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MSU baseball opens season with pair of wins

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE -- For the first two games of the 2013 season, Mississippi State University baseball fans got to see a little bit of the new offense mixed with a lot of the old pitching and defense. 

 

After cranking out 21 hits and 16 runs on opening day Friday, MSU (2-0) got a victory in the style Dudy Noble Field fans are more accustomed to under coach Bulldogs fifth-year coach John Cohen the following afternoon. 

 

Last season MSU finished the regular season 40-24 despite being near the bottom of the Southeastern Conference in batting average (11th, .251), slugging percentage (12th, .333), runs scored (9th, 287) and total bases (10th, 694). It seemed each member of the season opening lineup tried to erase those memories in a single 2 hour and 49 minute game in with a 16-1 victory over the University of Portland to start the 123rd season of baseball at Dudy Noble Field. 

 

Seemingly every player in the Mississippi State University lineup that was going through a severe injury last year had a big day as the Bulldogs won its 10 consecutive season opener. 

 

Bulldogs third-year players Wes Rea, C.T. Bradford and Daryl Norris all produced for a combined six hits, five RBIs and six runs scored against an overwhelmed Pilots (0-1) squad predicted by Baseball America to finish seventh in the West Coast Conference this season. 

 

"C.T. came up to me this afternoon in batting practice and said to me 'Coach I hadn't played a game in 10 months' and I said 'Wow, I didn't think about that - thanks for reminding me," Cohen said with a laugh. 

 

Rea got the team started with a massive two-run home run over the right-centerfield wall for the first runs of the 2013 season. The third career home run for Rea was on his first swing of the season after Portland pitcher Matt McCallister (0-1) took a curveball over the middle of the plate. 

 

Bradford, a former Mr. Baseball in the state of the Florida, went on the disabled list twice last season with a severe shoulder injury. He responded to his first game since April 28 with three RBI and a two-run home run over the right field wall in the third inning to put the Bulldogs into double digit run territory for only the sixth time in the last two seasons. 

 

"It's what we want do as a hitting staff," Bradford said. "We know we have a great pitching staff but as hitters we need to stay sharp with them and give them support." 

 

Bradford, who was the 2011 NCAA Atlanta Regional most valuable player as a freshman, was able to bring back Friday the ideal 1-2 punch at the top of the MSU order with junior leadoff hitter Adam Frazier. 

 

"We're just excited to get out there (because) we've been playing each other for months and so it was just good to see somebody else," Bradford said. "I hit a fastball down out of the ballpark and it sure felt good." 

 

Eight of the nine-member MSU starting batting lineup recorded a hit with the 1-2-3-4 spots in the lineup finishing 11 of 21 with 12 runs scored and 12 RBI in the 15-run win Friday. 

 

Less than 24 hours later, Bradford had what Cohen said in the preseason may be a normal day for the junior from Pace, Fla., as he had a base hit, a diving catch and got MSU out of a jam by coming into a 1-2 count to finish a strikeout in the seventh inning. 

 

"We've really run our intra-squad scrimmages this preseason just like we did in this ballgame so we knew we'd use C.T. in a situation like that," Cohen said. "This is the time of the year to be able to do it too with our outfield depth." 

 

The Bulldogs used five pitchers to combine for a four-hit performance and got their first run via a squeeze play attempt in a 2-1 victory over the University of Portland Saturday afternoon. 

 

After being walked to load the bases two innings ago Saturday and grounding into a 6-4-3 double play, MSU junior left fielder Demarcus Henderson wasn't about to let another RBI opportunity get away later in the contest. The Waynesboro native slapped the game-winning single over the glove of second baseman Jeff Melby to score Daryl Norris in the sixth inning. 

 

"I wasn't going to pass up that chance twice because I remember against Samford (in the 2012 NCAA Tallahassee Regional) that same thing happened so that was playing around in my head," Henderson said. 

 

"He threw me a fastball low and away and that's actually right in my wheelhouse because it something I can take the other way." 

 

Henderson, who was selected in the 43rd round out of Wayne County High School by the Houston Astros in 2010, also had a diving catch in left field that preserved the Bulldogs one-run lead late in the contest. 

 

The Bulldogs right fielder is somebody trying to get off to a fast start in 2013 after hitting just .245 last season but was named to the Southeastern Conference tournament team after showing flashes of brilliance late in his first full season of college baseball. 

 

"It is so important for guys to get off to a good start because confidence in baseball is a huge thing," Cohen said. 

 

The victory on Saturday marked the 1,000 win for MSU in the history of 

 

Dudy Noble Field. 

 

After Evan Mitchell completed five innings Saturday, MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson gave fans an idea of what the bullpen strategy could look like late in games this season. After watching Evan Mitchell record 92-93 miles-per-hour on the radar gun, the Bulldogs first tuned to the complete opposite approach of third-year sophomore breaking ball pitcher Ross Mitchell (1-0). 

 

The right-left-right relief combination of Ben Bracewell, C.T. Bradford from centerfield and Jonathan Holder worked a perfect final three innings. Holder earned his 10th career save in a MSU uniform as 

 

the Hurley native has allowed just one earned run in 30 career innings on the mound. Over the last three seasons MSU is 70-1 in games where they're leading after eight innings. 

 

"I love (the closer role) and I just gave a speech to the team about adrenaline and coming in the last inning to get just a few outs gets me going," Holder said. 

 

Cohen described the bullpen Saturday usage as a perfect replication for what the MSU squad had done for two weeks in preseason split-squad scrimmages as fans can anticipate seeing a lot of Ross Mitchell, 

 

Bracewell, Bradford and Holder from the middle innings on in a the middle of a weekend series. 

 

"We've really run our intra-squad scrimmages this preseason just like we did in this ballgame so we knew we'd use C.T. in a situation like that," Cohen said. "This is the time of the year to be able to do it too with our outfield depth." 

 

MSU and Portland conclude their four-game opening weekend series today with a 1 p.m. doubleheader at Dudy Noble Field. The radio broadcasts of the two games will be heard in the Golden Triangle on WNMQ-FM (103.1).

 

 

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