June 24, 2013 10:41:05 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
OMAHA, Neb. -- The Mississippi State University baseball team will turn to one of its least experienced pitchers tonight in game one of the best-of-three College World Series championship series.
Coach John Cohen announced Sunday that sophomore right-hander Trevor Fitts (0-0, 2.86 ERA) will start at 7 tonight when MSU (51-18) takes on UCLA (47-17) at TD Ameritrade Park. MSU will be the home team tonight and the visitor for game two Tuesday. MSU will be the home team if a game three is needed.
On June 17, Fitts threw the first 2 1/3 innings in a 5-4 victory against Indiana University. He allowed two hits, one walk, and two runs (both earned) and struck out four before giving way to senior left-hander Chad Girodo.
"It was just an amazing feeling with all those people watching," Fitts said about his first CWS start. "I couldn't ask for a better experience, except to go for more innings, but that all starts with me and how I throw the ball, pound the zone."
Fitts, who is from Helena, Ala., used breaking balls to keep the Hoosiers off balance the first time through the order.
"My high school coach (Jeff Mauldin) was here said, 'You threw a good game. I just don't understand why you threw so many breaking balls," Fitts said of his 42-pitch outing, "so even he's still wondering why I'm throwing certain pitches in certain situations."
Nine of the 12 MSU pitchers who have thrown 10 innings or more this season have logged more innings than Fitts (28 1/3 innings. But Cohen said Fitts, who will make his sixth start, is just part of the process. He said he and pitching coach Butch Thompson are just as concerned about who will be available in the bullpen.
"That (starting pitcher question) is always going to get asked, but I really feel like it's important for us to see who pitches in the middle of the game," Cohen said.
Girodo went 6 1/3 innings and gave way to closer Jonathan Holder for the final two outs. The victory gave MSU three days off prior to its 4-1 victory against No. 3 national seed Oregon State University on Friday.
"Coach (Butch) Thompson has reiterated that the whole season," Fitts said. "I remember the first day he texted all of us who is our best pitcher? The correct answer to that is whoever is on the mound."
Fitts also threw the first 3 1/3 innings in MSU's opening game of the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Ala., a 2-1 victory against the University of Missouri in 17 innings. He allowed three hits, one run (earned), and struck out two in his 41-pitch outing.
"It's great feeling because I love pitching in big ballparks, obviously since I chose Mississippi State," Fitts said. "Dudy Noble is awesome."
Fitts will face junior right-hander Adam Plutko (9-3, 2.29), who will make his 19th start of the season. On June 16, Plutko pitched seven innings and earned the victory in a 2-1 decision against No. 4 national seed LSU. He allowed four hits and one run (earned). He walked two and struck out two in a 101-pitch effort.
"I've taken the ball Friday night the last two years (in Pacific-12 Conference play), so preparation is not much different," Plutko said. "I'm just going to focus on what I do and executing pitches."
Berg, Holder match up as closers
MSU and UCLA share a common denominator: Both teams have closers no team wants to see late in a game.
Sophomore right-hander David Berg has pitched in three of every four games in the past two seasons for the Bruins. This season, he was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year and Stopper of the Year. He saved UCLA's first two games of the College World Series to push his school-record total to 23.
Berg's next appearance will be his 50th of the season and 100th in his career. The NCAA single-season record is 51 by University of Florida reliever Connor Falkenbach in 2005.
"I would say he's been pushed, but come on -- you get run out there as much as he does, you're not going to go 1-2-3, 1-2-3," UCLA coach John Savage said. "He's one of the major reasons why we're here. We give him a little opportunity to get out of trouble."
Sophomore All-America closer Jonathan Holder (2-0, 1.24 ERA, 21 saves) earned his school-record 30th save Friday in a 4-1 victory against Oregon State. It was his fifth save in as many NCAA tournament appearances this season.
"There's a tangible quality to having a guy at the back end of your bullpen nobody wants to see," Cohen said. "I knew as a hitter that the closer you got to the eighth or ninth inning, the odds swung heavy in the opponent's favor if we didn't at least tie the game. You know that in the back your mind before a guy like Holder even steps to the mound."