January 29, 2014 7:57:33 PM
STARKVILLE -- Tyler Bratton worked as part of a fast-paced, high-energy college baseball coaching staff a season ago.
This made Bratton more than able to adapt to a similar coaching staff for an entirely different sport.
In his first season as an assistant softball coach at Mississippi State, Bratton is as eager as the Bulldogs to make his 2014 season debut.
This debut comes a week from Friday when MSU plays the first of five games in the Bulldog Kickoff Classic. The season opener is at 3 p.m. Feb. 7, against Mississippi Valley State at the MSU Softball Field.
"We can't wait to get cranked up," Bratton said. "The last few days have been fun, now that we can officially have practice. The young ladies are anxious. They feel like they have a lot to prove. Coming off back-to-back postseason bids, I think they are anxious and want more."
Before joining the softball program, Bratton worked for five seasons on John Cohen's baseball staff at MSU. During last season's national championship runner-up finish, Bratton served as director of baseball operations. The transition to Vann Stuedeman's staff followed and appears to have been seamless.
"Coach Bratton has been a new, fun addition," said Stuedeman, who begins her third season. "He brings a lot of energy and a lot of knowledge. The girls have bought into everything that we are coaching. I feel like the girls would follow all three of us (Stuedeman, Bratton and assistant coach Beth Mullins) off a bridge right now. When you have that, it is huge. You need everybody in the canoe, rowing the oar at the same pace."
MSU will be attempting to earn a third straight NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 2007-09. MSU has finished 33-24 in each of Stuedeman's first two seasons. However, MSU has won one regional game during that stretch.
To improve the postseason record and to make the team a staying power on the national scene, an increase in talent was necessary. The coaches feel like that movement is headed in the right direction.
"The talent level is strong," Bratton said. "This freshman group is good. There will be some growing pains they will face adversity. However, do they have the skill level to handle that? Absolutely, they do. We are excited about taking the good with the bad. We are ready for them to show what they can do. It is time to put a lineup out there and get after it."
Stuedeman said her program has made major strides since her arrival. She now has confidence that her upperclassmen can help guide the newcomers through the rigors of playing in a Southeastern Conference, where five teams made the preseason National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 12.
"We have really been encouraged by the effort," Stuedeman said. "This group has been able to keep their energy level up the whole four hours that we can practice. We keep them engaged and focused. It is hard when you are coming back off a holiday and you have been on a mental break. It starts with the senior class. The coaches know that we have done a good job when the seniors becomes coaches themselves. The upperclassmen have become an extension of what we are coaching.
"The freshmen are talented and eager to become the best softball players they can become. We have a bunch of sponges in that freshman class."
In the circle, senior Alison Owen returns after winning 17 games in the circle a season ago. Fellow senior catcher/infielder Logan Foulks also returns, after hitting 13 home runs and driving in 39 runs last season. The freshman class is headlined by highly-touted newcomers Madison Arroyo of Waxhaw, N.C., Katie Ann Bailey of Madison Central, Amanda Ivy of South Panola, Caroline Seitz of Birmingham, Alexis Silkwood of East Alton, Ill., and Mackenzie Toler of Fayetteville, Ga.
The Bulldogs will open with 10 of their first 14 games at home. MSU will also continue to spread the game around the state by hosting a prestigious 10-team tournament in Gulfport in late February/early March.
For the young Bulldogs, it will be time to learn and grow on the fly. The same holds true for Bratton, who is already used to working at a fast pace.
"(Softball) is so much quicker," Bratton said. "In baseball, there is so much dead time. Here, there is a lot of action. You have to be ready to go one play after the next. In this sport, you have to proactive instead of reactive. It is fast moving with high energy.
"Mississippi State baseball is high energy, too, so really there is no change in the mind-set there. Both programs have a plan in place to get to the top. It is all about hard working and keeping that pace to get there."
Follow Scott Walters on Twitter @dispatchscott.
Scott is sports copy editor and reporter