February 21, 2010 12:49:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The much-heralded but untested freshman pitching class of the Mississippi State baseball showed why head coach John Cohen had no qualms about leaning on the newcomers this year.
In just the second game of the season, freshman starter Chris Stratton and freshman relievers Kendall Graveman and C.C Watson combined on a five-hit shutout to pitch Mississippi State past Rhode Island 9-0 on Saturday.
MSU (2-0) will host Rhode Island again at 1:30 p.m. today in the final game of the season-opening series.
Stratton turned in a gem of a start in his collegiate debut, allowing just four hits in six innings. He struck out six batters and walked two, but it was his ability to throw an effective breaking ball and not drop on the gun that impressed his coach.
"It''s 10 to 15 miles an hour off his fast ball so it''s really hard to see," Cohen said of Stratton''s curve ball. "It''s really difficult to take a freshman and say, ''Hey, we want you to work both sides of the plate and set some things up,'' and that''s what he did. That''s why he''s pitching on the weekends for us right now. He''s special, but I think in the future he''ll be really special."
Stratton''s performance marked the second-straight season an MSU pitcher earned a win his collegiate debut. Friday''s starter Nick Routt did it last year against North Florida.
"You have nerves in the beginning but once you get the first out, it''s all good," Stratton said. "Once you settle in, it''s just like every other game."
The Bulldogs roughed up Rhode Island starter Chris Pickering for four earned runs in two innings before Jim Foster brought in Ken Graveline in the third. Pickering got the loss and finished with three hits and two walks.
Pickering and Graveline worked a six-run Bulldogs third inning that saw Connor Powers hit his second home run of the game on just his third pitch.
Powers started off his day by blasting a first-pitch fast ball to Left Field Lounge in the first inning. Saturday night marked the seventh time Powers hit more than one homer in a game.
"I think he tried to elevate on one and just didn''t get up high enough," Powers said. "The other one he tried to go in and just didn''t get it in enough. The first one I didn''t think would go out, but the second one, on a day like this with good weather, I was hoping the backspin would carry it out."
Jonathan Ogden registered a sacrifice-fly RBI and Ryan Collins drove in a pair of runs with a lined-single to right field to cap the explosive third.
Collins finished 3 for 4 with two RBIs, while Powers was 3 for 5 with three RBIs and a pair of homers. Trey Johnson and Cody Freeman each finished with two hits for the Bulldogs.
Rhode Island (0-2) was led at the plate by Oliver Palmer, who went 2 for 4. The Rams did not register an extra-base hit.
While Mississippi State registered the rout, Cohen bemoaned a four-inning stretch that produced two hits and no runs. The Bulldogs struck out six times in that span.
"After that third inning, we just did not take very good swings and that''s a real concern to us," Cohen said. "But overall it''s a good day especially when your freshmen can get their feet wet and get some experience."
The Bulldogs will start Tyler Whitney today. The senior went 3-4 with a 5.18 ERA last season.
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