MSU’s National Champ Brandon McBride wins on both speed and intellect

984125_877313765618759_64029812002221682_n

Photos courtesy Madeleine Takahashi

Sitting in the tent with his coaches on either side of him, Brandon McBride is a mess. He’s got a race in a few minutes, a race with the National Championship on the line, and the pressure is too much, the anxiety too overwhelming. He can’t do it. Not today.

“I have a little meltdown before every race,” McBride conceded.

In that moment in the tent, Mississippi State’s sophomore star in the 800-meter sprint is completely broken, incapable of competition.

But piece-by-piece, his coaches put him back together. They build him up until he emerges from the tent as if nothing ever happened. He takes his spot on the track with the confidence of a man with Herculean ability, the breakdown of moments before already washed from his memory.

“When I get back on the track, I just block out everything else and just race,” McBride shared. “I try not to let my competitors see it.”

His competitors, McBride will tell you, see exactly what he wants them to see.

Typically, that’s his back as he crosses the finish line first.

The 2014 indoor and outdoor seasons now concluded, McBride won the National Championship for both seasons in the 800-meter, and the competition was never particularly close. That is except for the one moment he lets them in, only to crush them down the stretch.

For McBride, it’s not enough to just be faster than the people he runs against. If you’re only competing with physical strength, you’re missing half the game.

McBride plays the mental game – he likes to get in his opponents’ heads. He studies their strengths, weaknesses, tendencies and results before every race. When you line up next to McBride, he knows your abilities as well as you do.

10455842_877313635618772_3442648558934116685_nAnd, not that it’s any surprise, McBride likes to lead. It’s a few percentage points harder to lead than follow in a race, but it’s worth the extra effort of his body to gain the advantage with his mind.

In his last race – the National Title sprint at the NCAA Championships in Oregon – McBride knew that six of his eight competitors were “kickers,” runners who like to stay at the back of the pack until the last 100 meters and then turn it on hard for the final stretch.

“The type of runner that I am, I like to start off at a fast pace,” he said. “I like to put the pace on them early so you can take some of the energy and some of the pop out some of the kickers’ legs … So I took it out fast.”

The difference in leading or following, McBride explained, is that if you’re following, all you think about is the pace. You waste mental energy worrying about the leader and when to make your move, then you waste whatever physical energy you saved because you’re jockeying for position with the rest of the followers.

No, leading the pack is easy choice for McBride.

“I like to run my race. I’m not really a guy that likes to come from the back.”

But still, the problem of those kickers who will try to jet past him at the end.

McBride is ahead of them there, too.

On the second of the two laps, McBride will offer his competition hope. He lets them think they have a chance and that he’s running out of gas after his fast start.

McBride, with a substantial lead, will purposely slow down, just a tad, and let the people behind him catch up a little bit.

“I make it seem like I’m almost dying out,” McBride said. “They start working harder to try to catch me, and right when they’re on my heels, right when they think ‘I’m gonna pass this guy,’ that’s when I turn it back on.

“When they start seeing me pull away it kind of does something to them inside. It plays with their mind a little bit and that’s what I like to do.”

10457172_877318168951652_3858885200264454001_nMcBride doesn’t just beat you, he defeats you. And maybe it’s because he already defeated himself before the race. No one can make him feel as bad as he makes himself feel. His biggest competition is his himself, and every time he emerges from that tent, put back together by his coaches, he’s already won.

“I don’t ask God to allow me to win,” McBride said of his pre-race prayer ritual. “I ask him to allow me to do my best. Whatever place that is, as long as I know I did my best, I’m happy.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The story of Taveze Calhoun’s recruitment, MSU’s hidden gem of the 2011 signing class

Today, ESPN ranked Taveze Calhoun as the second-best cornerback in the SEC (and called teammate Jamerson Love No. 7).

Courtesy Micah Green, The Dispatch, @MicahGreen15

Courtesy Micah Green, The Dispatch, @MicahGreen15

But it was two months ago when I first found out how the now-junior star even ended up at Mississippi State. I knew he wasn’t highly-recruited at all. Speaking candidly, lowly-recruited would probably be a more appropriate description.

Dan Mullen and his staff have done a good job of identifying players like that, though. Thorpe Award winner Johnthan Banks comes to mind as a signee who was going to MSU or nowhere before his eventual rise to stardom.

But as Mullen told the story this summer, most of the credit for the hidden gem of the 2011 signing class goes to Calhoun’s high school principal.

Less than two weeks before national signing day, Mullen was in Calhoun’s hometown of Morton, Mississippi, but he was there to see someone else, a prospect regarded as one of the top players not just in the state but in the country.

The five-star stud (who did end up signing with MSU) was Mullen’s priority, but as Mullen talked with the principal that day, it was Taveze Calhoun’s name which kept coming up.

“This is the guy you want,” the principal told MSU’s head coach. “Just take a look at him. He’s our hardest worker, our best leader. He may not jump off the tape when you watch, but if you take him, you won’t regret it.”

Well, why not give him a look, Mullen thought. MSU’s staff researched a little bit, saw some promising things and gave Calhoun a call.

“What are you doing this weekend,” Mullen remembers asking him.

“Well, I’m visiting Jackson State,” Mullen recalls Calhoun telling him. “I’m hoping I might get an offer.”

“Why don’t you come see us this weekend instead,” Mullen requested. “I can’t promise you anything, but we might have some room in our class. We’d like to get to know you.”

