February 22, 2011 8:21:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State''s baseball team led the Southeastern Conference in errors last season.
The Bulldogs (4-0) ended the first weekend of this season without a single error.
Experience probably is the biggest reason why MSU emerged without a blemish on its ledger. Last season, the Bulldogs relied on five freshman pitchers and started junior college transfers Nick Vickerson and Jonathan Ogden in the infield. MSU also played without touted third baseman Jarrod Parks, whom coach John Cohen has lauded extensively this preseason for his defense.
Having Parks and outfielder Brent Brownlee healthy has been a luxury, Cohen said Monday.
"You have no idea what it does to your team to look up one week and not have Parks, then to look up the next week and not have Brownlee," Cohen said. "It was especially difficult because we had no experience behind those guys. You''re bound to struggle in a situation like that.
"And when you''ve got guys who''ve done it before, you have expectations you wouldn''t have if a guy hadn''t played D I baseball."
Aside from having more experience in the field, the Bulldogs have benefited -- at least during opening weekend -- from improved pitching.
MSU allowed 19 hits in four games against Lamar and Akron and recorded two shutouts. Seven of the 12 pitchers MSU used weren''t on the roster last season.
"Defense is all about pitching, communication, and being in the right place at the right time," Cohen said. "I''d like to think, we''re evolving there. We''ll make errors and maybe have a bad game defensively, which will come anytime you''re playing on grass. But we''re off to a great start."
Sophomore right-hander Kendall Graveman will start at 4 p.m. today against Northwestern State (La.) at Dudy Noble Field. Cohen said junior college transfer Andrew Busby and freshman C.T. Bradford also will see time on the mound.
Devin Jones kicked off the strong starts by throwing seven innings Friday against Akron. The Eupora native surrendered just one hit and struck out four in an 11-0 win.
Jones will start Friday against Belmont, while sophomore Chris Stratton will start Saturday. Tim Statz or Evan Mitchell, who earned a win against Lamar, will start Sunday.
Cohen said Jones had the most impressive performance.
"Getting through seven innings right from the get go in 69 pitches is just huge," Cohen said. "Devin is singing the song of ''I can get people out quickly instead of trying to strike everybody out and show power stuff.'' Now, if he wants to go and get 94 or 95, he can do it. But he realizes the benefits of pitch efficiency and saving the bullpen."
Though the Bulldogs are far from conference play, Cohen believes the quality of MSU''s opponents early in the season will help him gauge the efforts of his pitchers.
Lamar made the NCAA tournament last season after winning the Southland Conference last season. Northwestern State won 36 games last season.
"These are clubs that are gonna get to the mid-30s and maybe the 40s in wins," Cohen said. "Akron has two starters I think anybody in the country would like to have. These aren''t bad teams we''re beating, but the stakes are going to continue to go up."
Norris named SEC Freshman of the Week
Daryl Norris could have imagined a better start to his college career.
As a relief pitcher Friday, he struck out five of the seven he faced in a win against Akron.
On Saturday, Norris had five RBIs, including a bases-clearing triple in a 10-1 win against Akron.
Norris went 2-for-3 and had three RBIs Sunday in a 17-2 win against Lamar.
Norris has the team''s top batting average (.625) and most RBIs (eight).
"I''m really happy for Daryl," Cohen said. "I don''t see how you can start out any better. His ability to pitch and to hit is really valuable. He''s such a mature kid. He''s got such a great work ethic, and you''re really happy when things like that happen for a kid like him."