March 25, 2014 11:02:30 AM
STARKVILLE --The Mississippi State coaching staff isn't getting the pitching it thought it would get for Southeastern Conference weekends.
It's better than the coaches imagined.
By placing Preston Brown and Ross Mitchell into the weekend plans, No. 16 MSU (17-9, 4-2 SEC) has found two anchors to lead the staff into the grind of league play.
"We feel like we have a lot of options for Tuesday," MSU coach John Cohen said. "We're excited to see a lot of guys that weren't able to pitch this past weekend."
When MSU started the season, Brown and Mitchell weren't considered to be options as weekend starters if MSU was going to compete for a Western Division championship in the SEC. Brown (3-0, 1.12) was coming off a season in which he threw eight innings and made only one appearance in the SEC. He was seen as a candidate to provide depth in the bullpen and to be a reliable mid-week option.
"I never thought I'd be pitching in such a atmosphere like this, but once I settled down a little bit I realized that even though it was a Friday night against Vanderbilt, it was the same game plan," Brown said Friday after allowing only two runs in a 17-2 victory.
Mitchell, a left-handed specialist, is coming of an All-America campaign in which he was counted on to bail out starting pitchers who were unable to last past the second or third time through a batting order. Now Mitchell, who throws a fastball at 82-85 mph, has come up with a game plan to get him through the third time against a lineup. He threw a complete game four-hitter in a 6-1 victory at Georgia and followed that up Saturday by allowing six hits and two runs in 7 1/3 innings to clinch the series against Vanderbilt.
"As good as everybody on the mound has been lately, we really have started to feel like we can beat anybody in the country with Preston Brown on the mound," Mitchell said. "I don't want to say he was overlooked previously, but once he got that opportunity our team has been different, and there's no denying that."
After trying Brandon Woodruff and Ben Bracewell as starting pitching options, MSU went another direction. Brown and Mitchell responded by pitching into the eighth inning to help MSU hand Vanderbilt its first SEC series loss since 2012. The quality starts enabled MSU to save its bullpen for this week, which will kick off at 6:30 tonight against Southeast Missouri State at Dudy Noble Field. MSU now appears to have plenty of options thanks to five consecutive quality starts in SEC play.
"I thought I'd be the innings eater of this staff and now I'm joking with people about being the guy who needs the bullpen." said right-hander Trevor Fitts, who threw 6 1/3 innings Sunday in a 5-1 loss to Vanderbilt. "We know how good (Brown and Mitchell) have been and it makes everyone else on this staff take their game to another level, too."
MSU likely will go with Brown, Mitchell, and Fitts this weekend against when Arkansas. Prior to that, MSU will turn to freshman Austin Sexton (1-0, 4.85) tonight against Southeast Missouri State (14-9), which is a member of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Bulldogs also could roll out freshman Dakota Hudson, who hasn't seen action since March 9. Sexton, a hard-throwing right-hander, made two starts early in the season when MSU played four-game sets, but he struggled in his last two appearances against Arizona and Georgia.
The Redhawks rank nationally in a number of statistical categories, including team batting average (20th). Sophomore catcher Scott Mitchell's .444 batting average is tied for the eighth-best mark in the country. SEMO also is the 24th-highest scoring team in the nation with 161 runs.
MSU is the only SEC team SEMO hasn't beaten. SEMO defeated Missouri 9-7 last season in Columbia, Mo. It will play April 29 at Missouri and May 13 at Vanderbilt.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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