So Calhoun took Mullen up on the invite and visited MSU the weekend before signing day. Both parties were taking a chance. If State didn’t offer, Calhoun may have missed an opportunity elsewhere. And with precious few hours left until signatures had to be secured, MSU was going to spend some time on an unknown prospect on the advice of his principal.

The rest is obvious. Calhoun visited, the coaches loved him and he loved MSU. As soon as the offer was extended, Calhoun took it.

Now, he enters his junior year of SEC football with far more fanfare than when his career in Maroon and White began. A breakout player for MSU last year and a rising star in the conference, Taveze Calhoun is everything his principal promised he would be.

And he was right – Mullen doesn’t regret it.

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

2014 MSU football schedule posters released

Dak Prescott 1

As seen above and below, Mississippi State is rolling out a new design on this year’s football schedule posters, going from horizontal to vertical, black to white and one version to four.

The four different posters feature some of the prominent Bulldogs, with junior quarterback Dak Prescott, senior center Dillon Day, junior linebacker Benardrick McKinney and senior defensive tackle Kaleb Eulls.

Prescott was the breakout star for MSU last season, while the man snapping him the ball, Day, has become one of the top centers in the country. McKinney is not just the star of State’s defense, he’s one of the best linebackers playing college football in 2014 and may very well be in an NFL camp this time next year. While those on the outside may not be aware, those in the Seal Football Complex know Eulls may be the most respected player on the team, an unquestioned leader not just for his defense, but in all facets.

As for the design itself, the white background is a continuation of the style the marketing department tried out with softball and baseball this spring, and it sounds like they’re using the same design for all fall sports in 2014. One subtle advantage, marketing man Rhett Hobart mentioned, is the ability to make maroon the main color on top of the white, a very clean look.

Of course, the biggest change is going from one poster to four. Traditional schedule posters have the whole team, the coaching staff or at least several players and a coach. Very few have just one player or multiple versions.

Said marketing director Leah Beasley, “After last season’s thrilling finish, we wanted the look and feel for this year’s design to be exceptional and exciting – something to keep the momentum going. These large singular images portray a strong Bulldog presence that we feel fans will enjoy collecting as our team continues to Fight for Mississippi State.”

As for getting a hold of the posters, they will be available at Fan Day on August 23rd and at the Summer Extravaganza in Jackson on July 17th. The department is working on a system now to mail them to out-of-town fans for a minimal fee, though the details on that haven’t yet been finalized. We’ll certainly share when they are.

Benardrick McKinney

 

Kaleb Eulls

Dillon Day POSTER

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Remembering Don Scott on the 100th anniversary of Scott Field

VTMOHRJVCGVBTUX.201110152012112014 marks exactly 100 years since Scott Field became a part of Mississippi State’s campus, a century-long history of athletic achievement dating back to the earliest days of sport in Starkville. It’s been so long, in fact, that back in 1914, MSU was still called Mississippi Agricultural and Mechanical College.

The home of Bulldog football (then the Aggies), Scott Field is named after Don Magruder Scott, one of the best athletes to ever play at MSU under any name or sport, and he was also one of the first to compete at Scott Field, though it did not yet bear his name.

But here’s the weird thing: Don Scott wasn’t known for football. He only started tossing the pigskin midway through college (he’s listed as a “scrub” for 1912-13), and he only managed a spot on the varsity team his senior year.

He was a military man who starred on the track and field team. He played basketball, too, but most importantly, Don Scott was MSU’s first Olympian.

Scott competed in the 1920 Summer Olympics in Belgium, an event they were reportedly awarded after the hardship they faced in World War I. You see, the 1916 games, the first Olympics following Scott’s time at MSU and the first he qualified for, were canceled due to the war.

Scott then returned to international glory when he competed on behalf of the United States in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, France.

A record-breaker in the 800-meter sprint, Scott also competed in the modern pentathlon, which includes shooting, fencing, riding, running and swimming.

Courtesy: Mississippi State University Libraries

Courtesy: Mississippi State University Libraries

His legend in Mississippi began years before any of that, however. From Woodville, Miss., according to old yearbooks, Scott was one of the few underclassmen to work his way onto the playing surface of any sport at A&M. In those days, playing time was generally reserved for juniors and seniors.

Not only did he make varsity as a youngster, but a report from the 1913 State track Championships referred to the sophomore Scott as “the star of the event,” running one mile in 4 minutes and 52 seconds, and setting a southeastern regional record by running the half mile in 2 minutes and 18 seconds. Both of those times were good for first place in competition.

In fact, it was Scott’s absence (presumably due to injury) at the 1914 Southeastern Championships for which A&M was credited with its second place finish. The Reveille in the following year shared its thoughts on his absence.

“It is bad policy to say what might have been,” the anonymous writer wrote, “ but we can safely claim that had Scott been able to take part in the S.I.A.A. … A. & M. and not L. S. U. would be the Southern champions.”

Earlier that spring at the statewide track meet, Scott had run an incredible 2-minute and 3-second half-mile, so the claim had its merits.

By the time his senior year began, Scott and classmate C. R. “Dudy” Noble (yes, that Dudy Noble) were stars of the track world, captains of one of the nation’s elite teams.

Don Scott and "Dudy" Noble on the track and field page of the 1914 yearbook. (Courtesy: MSU Libraries)

Don Scott and “Dudy” Noble on the track and field page of the 1914 yearbook. (Courtesy: MSU Libraries)

Scott’s senior yearbook offered hefty praise for the senior electrical engineering major.

