February 25, 2014 8:54:53 PM
PLAYER OF THE GAME: DH Daniel Garner (2-of-4 with 3 RBIs and a run scored)
STARKVILLE -- The consensus is Mississippi State needed a game like Tuesday night.
After eight games where their coach and the 35 players felt they were on edge, the No. 18 Bulldogs went back to a relaxed mentality and dominated a overmatched Mount St. Mary's club 13-1 at Dudy Noble Field.
MSU coach John Cohen put a new combination of three pieces in the Bulldogs lineup and Daniel Garner, Seth Heck and Zack Randolph went a combined 3 for 9 with 2 runs and 4 RBIs against underclassmen pitchers from the Mountaineers (2-2).
"We needed that," MSU fifth-year senior Ben Bracewell said. "We had to have a game eventually where just put a lot of runs on the board and performed well defensively. 13-1 is exactly what we wanted to see when we came out here tonight."
MSU (5-4) used a seven-run fourth inning that included six consecutive run-scoring singles on Mount St. Mary's pitchers Kevin Myers and Jordan Lawson. The Bulldogs batted around in the frame with Randolph, Jake Vickerson, C.T. Bradford, Wes Rea, Brett Pirtle and Garner all with RBIs.
"Our opponent right now is the game of baseball and so the results we have to see is moving that runner in when he's at third base," Cohen said. "
Bracewell was exceptionally efficient Tuesday night with his second consecutive quality start. Bracewell, who is trying to challenge for one of the three weekend spots in the Bulldogs rotation, tossed 69 strikes in his 89-pitch outing. The 6-foot right-hander had near effortless command with fastball as he scattered five hits over a career-high seven innings but also had a career-high eight strikeouts.
"I felt like pumping the zone with fastballs and keeping my fielders engaged with some work was my job tonight," Bracewell said. "Our tempo was really good and more than anything that's critical to me."
Bracewell (1-0) might have been the perfect MSU player to step to the mound as a co-captain after MSU struggled to a 4-4 start to its 2014 campaign. Bracewell said the team had a informal movie night on Monday to get them thinking about anything other than their struggles on the diamond.
"Through the first eight games, we had more team meetings than I can remember," Bracewell said. "We had some things said but only to keep everything calm. We had a team movie night where we watched The Lone Survivor. No talking but just enjoying each other's company."
Rea, the other co-captain on this Bulldogs roster, has reached safely in all nine games this season. The 270-pound junior is hitting .389 (7-of-18) with 12 RBIs, five runs, five walks and three home runs since Feb. 19. He currently is tied for the Southeastern Conference lead with RBIs with 17.
After Cohen discussed his fear for new players treating their opportunities like a tryout and as a result becoming more nervous than necessary, Seth Heck answered the call Tuesday with the perfect mentality. The junior college transfer from Tacoma (Wash.) Community College got his first career start at shortstop and finished 1-for-3 with a RBI and a run scored.
"It's hard sitting on the bench but you have but you have to be ready," Heck said. "You also have to realize that there's so much depth on this team that you might not play everyday. You can't be selfish on a club like this."
More importantly, Heck perfectly executed five defensive assists from the middle of the diamond and proved he might be able to handle the position going forward. At the very least, Heck's debut gave Cohen and the MSU staff more to think about as they try to define roles for the beginning of SEC play.
"We've been wanting the great matchup to get Heck involved and I thought he made the most of his opportunity tonight," Cohen said. "He's going to be a really good player for us. We use these first three weekends to assess decisions on who is going to play. These kind of performances help us with those."
Cohen was unable to name a starting pitcher for Wednesday's game against the Mountaineers because he and his staff were unsure as to whether the colder weather would allow them to play the game.
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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