February 15, 2014 11:25:34 AM
STARKVILLE -- Welcome to Dudy Noble Field for Game 2 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 FRIDAY NIGHT: WESTERN CAROLINA 3, NO. 8 MISSISSIPPI STATE 2 - Western Carolina (1-0), who is projected to repeat as the Southern Conference champion, traveled seven hours by bus Friday to arrive in Starkville a few hours before the scheduled first pitch and rode a special performance on the mound by junior Jeremy Null to the upset win.
Null (1-0), a 6-foot-8 right-hander, shut down MSU (0-1) for just three hits in eight scoreless innings over 113 pitches. The 12 strikeouts for Null Friday night was just the third highest punch-out total of his college career after striking out 13 last year against Washington State and 14 in a eight-inning outing against Georgia Southern. The 2011 Rawlings Atlantic All-Region team selection out of high school before he was drafted in the 37th round by the Seattle Mariners showcased his two-pitch arsenal of a 90-93 fastball and a swing-and-miss slider.
"The story of the night is Null because I thought he pitched really well and in his 113 pitches we have him in our report for throwing 71 breaking balls," Cohen said. "That's a gutsy performance on his part. You just don't see that a lot in college baseball but he wanted to win the ballgame."
Cohen lost his first ever Opening Day contest in his 15th season as a Division 1 head coach as the Bulldogs last lost a season opener in 2003 against Birmingham-Southern 4-1.
Null didn't allow a baserunner to advance further than first base till his final inning of work and got six strikeouts from MSU four-year players Friday night.
TODAY'S STARTING PITCHERS AND PROJECTED STARTERS:
PITCHER: Trevor Fitts, Jr., RHP (0-1, 3.03 ERA, 6 starts, 29.2 IP, 26 K, 9 BB)
- In Mississippi State's unorthodox style and philosophy on a starting pitcher in 2013, Fitts was been a good first time through the order guy on the mound but never got out of the fourth inning in any start. The key for the Pelham, Ala., native is his ability and confidence to pitch off the fastball today. MSU only used two pitchers after Ross Mitchell's 8-inning performance on Opening Night so his lease will be likely be shorter.
PROJECTED STARTERS (Friday's stats):
C - Zack Randolph, Jr.., RH - (0 for 3 with a strikeout) 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.
1B - Wes Rea, RS-Jr., RH - (1 for 4 with a 2-RBI single in 9th but also 3 strikeouts) 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 - (1 for 4 with a run scored and a strikeout) 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 - (0 for 2 with a walk) 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 - (0 for 3 with a 9th-inning walk and a run scored) 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 - (0 for 2 with two strikeouts) 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 - (2 for 4 with a pair of singles) 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 - (0 for 4 with 3 strikeouts in leadoff spot) 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 - Daniel Garner, R-Fr., RH - (1 for 3 with a strikeout) 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.
WESTERN CAROLINA STARTING PITCHER: Jordan Smith, Sr., RHP (7-3, 3.73 ERA, 15 starts, 94 IP, 70 K, 33 BB)
After three college seasons, Jordan Smith is ranked 14th in WCU's career record book with 209 strikeouts, averaging nearly 70 strikeouts per season. He is a veteran that won't likely be rattled by the large Dudy Noble Field crowd as his 44 career starts rank him fifth in program history, just nine starts shy of tying for first all-time. The 6-foot right-hander was a 2012 Atlantic Region honorable mention selection by Perfect Game. Smith is a classic fastball-changeup arsenal guy after WCU ace Jeremy Null fed MSU hitters with breaking balls throughout Friday night.
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4. A Stone's Throw: Beware COLUMNS