“We believe that there is not a better-liked man in the class than ‘Scoot,’” his description begins, “and we never see him when he doesn’t wear a smile. Although only twenty years of age, he is a handsome young giant and all-around athlete of most marked ability, holding the Southern record in the half and quarter-mile races. He is unpretentious, friendly, studious, and withal knows how to blush.”

In the spring of 1915, Scott and his teammates had a brand new field to compete on, and that’s exactly what they called it for the next several years: “New Athletic Field.” Accurate, if not particularly subtle.

On May 2, New Athletic Field held its first-ever intercollegiate event, welcoming Alabama to compete against A&M in track and field. The Aggies won in a landslide, led by multiple first-place finishes from Scott and Noble.

The Reflector, the student newspaper of the school, offered a deliberate message in its recap of the event.

“Although the A. and M. team won this meet by an overwhelming majority of points, let us try to boost our track team, putting new life into the entire team, for there are still greater honors to obtain.”

By the time the all-important S.I.A.A. competition in New Orleans drew close in early summer, The Reflector was reporting Scott to be one second off the world record for both the quarter mile and the half mile. Surely, he’d lead the Maroon and White Aggies to victory.

unnamedOn May 16th, 1915, one headline ran in large font across the sports page of The New Orleans Item. In all-caps: “SCOTT, OF AGGIES, ASTOUNDS SOUTH’S ATHLETES BY WONDERFUL FEATS.” The sub-headline read: “Orleans Experts Call Mississippi Runner Best South Has Ever Produced.”

Scott set records in his two specialty events, running the quarter mile in 49 seconds and the half mile in 1 minute and 55 seconds, breaking the record he had set there himself as a sophomore two years previously.

The Reflector was no less effusive in their praise of Scott than The Item had been.

“Donald M. Scott is the greatest runner in the south and one of the greatest middle-distancers in the world,” the story began. “Other records were smashed – records that have stood the test of the South’s best for years. Everything is forgotten in the recollection of that sturdy Mississippi boy of 20 years of age, tearing down to the finish line, making his own race, with his nearest competitor yards behind and finishing with a burst of speed that made the old-timers wish to see him matched with Ted Meredith, Olympic champion and the world’s greatest runner.

“The Southern athlete has arrived!

“Through Scott the South will gain recognition in the athletics of America, if not the world … It is of Scott we must sing our praises now. He is our lone claim to a place in the Sun of athletics. He is rich in promise and in qualities which go to make the man and athlete.”

To be sure, few have gone out with such style or so clearly on top as Don Scott. Nor have many done it with such youth, finishing his college career at the young age of 20.

However, his name might have been easily forgotten, were it not for the thoughts of one student five years later, the fall following Scott’s first Olympic appearance.

Before that day, Don Scott was a name which might have eventually been forgotten as the sands of time wiped away his records, memories and numerous friends.

But inspiration hit and a suggestion took hold within mere weeks of being made public.

Tired of calling the place where the Aggies played their sports “New Athletic Field,” a column was published in The Reflector about the facility on October 5th, 1920.

Appropriately enough, the story without a listed author was titled,

‘What’s In A Name?’

“The name of a thing, in order to be appropriate, must bear some direct relation to whatever thing that bears the name.

‘New Athletic Field’ does bear a direct relation to our athletic field in the sense that it is news, but why not call the baby ‘The New Baby;’ or the store ‘The New Store.’

In selecting a name for our athletic field we ought to stop and say, ‘Ink has written A. and M. athletic history’ and select the name of some great athlete whose feats have added the most laurels to A. and M.’s athletic glory.

If we review the records of the great foot-ball men, there is not a man whose feats are outstanding enough to warrant the naming of the field in his honor. The same may be truthfully said about our base-ball men.

There is but one A. and M. athlete who has gone out from this institution and demonstrated his superiority over any athlete he has come in contact with. Don Scott, A. and M.’s great half-miler, has met and defeated the best athletes of this country. He now holds the S. I. A. A. record for the half mile and his records still stand unbroken for the same distance in the Western Conference and the National A. A. U.

Why not name our new athletic field ‘Scott Field’ in appreciation of Don’s untiring efforts to bring athletic fame to his Alma Mater.”

It worked.

In August, Mississippi State will celebrate 100 years of Scott Field, one full century since one of the greatest athletes in the school’s history first stepped foot on the field which would later bear his name.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

MSU issues statement on Deshea Townsend report

Following reports today on a rental property in Pennsylvania owned by Mississippi State cornerbacks coach Deshea Townsend, the MSU athletic department released a brief statement. In it, Townsend expressed that he was not involved with the incident and the individuals in question were not those who signed the lease for his rental property.

Here is the text in full:

“Deshea Townsend has learned that arrests occurred at a property titled in his name in the Mount Washington area of Pittsburgh. Although Coach Townsend has not been associated with the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2010, he continues to own investment property in the Pittsburgh area. The property in question was the subject of a lease purchase agreement executed in March 2012. Neither individuals arrested were signatories to the March 2012 lease agreement. Coach Townsend employs a rental agent to conduct his affairs regarding this property and in no way is associated with the activities that may have occurred at a property rented by him to others.”

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The Notebook 6-06: Football news, MLB Draft, softball, golf, basketball and woodpeckers

Happy Maroon Friday (or just regular Friday in case you ran out of maroon clothing).

