Mississippi State pitcher Chris Stratton watches a Samford University batter round the bases after a home run in the opening game of the 2012 Tallahassee Regional Friday. Samford defeated MSU and Stratton on the mound 5-0. Photo by: Associated Press
June 2, 2012 7:39:59 AM
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - In what could be the last pitch Chris Stratton throws in his Mississippi State University career, the ball traveled a bit further than 60 feet, six inches.
The baseball was lifted over 400 feet off the bat of Samford designated hitter C.K. Irby as it disappeared over the centerfield wall in MSU's 5-0 loss in the opening game of the 2012 NCAA Tallahassee Regional Friday afternoon.
"When we take advantage of some mistakes and that has to be our attitude every time we come out," Samford coach Casey Dunn said. "We can hit the baseball and there's no doubt that's our calling card. We proved that in this game against the SEC champs."
Less than a minute after UAB made it 4-0 on Stratton in the eighth inning, the MSU junior hurler simply shook his head and handed the baseball to Bulldogs pitching coach Butch Thompson.
In a rare less than average outing out of the junior from Tupelo, Stratton continued to leave pitches up in the strike zone in pitcher-friendly counts.
"He made a couple of bad pitches and people need to understand that it's not easy to keep pitching at your best level when you're having to put the team on your back like that," MSU junior catcher Mitch Slauter said. "He had so much pressure on him because of our lack of offense inning after inning."
It was after Samford power hitter Brandon Miller easily deposited a home run to left field estimated at 440 feet on a curveball that was left in the strike zone on a 0-2. The senior right fielder fought off to foul off two fastballs away before Stratton failed to snap the breaking ball low enough in the zone.
"We went fastball away twice and fouled them both off and then went fastball up and in but he fouled that off too," Stratton said. "So I knew I'd have to bury a breaking ball there and left it up right in his wheelhouse. That's what happens when you do that."
Miller, who leads the nation in home runs with 23, knew immediately after the ball left Stratton's hand that it was exactly what he was looking for. Miller's head coach joked after the game that it wasn't one of his most squared up shots of the 2012 season.
"It was right there where I wanted it," Miller said. "It was surprising because he was hitting his spots for the most part. He's a great pitcher there's no doubt about that but we stayed patient."
Samford players said after the victory that they respected Stratton's stuff and thought he pitched well but did leave a few mistakes in a hittable area. Their strategy was to negate the odds and attack those rare opportunities.
"Stratton was really good today but thankfully he left a few balls up and when you do that against us, we'll make you pay for that," Miller said.
Stratton, who is a projected mid-first round selection when the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft starts Monday, gave up the second-most earned runs of the season and was one short of matching the five runs he surrendered on April 13 in a no-decision at the University of South Carolina.
"(Samford) just had a really good plan and executed it well," Stratton said. "They really
After struggling down the finish last year, Friday marked Stratton's debut to NCAA postseason play. If he doesn't get a comeback from his MSU teammates, it will likely be his last experience in college baseball.
"I'm not worried about (the draft) right now," Stratton said. "We got to come back and compete tomorrow. That's the most important thing right now."
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.
2. A Southern favorite: Rick Bragg to speak in Fayette ENTERTAINMENT