first weekend of the 2012 season, Mississippi State has a quality opponent coming to Dudy Noble Field.  


Washington State, which finished 26-28 last season after making it to back-to-back NCAA Regional appearances, return seven starters from the lineup last season including sluggers Taylor Ard and Derek Jones. 


Ard, A redshirt-junior first baseman, led the Pac-10 Conference last season with 10 home runs and tied for the conference lead with 55 RBI while batting a team-leading .337. The first baseman was second in the Pac-10 with a .577 slugging percentage and tied for second in the conference with 17 doubles. He earned All-Pac-10 First Team honors and was named Rawlings/West Region Second Team by the American Baseball Coaches Association. 


Jones is a senior right fielder who batted .275 with eight home runs and 33 RBI. The outfielder collected 11 doubles, two triples and scored 39 runs. In conference play, he batted .317 with 14 extra-base hits, including a team-best five home runs while driving in 18 runs. He received 2011 All-Pac-10 honorable mention and has 32-career home runs, eight shy of the school record held by Jeff Hooper. 


"It's nice that kids like Derek have taken ownership in what was a disappointing season for us," WSU coach Donnie Marbut said. "Nowadays kids will pass the buck but even after having a good season, he felt responsible for that. He wants to right a wrong even though I don't necessarily think it was a wrong." 


Ard (Boston Red Sox) and Jones (Baltimore Orioles) were among five Cougars selected in the MLB First-Year Player Draft last summer. Both elected to postpone professional baseball for another season in Pullman.  


"I'm obviously happy Taylor and Derek both decided to come back," Marbut said. "If Derek would've signed with Baltimore then I would've given him a hug and missed him immediately. It was his decision and I've known Derek since he was about 12 years old. They're both buddies and I think that's cool they came back to together." 


The Cougars also have one of the best arms behind the plate in Collin Slaybaugh, batted .308 with three doubles, three triples and 13 RBIs while posting a .393 on-base average and was 9-for-11 in stolen bases, as the sophomore threw out 27 percent of stolen base attempts last season.  


"He caught about 38 games for us last season and had a great summer," Marbut said. "To me Collin is one of the most talented players in the country. I don't think you'll find a catcher in the country that can run like him so he's fun to watch." 


WSU has nothing but youth in the starting pitching rotation for the opening weekend as each of the three guys will each be making their first-collegiate start. Friday's starter is a 20-year-old sophomore J.D. Leckenby, who made 18 appearances out of the bullpen for the Cougars last season, had a team-best 2.28 ERA among relievers yielding just 17 hits in 27 2/3 innings. Saturday's starting pitcher is junior college transfer Kyle Swannack who was an All-American selection from Bellevue (Wash.) College after throwing a perfect 9-0 on the mound with 1.53 ERA while recording 66 strikeouts in 76 2/3 innings. Freshman right-hander Tanner Chleborad is scheduled to get the start Sunday and will be making his college debut after dominating American Legion summer baseball where he was 23-7 over his last-three seasons and recorded 0.82 ERA in 2011. Chleborad was a 24th round by the Seattle Mariners last year but opted to stay with his signed National Letter-of-Intent with WSU.  


"We have a lot of guys in different roles but they have pitched," Marbut said. "It doesn't mean they can't handle those roles but they're just inexperienced. I always say when a guy is inexperienced, it's not his fault but he just wasn't here yet." 




All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.



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