We’ve got a lot notes to hit recapping the last few days as most sports are finished and a few individuals still remain in action.

7641842First, the 2014 football season has already set a record. Today, MSU officially broke and set it’s own record for season tickets sold, the number hitting 44,320 this morning. Of course, this was expected with the expansion of Davis Wade Stadium, but it certainly speaks to the excitement of the year ahead to have hit the number so early.

That total will increase, as well, with tickets still available at HailState.com/tickets

On that note, I caught wind of some plans today which we’ll get more information on in the near future – MSU is working on a young/recent graduates section of seating for the young professionals who only recently finished school and aren’t yet able to afford some of the more premium seating options. Whenever the details on that get ironed out I’ll be sure to share some more information. Ought to be cool.

One other football item: MSU announced yesterday that it will be playing a home-and-home series with Arizona in 2022 and 2023, so you’ve only got eight years to secure tickets and travel. Seriously though, without knowing what either team will look like by then, this should be a fun matchup. The big part for MSU is that it fulfills the SEC rule calling for one opponent every year from another of the Power Five conferences.

BHUCQVERQVFSXFE.20130421001602Onto baseball: late last night MSU’s All-SEC reliever Jacob Lindgren was picked by the New York Yankees in the second round of the MLB Draft. The junior lefty had a breakout year in his new role coming out of the bullpen, leading to a big jump in his prospects and high demand for his services. Many who speculate on such things believe Lindgren could be called up to the majors as early as September. They believe his stuff to be that good.

On that note, the Yankees website wrote a bit about the selection, their only pick on the first day of the draft. Lindgren made specific mention of “the greatest fans in college baseball” as he said a few thank yous to those who helped him along the way. Check out the full story here - http://mlb.mlb.com/news/article.jsp?c_id=nyy&content_id=78473392&notebook_id=78473656&partnerId=as_mlb_20140606_25454946&vkey=notebook_nyy&ymd=20140605

Oh, and on the same day he was drafted, Lingo was named a finalist for the Stopper of the Year Award given annually to the best reliever in college baseball by the National College Baseball Writer’s Association.

On a similar Bulldogs-becoming-pros note, Gabe Jackson signed his first NFL contract this week, officially making him an Oakland Raider. The Raiders website posted a story and video, which you can find here http://www.raiders.com/news/article-1/Raiders-Sign-Third-Round-Draft-Pick-Gabe-Jackson/49e9a8cc-edf4-4a27-b502-d39e56da563a

Switching from former players to future players, one of Vann Stuedeman’s softball signees got a nice honor, being named the Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year. Her numbers are worth checking out A) because they’re kind of incredible and B) because she has outstanding stats as both a pitcher and a hitter.

As a senior this year, she posted a 0.80 earned-run average and recorded 335 strikeouts in 219.1 innings. Not limited to the circle, Ward was a monster at the plate, hitting .432 with eight home runs and 64 RBI as a senior.

On the subject of softball, I did want to share some interesting nuggets from the media relations department. The starting point: MSU’s strength of schedule was the the best in the SEC in 2014. Or toughest, whichever way you want to look at it. In a conference which had both teams in the National Championship (Florida beat Alabama), MSU’s schedule was the hardest, with opponents owning a combined 0.563 winning percentage. Conference champion Alabama, for instance, was 11th in the SEC at 0.453.

What’s impressive is how MSU fared against that schedule, winning 39 games (the third most in program history), going to a third-straight NCAA Regional, making the SEC Tournament and winning eight games against top 25 teams, the second most in program history.

In other outdoor news, junior golfer Ally McDonald continues to be great at hitting the little white ball into a small hole hundreds of yards away. She began play in the Curtis Cup today, where she is one of eight amateurs from across the country representing USA. It’s the second time this athletic year that she’s been on a Team USA and it follows the end of a season in which MSU’s women’s golf team finished sixth at the National Championships.

McDonald has shared her intentions to return for her senior year, bolstering an already talented roster in 2014-15 for Ginger Brown-Lemm.

Two random university-related notes:

First, President Mark Keenum was elected to the Southeastern Conference executive committee, an important job and influential position. That announcement adds to his role already with the SEC on the content committee for the SEC Network. MSU’s President becomes even more important and involved with the conference.

Second, this is just cool. Mississippi State researchers have been studying woodpeckers and their ability to absorb so much shock to the head. The goal is to make football safer and decrease concussions in the sport. Check out the story here - http://www.bizjournals.com/memphis/news/2014/06/05/of-birds-beaks-and-better-football-helmets.html

And finally, two basketball notes. First, Rick Ray announced the hiring of Tanner Smith as a graduate assistant on his staff. Smith played for Ray at Clemson previously.

Speaking of new faces, the basketball video department put out a highlight reel of Fallou Ndoye from practice this year. The 6’11″ forward had to sit out in 2013-14, but he’ll be ready to play this fall and ought to make an immediate impact, judging by this video.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Unhittable Holder outstanding in Regional win over JSU

Outside the back window of Mississippi State’s team hotel, a dark river runs under a bridge, through the marsh and alongside the Hilton’s back deck and pool.

30, 40, maybe 50 feet across on the other side of the river sits an old dock with an old boat and an even older sign advertising authentic Louisiana swamp tours.

