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Brown's gem lifts MSU baseball past Southern Illinois

 

Matthew Stevens

 

STARKVILLE -- Preston Brown was in such a zone Tuesday night he forgot how many outs there were in the sixth inning. 

 

With a no-hitter, Brown thought he had recorded the final out of the frame and started to walk off the mound. When he realized the ground ball out was the second of the inning, he knew karma would come back to bite him.  

 

"I noticed I had a no-hitter and then I ran off the field there a little early," Brown said. "The baseball gods got me back after that. I was kicking myself because I ran off the field." 

 

The Bulldogs didn't need to jinx the no-hitter jinx because Brown believed he ruined the karma of his gem. 

 

"There's no such thing as a jinx unless it's talked about in the dugout," Brown said. "I'm sure I gave my teammates something to talk about by trying to run off the field with two outs in the inning." 

 

Despite his hiccup in the sixth, Brown had a career night to lead the No. 24 Mississippi State baseball team to a 3-0 victory against Southern Illinois. The sophomore right-hander went a career-best eight innings and induced 17 ground ball outs to help MSU (13-7) record its third-straight shutout at home for the first time since 1982. 

 

Brown (2-0, 0.75 ERA) allowed four hits and one walk and struck out six in the 101-pitch (70 strikes) effort to earn his second-straight victory. More importantly, he may have secured a role as MSU's midweek starter. 

 

"It felt like it was an easy eight innings for me because of the lack of stress that was on my arm in any inning," Brown said. "I may feel the effects in the morning, but I feel like I could run a marathon." 

 

Brown is part of a deep pitching staff that includes at least five starting options MSU coach John Cohen and pitching coach Butch Thompson could use any day. While the Bulldogs still try to maneuver their weekend rotation, Brown believes he can continue to dominate in midweek games that help MSU improve its resume for the NCAA tournament. 

 

"When you have the confidence that the guy on the mound is going to get you a ground ball," Cohen said. "You just know at that point the ball is coming your way, and that keeps you focused." 

 

Brown seemed to have an easier evening than the pitch count suggested. He forced the Salukis (8-7) into early contact until the final three innings and finished long at-bats with strikeouts.  

 

"I was just attacking with my fastball down in the zone and luckily as a ground ball pitcher their contact didn't find holes tonight, Brown said. 

 

After the game, Cohen said he was fairly certain junior right-hander Trevor Fitts (2-0, 3.92) would start Saturday in Game 2 of his team's Southeastern Conference series at Georgia. However, the Friday night and Sunday finale spots are still to be determined. Cohen suggested more consistent outings from Brown could help him break into that discussion. 

 

"Preston was really impressive because we came into this game really wanting a ton of ground balls, and that's what he gave us," Cohen said. "We played with the identity of this club by pitching it and allowing our athleticism in the field to take over." 

 

Brown is 2-0 in his last four appearances. He hasn't allowed an earned run in 20 2/3 consecutive innings. Jake Welch broke up the no-hitter with a single in the sixth. Myles Gentry allowed one hit and struck out one to get his second save. 

 

Led by first-year coach Scott Stricklin, Georgia beat Western Kentucky 26-7 on Tuesday night for its ninth-straight victory. 

 

"Georgia is really on fire," Cohen said. "I don't know what it is about us, but every time we play a conference opponent, they seem to be on fire. We are going to need to go in there and do what we do best. We have to pitch, play defense, and hold them at bay. This is big for us. Conference play gives you a fresh start." 

 

MSU (13-7) gained all the offensive momentum it needed by scoring twice in the third. Walks to Matthew Britton, Jake Vickerson, and Wes Rea set the stage for a two-run single to right field by Brett Pirtle. The Bulldogs are 11-2 this season when they score first. An inning later, the Bulldogs ran the lead to 3-0 on a single by Britton. Demarcus Henderson began that threat with a one-out hit. He stole second, his second stolen base of the game, and scored on a hit by Britton. Henderson tied a senior outfielder Derrick Armstrong for the team lead with eight stolen bases. 

 

"Henderson has gotten so much better as a base runner in his four years," Cohen said. "We've got to get Armstrong back out there, and we've done matchup stuff with both of them." 

 

Rea and Henderson had two hits two lead the seven-hit attack. Rea has reached base safely in 19 of the first 20 games. Pirtle has hit safely in 18 of the first 20 games. 

 

Junior Colleges 

 

n EMCC softball team sweeps at Northeast Mississippi: At Booneville, the East Mississippi Community College softball team claimed its second MACJC North Division sweep by defeating Northeast Mississippi 7-2 and 4-1 Tuesday afternoon at David Carnell Memorial Field. 

 

In the opener, the visitors posted three-run innings in their first two at-bats. Former Central Academy and Pickens Academy standout Corey Dawkins was 2-for-3 with three runs scored. 

 

In Game 2, Dawkins had a run-scoring triple to center field for her sixth hit of the day. 

 

EMCC (16-12, 5-3 MACJC North) will close its three-date road stretch at 1 p.m. March 19 when it plays Mississippi Delta C.C. in a doubleheader. 

 

n No. 6 EMCC baseball team will open division ply against Holmes: At Scooba, the No. 6 East Mississippi Community College baseball team will open MACJC North Division play at 4 p.m. today against Holmes C.C. in Game 1 of a doubleheader at Gerald Poole Field. 

 

EMCC (13-5) jumped 10 notches in this week's NJCAA Division II baseball poll that was released Tuesday. Unbeaten in six outings against fellow Division II foes this season, EMCC is 7-5 against NJCAA Division I schools, including a pair of doubleheader splits with rival Meridian C.C. 

 

Jones County Junior College (17-1) took over the No. 1 spot in the NJCAA Division II baseball poll after ranking seventh previously. The past two national champions, LSU-Eunice (2012) and Murray State College (2013), are No. 2 and No. 3, followed by Mesa C.C and Catawba Valley C.C. 

 

Special Reports were included in this report. 

 

Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.

 

 

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