February 14, 2014 1:20:36 PM
STARKVILLE -- Welcome to opening day at Dudy Noble Field for the start of the 2013 season and the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog will bring you a comprehensive pre-game blog before the first pitch of every home game of the 124th season of Mississippi State baseball.
Also feel free to follow me for live game updates on Twitter through @matthewcstevens
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2013: It's hard to reach unprecedented heights when it comes to Mississippi State University baseball but the 2013 team accomplished just that.
For the first time since 2003, MSU earned a NCAA regional tournament host bid in a roller coaster ride of a regular season. The Bulldogs were given a preseason national ranking of No. 5 by Baseball America and responded by their second-longest winning streak to start a season. MSU won its first 17 games, which was only one games short of the 2005 team that would be ranked No. 1 in the country and then failed to qualify for the SEC tournament.
For the ninth time in school history and first time under head coach John Cohen, MSU was booked for Omaha, Neb., following a 6-5 victory at the University of Virginia at Davenport Field in game two of the 2013 NCAA Charlottesville Super Regional.
Thanks to come-from-behind victories against Pac 12 Conference champion Oregon State University and Big Ten Conference champion Indiana University, MSU won its first two games in the College World Series for the first time since the legendary 1985 team with stars Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Bobby Thigpen and Jeff Brantley.
Oregon State, which was the No. 3 national seed in the tournament, was in the middle of a ninth-inning rally, while MSU was one out from earning its first CWS victory in 15 years. MSU sophomore closer Jonathan Holder hung a curveball to cleanup hitter Danny Hayes. Hayes got the barrel of the bat all over the pitch, but right fielder Hunter Renfroe used every bit of the 375 feet in right-center field at TD Ameritrade Park to haul in the baseball on the warning track.
After eliminating Oregon State with its second victory against the Beavers in the tournament, MSU played for the national championship for the first time in school history.
The record crowd of 27,127 was full of MSU fans making the 13-hour trip to Omaha, Neb., but it was not enough to spark the Bulldogs' offense. MSU managed one run in 18 innings against UCLA in the CWS finals. The Bruins allowed four runs in five tournament victories and finished with a team ERA of 0.80.
TODAY'S STARTING PITCHERS AND PROJECTED STARTERS:
PITCHER: Brandon Woodruff, Jr., RHP (1-1, 4.34 ERA, 6 starts, 18.2 IP, 15 K, 9 BB)
- Woodruff is a projected top draft pick for the 2014 MLB Draft with a solid season but has struggled through inconsistencies and injuries since arriving to the MSU campus two years ago. He'll make the MSU Opening Day start against Null tonight but will be tested to see how many outs he can record on a 60-70 pitch limit. Following Woodruff out of the MSU bullpen is preseason 2014 Louisville Slugger Third-Team All-American selection in left-hander Ross Mitchell. The soft tossing southpaw is coming off hip surgery but owns a career 16-0 record in 58 career appearances. He has held opponents to a lifetime .205 average in 132.0 innings.
PROJECTED STARTERS (2013 statistics):
C - Daniel Garner, R-Fr., RH - (N/A) Garner is part of the 4-way battle for the catcher position after redshirting last season. He was named an All-Star in the California League where he played summer ball for the San Luis Obispo Blues. Was a first-team Rawlings Southeast All-Region Team and Alabama Sports Writers Association First-Team 6A All-State selection two years ago at Sparkman High School in Madison, Ala.
1B - Wes Rea, RS-Jr., RH - (.291, 7 HR, 40 RBI, 12 doubles, .459 SLG%, .384 OBP%) The 2013 season was easily Rea's most productive after hitting .291 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs in 53 starts. Rea is a team co-captain and coming off a 2013 postseason where he hit .325 (13-for-40) in 11 starts in the NCAA tournament, driving in eight and scoring three times. As a result, the first baseman was named to the NCAA College World Series All-Tournament team as well as the NCAA Starkville Regional All-Tournament team.
2B - Brett Pirtle, Sr., SH - (.310, 9 doubles, 2 HR, 33 RBI, .408 OBP%, .393 SLG%) Pirtle, who hit .310 in 68 games of the 2013 season, knew one of the jobs in the fall and early spring was to establish chemistry with another double play infield combination up the middle. A Top 100 senior prospect according to Baseball America and was a All-SEC selection following the 2013 season.
SS - Matthew Britton, Jr., LH - (.250 in just 2 starts & 18 games, 5 H) The Cullman, Ala., native had just 20 at-bats last season and saw action mostly as a defensive replacement because of his athleticism in the middle of the diamond. Played for the Lima Locos of the Great Lake League in summer ball.
3B - Alex Detz, Sr.., RH - (.318, 1 HR, 31 RBI, 14 doubles, .397 SLG%, .449 OBP%) Detz ranked ninth nationally and second in the SEC with 53 walks and hit .350 in 11 NCAA Tournament starts, going 14-for-40 with nine runs, six walks, two doubles and an RBI. He was the MVP of the 2013 NCAA Starkville Regional and member of its All-Tournament team after hitting .615 with eight hits and four runs in the tournament. He ended the season having reached base safely in 23-straight games.
LF - Demarcus Henderson, Sr., RH - (.274, 23 RBI, 21 BB, .358 OBP%) He broke the 13-year single-season school record with 11 sacrifice hits, passing Ryan McGrath's mark of 8 from 2000. He started all 11 games in the NCAA Tournament, going 12-for-39 for a .308 clip at the plate. He continued his clutch postseason performance going 4-for-8 in the NCAA Charlottesville Super Regional June 8-9 vs. Virginia.
CF - C.T. Bradford, Sr.., LH - (.281, 1 HR, 27 RBI, 23 BB, .358 OB%, .308 SLG%) He hit .281 in 68 starts while tallying a hit in 44 of 71 games, the third-highest total on the team. Bradford drove in the game-winning run five times: Feb. 23 vs. Samford, April 6 vs. Florida, April 18 vs. Auburn, May 5 vs. Alabama and June 21 vs. Oregon State in the NCAA College World Series He collected two hits and an RBI in the win vs. Oregon State June 21 in the NCAA College World Series, helping MSU advance to the championship series vs. UCLA.
RF - Jake Vickerson, Jr., RH - (N/A) The younger brother of former MSU star Nick Vickerson was named Offensive MVP of the 2013 Bulldog Fall World Series and was named first-team all-region and all-state as an outfielder after hitting .371 as a sophomore in 33 games at Shelton State (Ala.) Community College.
DH - Zack Randolph, Jr.., RH - (N/A) Redshirted last year being a solid defensive receiver during a two-year career at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College. He earned First-Team MACJC All-State honors in 2012 after ranking third on the club with a .370 batting average.
WESTERN CAROLINA STARTING PITCHER: Jeremy Null, Jr., RHP - (9-2, 3.36 ERA, 14 starts, 91 IP, 109 K, 27 BB)
- The junior right-hander is a 6-foot-8, 230-pound physically dominant arm with a 90-93 fastball and a swing-and-miss slider that allowed him to finish the Cap Code League with a solid summer performance. He was a 2011 Rawlings Atlantic All-Region team selection out of high school where he was drafted in the 37th round by the Seattle Mariners.
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.