10388139_874074429274395_7981700491409124092_nIf Jonathan Holder, MSU’s All-American closer and hero of Saturday’s night Regional win, wanted to see turtles, birds and alligators up close, he could just step out the back door.

In fact, the Mississippi-born and Gulf Coast-raised pitcher may find he has a bit in common with some of these bayou beasts.

Holder, who struck out a career-high nine batters last night, is an intimidating sight on the mound. Just as fearsome as his looks is his steady, cool countenance, followed by quick attacks as sliders and fastballs come flying from his previously still and watchful stance.

Like the alligators surrounding the city of Lafayette, his move is meditated, quick and deathly strong when the bite comes down.

Gators, the slow-talking Louisiana swamp guides will tell you, are some of the animal kingdom’s most unbeatable creatures. Left on their own, the pre-historic reptiles live to be over 150 years old. There are alligators floating through the bayou today who were sunning in those shallow waters before the Civil War even thought about beginning.

If a gator loses a limb, its body automatically shuts off blood flow to the hurt area. They won’t bleed to death and they’ll live on as if they never needed that part of their scaly flesh anyway. Even if killed, only the tail and snout are worth eating. The meat in the middle of their bodies is so dense, strong and ancient that it will stay red no matter long you cook it. Only the desperately hungry will partake.

The ancient predators are calm under pressure – thriving under it, really – and unperturbed by boats floating by or cameras flashing during tours.

An alligator can take down an entire wild boar in one strike of it’s deadly jaws, though the dinosaur-like dwellers of the shallows can go an entire year without eating.

“So imagine how hungry he is when he sees you,” a Cajun tour guide says with half a smile.

10341665_874074525941052_5108393876529058115_nMSU made it to Louisiana on Thursday afternoon, but Holder had to wait until the end of the night Saturday for his first opportunity to strike. Like the gators in the black water, Holder is patient. He doesn’t know when his next chance to eat will come, but he’s always hungry, always waiting.

So when the opportunity comes – and it did Saturday against Jackson State – he’s ready.

“Those are the situations that I love the best,” Holder said, “adrenaline filled.”

In the fourth inning, Holder’s number was called. He stepped onto the mound with the bases loaded and two outs with the game tied at 1-1. If he missed even a little bit, the Tigers could blow the game open. If he hit right, he could save the day.

“Adrenaline is kind of my key,” Holder explained. “When I get to come in for situations that are high-pressure, I feel like my stuff is a little sharper, maybe, and I pound the zone.”

“Where is the game going to be be won or lost,” John Cohen asked himself Saturday. “It was right there.”

And he was right. Holder, as he always has, saved the day, even if he didn’t technically save the game, officially being credited with the win in the final box score.

What else was going to happen? Holder struck the last Tigers batter out, the first of many on the night as he went on to finish the game without allowing a run, throwing 49 strikes in just 65 pitches over 5.1 innings.

“He can lower his heart rate, get in the moment,” Cohen said after the win. “The way [hitters] were reacting to his breaking ball early on, we kind of thought Jonathan’s stuff was gonna be really good. They were late on the fastball, not seeing the breaking ball.”

The Tigers never had a chance, really. JSU hadn’t seen Holder pitch all season and they didn’t know coming in if they’d see him that night, anyway.

“His curveball is unhittable, even if you’ve seen it before,” MSU second baseman Brett Pirtle said. “He’s phenomenal. He just pounds the zone and he trusts his stuff.

“Playing behind him is so much fun,” he continued, “because you know he’s gonna come in and get the job done and you know you have a chance to win the game with him in there.”

Call it a closer or alligator mentality, Holder is always waiting, a placid façade hiding coiled and tensed muscles ready to jump into action at exactly the right moment.

But once on the mound, his mental approach is always the same.

“Be aggressive,” Holder said simply.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Two-out hits, dominating pitching and a surprise momentum shift – how MSU won game one in Lafayette

“It was the turning point for us in the dugout and in the game.”

10390206_873380432677128_7070424777819108936_nFriday afternoon at the Ragin’ Cajuns’ stadium was everything a south Louisiana summer day is expected to be. Hot, sticky, miserable, and doubly so for Mississippi State and San Diego State’s baseball teams who were spending hours in the sun on an artificial turf field reflecting the heat right back at them.

“Even for us who live in the south,” Bulldogs’ head coach John Cohen said, “this was hot and humid.”

Sweat was running down their backs and dripping off their faces and beards before batting practice was even over, and MSU’s players eventually retreated to the shade of their dugout in pre-game, not talking or moving, just sitting still and willing the heat to leave their bodies.

Occasional clouds offered brief respites from the glaring sun, though they did nothing to help the steamy air.

The pine trees surrounding the outfield were on the wrong side of the stadium to offer any shade, though they sat in the perfect spot to block any wind that might try to sneak in and cool off the players on Tigue Moore Field. Hard to say which was stickier: the sap on the trees or the jerseys on backs.

It was a swampy afternoon in Lafayette.

Then the game finally started.

And in the second inning, it blew open like one of the heavy rain clouds surrounding the stadium had been threatening to do all day.

Trevor Fitts had thrown a stellar 1-2-3 first frame, but something got a little off when the second inning began and the Aztecs managed to push across two runs, taking a 2-0 lead much earlier than any State fan felt comfortable with.

Batting in the bottom of the second, MSU’s first batter went down. So did the second. It moved almost too quick and seemingly everyone in Maroon and White had the same fear they were scared to verbalize. It was only the second inning, but somehow the game felt almost over. SDSU had landed the first punch and it felt like a knockout blow.

