February 15, 2014 11:18:47 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Jake Vickerson needed something good to happen before fans at Dudy Noble Field started to compare him to his older brother.
The younger sibling of Mississippi State two-year starter and current minor leaguer Nick Vickerson wasn't off to a great start to his college career before his at-bat in the fourth inning Saturday. After striking out in four of his first five at-bats, the junior outfielder, who transferred from Shelton State (Ala.) Community College, ignited the Bulldogs with his first career hit in a 6-1 victory against Western Carolina in Game 2 of the three-game series at Dudy Noble Field. Vickerson's two-out, two-run single to right field was one of many impressive debut performances in the first two games of the season.
"I understand it's going to be a long year, but I needed that hit real bad to start thinking good thoughts," Vickerson said. "I don't normally get that excited on the field, but it came out as I was rounding first base."
In order to make Vickerson more comfortable, MSU coach John Cohen put Vickerson in the leadoff spot in the batting order.
"It really differs with the pitcher in the leadoff spot because some days I like to work the count and see a lot of pitches," Vickerson said. "After what happened Friday night (0-for-4 with three strikeouts), I was determined to be more aggressive in my approach. I've hit leadoff my whole life so I don't know any different."
In the opposite corner outfield spot as Saturday, Cody Brown reached base in the first five plate appearances of his career, including four by walks. Brown, who was redshirted last year following a high school career in which he was named to the ESPN High School All-State team, has all the tools to be a "on-base machine," according to Cohen.
"The thing about Cody and Vickerson is you're hoping one or both of those guys can make up for the difference you're losing in an Adam Frazier, who is a guy that led the country with 107 hits," Cohen said.
In his first game behind the plate at MSU, Gavin Collins never looked in the dugout for a sign from MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson and called a quality start for starting pitcher Trevor Fitts. The 2013 Top 100 high school prospect, according to Baseball America, had three walks.
Mitchell impressive in relief role again in 3-2 loss Friday night
MSU junior Ross Mitchell was dominant with a career high seven strikeouts and three double play groundballs Friday in a 3-2 loss to Western Carolina.
In his 35th career relief appearance, the soft-tossing left-hander, who was coming off hip surgery, didn't miss a beat from his magical 2013 season. Mitchell was named a preseason second-team All-America selection by the National Collegiate Baseball Writer Association and a preseason 2014 Louisville Slugger third-team All-American by Perfect Game. The Smyrna, Tenn., native kept MSU in the game after starter Brandon Woodruff lasted only two batters into the second inning. Mitchell responded by throwing a career-high eight innings.
"I was just trying to find the strike zone and get early contact, but they are a great team over there in Western Carolina because they work you in that box," Mitchell said.
Mitchell is coming off hip surgery that forced him to miss fall workouts and limited his availability in preseason scrimmages.
"I'm back to being 100 percent, and I haven't noticed anything different with my mechanics or anything like that following my surgery," Mitchell said. "I'm happy I'm able to just go out there and do what I did last year in terms of stuff."
Western Carolina replaces Hofstra for opening weekend opponent
Western Carolina was more than happy to come to Starkville to start its season.
The Catamounts (1-1), who are projected to repeat as the Southern Conference champion, traveled seven hours on a charter bus provided by MSU and arrived in Starkville a few hours before the scheduled first pitch. They then rode a special pitching performance by junior Jeremy Null to take a 3-2 victory.
The three-game weekend series was announced Thursday evening after Winter Storm Pax affected the season-opening weekends for numerous schools in the Southeast. Hofstra, MSU's scheduled opponent this weekend, couldn't make it out of New York to get to Mississippi for the four-game series.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Matthew Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.