March 12, 2014 11:06:50 AM
STARKVILLE -- Preston Brown was in such a mental zone Tuesday night he forgot how many outs had been been recorded in his sixth inning of work.
While still recording a no-hitter, Brown thought he had recorded the final out of the sixth frame and started walking off the mound. When he suddenly realized the ground ball out was the second of the inning, he knew karma would come back to bite him.
"I noticed I had a no-hitter and then I ran off the field there a little early," Brown said with a grin. "The baseball gods got me back after that no doubt. I was kicking myself because I ran off the field."
No need for a no-hitter jinx from his teammates when Brown's karma caused the blunder in his own mind.
"There's no such thing as a jinx unless it's talked about in the dugout," Brown said. "Instead I'm sure I gave my teammates something to talk about by trying to run off the field with two outs in the inning."
Despite his slightly embarrassing gaffe, Brown had a career night leading Mississippi State (13-7) to a 3-0 victory over Southern Illinois. The sophomore right-hander fed his infield with consistent ground ball outs similarly than when Kendall Graveman would step to the mound in Starkville as arguably the best pitch to contact starter in the John Cohen era of coaching at MSU. For the Bulldogs, it was a third straight shutout at home for the first time since the 1982 season.
Brown (2-0) had SIU (8-7) record 17 ground ball outs as he posted his second straight victory and more importantly, may have locked down the midweek starter role on this MSU club.
"It felt like an easy eight innings for me because of the lack of stress that was on my arm in any specific inning," Brown said. "I may feel the effects in the morning but I feel like I could run a marathon right now."
Brown is part of a deep MSU pitching staff that includes at least five different starting options that Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson feel content with giving the baseball to on any day. While the Bulldogs still try to maneuver its weekend rotation, Brown seems confident he can continue to dominate midweek opponents in games that could end up making MSU a NCAA regional selection lock.
"What's important to me is when you have the confidence that the guy on the mound is going to get you a ground ball," MSU coach John Cohen said. "You just know at that point the ball is coming your way and that keeps you focused."
Brown's 101-pitch outing seemed to flow easier than the pitch count would suggest as he managed to get early contact until the final three innings but finished long at-bats with strikeouts.
"I was just attacking with my fastball down in the zone and luckily as a ground ball pitcher their contact didn't find holes tonight, Brown said.
Cohen said after the 3-0 win he was fairly certain junior right-hander Trevor Fitts (2-0, 3.92) would get the Saturday afternoon start as MSU opens Southeastern Conference play this weekend at Georgia. However, the Friday night and Sunday finale spots are still to be determined. Cohen suggested more consistent outings from Brown could help him possibly break into that rotation discussion.
"Preston was really impressive because we came into this game really wanting a ton of ground balls and that's exactly what he gave us," Cohen said. "We played with the identity of this club by pitching it and allowing our athleticism in the field to take over."
Led by first-year coach Scott Stricklin, those Bulldogs won their ninth straight by beating Western Kentucky 26-7 Tuesday night.
"Georgia is really on fire right now," Cohen said. "I don't know what it is about us, but every time we play a conference opponent, they seem to be on fire. We are going to need to go in there and do what we do best. We have to pitch, play defense, and hold them at bay. This is big for us. Conference play gives you a fresh start."
MSU gained all the offensive momentum it needed by scoring twice in the third inning. Walks to Matthew Britton, Jake Vickerson and Wes Rea loaded the bases for a two-run single to right field by Brett Pirtle. The Bulldogs are now 11-2 this season after scoring first in a game. An inning later, the Bulldogs ran the lead to 3-0 on a run-scoring single by Britton. Demarcus Henderson began that threat with a one-out base hit and later scored on that hit from Britton after swiping his second base of the evening. Henderson tied a senior outfielder Derrick Armstrong for the team lead with eight stolen bases.
"Henderson has gotten so much better as a base runner in his four years here and we've got to get Armstrong back out there and we've done matchup stuff with both of them," Cohen said.
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.
4. Out and About for the week of March 1, 2015 ENTERTAINMENT
5. A Stone's Throw: The veil COLUMNS