But then the Aztecs slipped. An eventual theme for the game, senior Alex Detz singled with two outs to get on first as the designated hitter. A sign of life and the first hit of the game.

Following him, the team captain stepped to the plate. Wes Rea, a hero so often, took a chop at the pitch, knocked it up the middle and watched it bounce into the glove of the shortstop. Neither he nor Detz had hope of reaching their respective bases safe and the inning looked like the disappointing inning was about to end.

It was a routine play, one the Aztec shortstop had made dozens of times before.

“Ray was running and had an opportunity to set his feet and throw it to first,” SDSU assistant coach Mark Martinez recalled. “But he chose to try and flip it [to second] instead and it kinda hung in the air too long.”

As the ball hung in the air over second base, Detz slid into the bag on the ground underneath, safely reaching the base as Rea strode across first, safe himself.

The play that should’ve ended the inning instead finished with two runners safely on base.

“I think that was the determining play of the game,” Martinez later told reporters. “If we get out of the inning, we put up a zero.”

But they didn’t get out of it. Matthew Britton stepped to the plate next and his RBI single scored Detz, getting the Bulldogs on the board and only down one.

Still two outs, even though it should have been three and done, C.T. Bradford came up next and was walked, loading the bases for the Bulldogs.

PGGCAFFLNZLBYQX.20140530201551Up stepped Jake Vickerson, with Bulldog heroics running in his bloodline, and he knew precisely what to do.

“Coach Cohen pulled me over and told me to be ready to swing on the first pitch,” Vickerson said afterward. “The pitcher had thrown four-straight balls and Coach said he’d want to get back in the strike zone.”

So Vickerson followed orders. The result was a crushed ball to deep right field, one which for a moment looked as if it may even leave the park and land somewhere among the pines surrounding the fence.

“I knew it was going over the outfielder’s head,” Vickerson said. “I just put my head down and ran.”

And he kept running, all the way to third base, a bases-clearing triple giving MSU the lead and then some.

That two-out hit gave MSU a lead they would never lose. Though they really shouldn’t have had the chance at that hit anyway.

Baseball can be funny like that, Cohen remarked later that night.

Some kind of bayou voodoo or sweet air slipping through the trees made a quick change on that hot field. Momentum switched dugouts in the split seconds when that flipped ball hung in the air over second base, mojo siding with the Bulldogs and never leaving.

“There’s an energy,” Cohen answered when asked if he felt the momentum shift to his dugout. “You’ve got two teams really fighting. It’s early in the day, it’s pretty warm … You really felt in the dugout that there was some momentum. That’s how it goes in this game, having something fall your way. The big hit, clearing the bases – all those things are really important to the psyche of the club.”

From that moment until the end of the game, his Bulldogs were in control. The story after that wild second inning became MSU’s pitching, as the duo of Fitts and sophomore reliever Myles Gentry shut the Aztecs down.

“We were really sloppy in that inning,” Cohen said, “and from that point forward we got a lot better.”

Something changed in Fitts and he cruised through the next three innings, retiring batter after batter and never slowing down.

“Hats off to him,” SDSU’s Tim Zeir said after conceding praise for the pitcher he and his teammates struggled so much against the rest of the game.

Fitts retired his last four batters in a row, running through the end of the fifth inning, only to be followed by Gentry who sat down an incredible 12-straight to end the game flawlessly.

“I’m so proud of what Trevor did – he beat the game,” Cohen said.

He then switched his commentary to Gentry, sharing how badly they wanted the sidearmed sophomore in the game.

“We felt like Myles was gonna be a great match-up for this club before we even played,” Cohen continued. “His last three or four outings, he has really spun the baseball well. You watch it and go, ‘This guy’s gotta pitch.’”

Following the 5-2 win, Fitts and Gentry, as well as Vickerson, got their due moment in front of the camera.

When MSU’s sports information director asked Fitts to speak to media to postgame, he had to explain that it wasn’t like usual. At home games, reporters just stand around outside the dugout and chat.

This, however, was the NCAA Tournament.

“You’re on a stage, behind a table, microphones in front of you and an NCAA sign behind you while a moderator runs the press conference,” Kyle Niblett told Fitts.

“I was really pumped about it,” Fitts later admitted. “I was like ‘Heck yeah, I really wanted to do this last year and I never got to during that whole World Series run.’ Then I was like, ‘Dang I should take a selfie up there.’”

unnamedAny way to commemorate the moment.

The same pitcher whose PowerPoint convinced Cohen to let the team have beards again was the guy who in the middle of an NCAA Tournament press conference took a selfie on the podium with his teammates and his coach who wasn’t looking.

And that’s who Fitts is. His teammates call him an energy bunny, while opponents just get mowed down and don’t call him much of anything.

And his reference to last year’s run seems appropriate. The mojo MSU had Friday is similar in kind to what gave them so much momentum around this time last summer.

Mental strength, timely hitting, dominating pitching – all under the summer sun.

No one on the team was surprised to see all five runs come when the Bulldogs had two outs Friday afternoon, nor was it a shock to see such command on the mound.

MSU was just waiting on its moment, and they got it in that second inning.

“We talk about it all the time,” Vickerson said, “creating the big inning.”

“I think it says a lot,” Cohen mused. “It speaks to the maturity of our kids. When we got on that run to Omaha last year, it happened a lot. We got a ton of two-out production. I think good clubs do that.”

