February 26, 2014 12:10:42 PM
Matthew Stevens - firstname.lastname@example.org
STARKVILLE -- The consensus is the Mississippi State baseball team needed a game like the one it had Tuesday night.
After eight games in which its coach and its 35 players felt they were on edge, No. 18 MSU recaptured a relaxed mentality in a 13-1 victory against Mount St. Mary's at Dudy Noble Field.
MSU coach John Cohen inserted three new pieces -- Daniel Garner, Seth Heck and Zack Randolph -- into the lineup and received immediate dividends, Garner, Heck, and Randolph went 3-for-9, scored two runs, and drove in four against 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. (The score) is what we wanted to see when we came out here tonight."
MSU (5-4) used six consecutive run-scoring singles in a seven-run fourth inning against pitchers Kevin Myers and Jordan Lawson. The Bulldogs batted around in the frame thanks to RBIs from Randolph, Jake Vickerson, C.T. Bradford, Wes Rea, Brett Pirtle, and Garner.
"Our opponent is the game of baseball, so the results we have to see is moving that runner in when he's at third base," Cohen said.
Bracewell was efficient in his second consecutive quality start of the season. Bracewell, who is challenging for one of the three weekend spots in the rotation, threw 69 strikes in an 89-pitch outing. The 6-foot right-hander scattered five hits and struck out a career-high eight in a career-high seven innings.
"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. Bracewell, a co-captain, said the team had an informal movie night Monday to get it thinking about anything other than its struggles on the field.
"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 captain, has reached safely in every game. The 270-pound junior is hitting .389 (7-for-18) with 12 RBIs, five runs, five walks, and three home runs since Feb. 19. He is tied for the Southeastern Conference lead with RBIs with 17.
After Cohen expressed concern that new players would be more nervous when they received opportunities to earn playing time, Heck had the perfect mentality. The junior college transfer from Tacoma (Wash.) Community College made his first career start at shortstop and was 1-for-3 with an 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 there's so much depth on this team that you might not play every day. You can't be selfish on a club like this."
Heck had five assists and proved he might be able to handle the position. At the very least, Heck's debut gave Cohen and the coaches more to think about as they define roles for Southeastern Conference 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. 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 the 4 p.m. game today because he and his staff were unsure if the weather would allow the teams to play.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.