February 16, 2014 11:41:54 AM
STARKVILLE -- Welcome to Dudy Noble Field for Game 3 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 SATURDAY: NO. 8 MISSISSIPPI STATE 6, WESTERN CAROLINA 1 - Trevor Fitts did a solid job of wiping away those early concerns about the Mississippi State starting pitching rotation Saturday.
Even with the pitch counts that were already in place by MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson for the weekend, Fitts provided a quality start on the mound and gave Dudy Noble Field fans his version of a pitching clinic in a 6-1 victory for the Bulldogs.
"Trevor really set the tone for us today," MSU coach John Cohen said Saturday. "It was big for him to go out there and navigate the first 5 or 6 innings for us today before we finally got some balls to fall for us."
In a effort to get in the win column for the 2014 season, Fitts dominated the Catamounts aggressive lineup with his swing-and-miss action on the breaking ball but also his confidence in getting his fastball over the plate for early strikes. The right-hander, who might be a adequate fill-in for the graduated innings eater in the Saturday role Kendall Graveman, showed impressive composure to work himself out of jams in several innings.
"I was just trying to make pitches and it's honestly better when I don't know my pitch count at all so I don't ask," Fitts said. "One time this summer I threw about 140 pitches and they asked him if I was okay and I said yes but when they told me my pitch count my arm started to get sore."
Fitts (1-0) set career highs for innings in a start (6) and strikeouts (11). Last season only two MSU pitchers managed to record 10 strikeouts in a game and Fitts was never given the kind of trust to even come close to a mark like that in the 2013 season. Fitts ability to work out of the stretch was a major factor in WCU (1-1) going 0 for 9 with runners in scoring position Saturday.
"What a outing from Trevor does for us is give us options with our bullpen and allow guys to be available for us to go win a series and that's why it's so important," Cohen said. "We think having fresh quality arms is the strength of our club."
TODAY'S STARTING PITCHERS AND PROJECTED STARTERS:
PITCHER: Ben Bracewell, Sr. RHP (1-1, 1.76 ERA, 2 starts, 30.2 IP, 12 BB, 28 K) - In a joking way, Bracewell committed himself to pitch 100 innings in the 2014 season, a feat he hasn't come close to in his five-year MSU career on the mound.
"It's become a running joke around the locker room that here I am standing in front of hundreds of father and sons saying I'm going to do this," Bracewell said. "That's a lot of innings for anybody but we'll have a really good season if I can just make every start I'm supposed to."
Bracewell's largest inning accumulation of innings was last season when he totaled 30 2/3 innings in 21 games last season in a relief role. The 6-foot right-hander is hoping to be a Saturday innings eater in the starting rotation for the 2014 Bulldogs club heading into his final year of eligibility.
"I feel bad sometimes that I made Ben Bracewell do that as a funny thing to do but then again, I don't ever think we've seen him at complete health," MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson said.
Bracewell was considered one of the best high school power arms in state of Alabama just three years ago. The power pitcher came to MSU after posting a 15-0 record with a 0.47 earned run average while holding opposing hitters to a .108 batting average in his final season of high school. The right-handed power pitcher piled up 156 strikeouts in 90 innings while, helping lead the Briarwood Christian Lions to a runner-up finish in the Class 5A state playoffs.
He's more of a fastball, slider, change up arsenal type-pitcher but can throw his fastball of the two-seam or four-seam variety. He'll need to develop a consistent third pitch to be able to navigate 20-30 starts this season.
PROJECTED STARTERS (Current series stats):
C - Zack Randolph, Jr.., RH - (1 for 4 with a run scored) 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 - (2 for 7 with 4 RBI and 4 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 - (3 for 7 with 2 runs scored) 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 6 with a walk and two strikeouts) 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 - (2 for 8 with 2 runs scored, a walk and two strikeouts) 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, HBP and a run scored) 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 - (3 for 8 with RBI and a walk) 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 - (1 for 6 with 2 RBI and 4 strikeouts) 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 4 with two strikeouts) 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: T.J. Fussell, 6th-year Sr., RHP (1-4, 4.57 ERA, 8 starts, 43.1 IP, 12 BB, 46 K) - Fussell was notified of earning his sixth-year of eligibility in October, 2013 and he promptly joined the WCU baseball roster. Last season he pitched at NAIA and Appalachian Athletic Conference-member, Montreat College. During the summer of 2013, was a Southern Collegiate Baseball League (SCBL) All-Star after leading the league in strikeouts (55 in 33.0 innings) with a 3-1 record and 1.09 earned run average for the Morganton Aggies. He also went to the Coastal Plain League with the Wilson Tobs where he was 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA and 10 strikeouts in 13.1 innings.
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.
5. Blowing through History BOOK REVIEWS