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Notebook: Tons of baseball notes, plus SEC notes from Destin and more

Leading off with obvious things here: there’s a lot to talk about with Mississippi State baseball right now as they prepare to head to Lafayette for the ULL-hosted NCAA Regional.

KDJQOSNBUWPLDHC.20140202161859More on some of these later, but for the moment, the quick list of storylines for the weekend is longer than expected.

  • To start, MSU’s first opponent – San Diego State – is a rare west coast team for the Bulldogs to play and one State knows little about, and vice-versa. John Cohen said Monday that coaches have their ways and he was confident in the ability to get tape on the Aztecs so they could study.
  • On that note, Cohen said what they see in that tape could help decide what MSU does with its pitching rotation. It seems Trevor Fitts, Ross Mitchell and Lucas Laster have worked themselves into the top three, but the order MSU uses them this weekend is up in the air. Cohen said it will mostly be about who is truly ready, though anything glaring on film study could change that.
  • The fourth team in this Regional is actually one MSU knows well: Jackson State. In fact, when their team bus caught fire a few weeks back, MSU loaded up a truck full of gear, clothing and other baseball necessities to help cover for their equipment losses. It’s possible MSU could go the full weekend without playing the Tigers, but it’s still neat to see someone you know on the road.
  • Speaking of connections, there are a bunch for MSU and ULL: the MSU men’s tennis team opened NCAA Tourney play with a win against the Ragin’ Cajuns a few weeks back, MSU’s softball team was placed in the ULL Regional two weeks ago (which helps Cohen’s staff as they have someone very familiar with the area) and as Cohen pointed out, former MSU wide receivers coach Mark Hudspeth is now the head football coach at ULL.
  • Looking to the skies, the city of Lafayette is under several inches of water at this moment and it sounds like more rain might be on the way this weekend. The good news is that ULL’s field is turf and has a recently-installed drainage system, so the playing surface ought to be OK.
  • Speaking of Ragin’ Cajun facilities, the fullness of their stadium appears to be causing some concern for State fans. The Regional is, in effect, sold out, as ULL season-ticket holders and donors were offered first crack at ticket books and bought them all. However, that doesn’t mean MSU fans can’t watch their Bulldogs. ULL fans have taken to MSU message boards saying they’ll be selling their tickets for non-ULL games, such as the opener between MSU and SDSU, and the ULL athletic department has announced they’ll sell additional $10 general admission tickets to non-ULL games if the stadium isn’t full once they get to 10 minutes before first pitch of those games, which it almost assuredly won’t be. There won’t be 10k-plus tickets available like State fans are used to at Dudy Noble, but there seem to be enough avenues to accommodate most Bulldogs on the road, though it will be much harder to get into a game between MSU and ULL if it happens.
  • For those not going to Lafayette, all games will be broadcast on ESPN3. The option is there for ESPN networks to pick up any game, but at this point no such plans have been made. Kevin Dunn from the Longhorn Network and former major leaguer Keith Moreland will get the call for ESPN3 all weekend, according to ULL reporter Tim Buckley.
  • MSU leaves for Lafayette around noon on Thursday.

———————————————

Some non-regional baseball notes:

BHUCQVERQVFSXFE.20130421001602

  • The All-SEC teams were announced yesterday, with seven spots taken by Bulldogs on the list. Junior pitcher Jacob Lindgren was MSU’s sole representative on the first team, while senior second baseman Brett Pirtle and junior pitcher Ross Mitchell both made second team. Catcher Gavin Collins was named to the All-Freshman team, while Pirtle and junior shortstop Seth Heck were both named to the All-Defensive team. Additionally, Heck was named the SEC’s Scholar-Athlete of the Year, a very big honor. In fact, it’s the second year in a row a Bulldog has won it, after Sam Frost earned the title in 2013.
  • Earlier this week, Mitchell was named to the SEC Community Service Team, while Collins and senior outfielder C.T. Bradford were both named All-Tournament at the SEC Tourney.
  • Also, some news from the pros: former Bulldog Hunter Renfroe has apparently been tearing it up in California Advanced A, where he has a league-leading 12 home runs, as well as 40 RBI. More on all of the 22 Bulldogs in the MLB and minors here http://www.hailstate.com/ViewArticle.dbml?DB_OEM_ID=16800&ATCLID=209510770

———————————————

Now for things which aren’t baseball, including some updates from SEC meetings in Destin. More news ought to come out today and tomorrow, but we got a little bit yesterday, too.

  • FNJKOVIMGCNRRRQ.20110929135116Florida Today Gators reporter David Jones was one of many who caught up with Dan Mullen, and it was Mullen who shared some big news: the conference coaches seem to be in agreement on the idea of an early signing day in college football. They’ve pegged the Monday after Thanksgiving (or the Monday after the Egg Bowl, depending who you are) for the target date. The only issue is that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive seems less enthusiastic about the idea and implied nothing is imminent or unanimous on that front.
  • Jones also asked about new SEC Network analyst and former Mullen quarterback Tim Tebow, a question which garnered one of Mullen’s self-deprecating and joking answers. Could MSU’s coach see his former player ripping him on the SEC Network? “Absolutely,” Mullen joked. “We didn’t always see eye-to-eye.”
  • In other SEC news, Slive announced plans for the SEC men’s basketball tournament to be hosted in St. Louis in 2018 and Tampa in 2022, with Nashville as the host in other years. He also shared plans for the women’s conference basketball tournament to take place in Jacksonville in 2016.
  • Switching sports, MSU track and field had five All-SEC honorees named this week as Brandon McBride made first team and Scottie Hearn earned second team for the men, while Rochelle Farquharson made first team, Cornelia Griesche checked in on the second team and Rhianwedd Price earned all-freshman for the women.
  • On the links, a big promotion came for men’s assistant golf coach Sean Covich, who was hired as the new head coach at West Virginia for Mountaineers golf. Covich was a central figure in the recent rise of MSU golf.
  • And finally, one note on the educational front: MSU had 38 student-athletes earn degrees at the end of the spring semester. Congrats to them all.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

10 storylines to watch at 100 days until kickoff of MSU football

Today, May 22, we find ourselves exactly 100 days away from kickoff of Mississippi State’s 2014 football season. It would be a bit much to list a highlight for each of those days, but we’ve compiled a list of 10 storylines to watch as we countdown to August 30th and the opening of the expanded Davis Wade Stadium.

1. #DakAttack

He comes through in the clutch, he’s on Heisman watch lists and he can score touchdowns by passing, rushing or receiving. Dak Prescott is Batman without the mask, the hero Starkville wants, loves and knows personally, thanks to the way he wears his emotions on the sleeve surrounding his magically-healed arm.

SPMYTOXCPRHRGRV.20131129050855The perfect Dan Mullen quarterback, Prescott enters his first year as the starter and the face of a team many are picking to make a jump in the SEC West. Stories will be written about him every day and eyes will follow him every weekend as he leads the Bulldogs in 2014. There are several recognized stars on this team and Prescott is the smiling face on the center of the poster.

2. Sellout streak

Davis Wade Stadium is sitting on 30-consecutive sellouts, an impressive streak beginning in Dan Mullen’s first year on campus. In 2014, DWS will be about 6,000 seats bigger. Will the streak continue?

Between records at Dudy Noble, the Hoover Met, TD Ameritrade and MSU’s softball stadium, as well as massive crowds in Jacksonville, Nashville and Memphis, State fans have spent the last five years proving to anyone who will notice that they show up in droves to support their teams, whether at home or on the road. Mullen spent much of the offseason challenging fans to continue that tradition.

“We went to four-straight bowl games and the expectations were raised,” Mullen said. “You sold out 30 games, so we expanded the stadium. The expectations are raised for you, too.”

3. 19 of 22 back on defensive two deep

You’ve seen this stat a lot if you followed MSU football much in the offseason, but it’s worth noting often. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins is back and so is the overwhelming majority of his defense, which many are projecting to be among the best in the SEC. In a tough, physical conference such as this one, Mullen has always pointed out the need to have a defense which is two or three deep, and this spring MSU stopped referring to its units as first team and second team. Instead, it’s first team A and first team B. There are 22 starters in Collins’ juiced unit and mayhem is the goal.

4. What are the expectations, and can MSU handle them?

Some will project MSU as bottom of the West, while others will say they’re a dark horse to win it. Regardless of what those on the outside say, the expectation within the locker room is to win the division, and that comes from the [dark] horse’s mouth.

Whatever spot they get picked preseason, the Bulldogs will have more attention than ever from both local and national media. Guys work their entire lives to get in the spotlight, but then you have to handle it right when you get there, and the work to stay in the spotlight is greater than what it took to earn that spot in the first place.

5. Chris Jones (who?) Chris Jones

ncf_i_chrisjones_ms_600x600“Sleeping giant” might not be the right description for him, because Chris Jones certainly wasn’t asleep last year, but it seems the potential of MSU’s star defensive lineman is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. We’ve been barely seen what the nimble mammoth can do and he’ll enter 2014 with an actual offseason of training, a regular season of experience and every opposing coach planning for him.

6. 100 years of Scott Field, with expanded Davis Wade

As we sit 100 days away from kickoff, this will also be 100 years since play on Scott Field first began. From 1914 to 2014, some of college football’s biggest stars, greatest coaches and most recognized voices have journeyed to Scott Field, whether as a visitor or a member of the home team. The very first Bully was led by military processional and buried underneath Scott Field, an appropriate tribute to the school’s first-ever mascot.

Surrounding Scott Field, Davis Wade Stadium will look far different than ever before as the north end zone expansion will be complete, with the addition of a second humongous video board and over 6,000 seats.

7. Benardrick McKinney

MSU has as many as recognizable stars as they’ve had in years and the man at the middle of State’s defense is chief among them. Some thought he could have been a top-round pick in THIS year’s NFL Draft, had he declared, but Benardrick McKinney is back for his redshirt junior year and he might be the best linebacker in the country, not just the SEC.

Already a central figure in Collins’ defense, Mckinney has the pieces around him to open the field for a huge year. Sacks, tackles, interceptions and forced fumbles – he ought to rack up award-winning numbers in 2014.

8. How does offensive line shakeout?

O-line coach John Hevesy has the biggest hole to fill of any on the staff, both literally and metaphorically, as All-American left guard and four-year starter Gabe Jackson is off to the NFL. Hevesy has three very experienced starters returning on the line, however, and Justin Malone could count as a fourth as he comes back from an injury suffered in the season-opener last year. If MSU can fill the graduation-created holes at left guard and right tackle (and they seem confident they can), the Bulldogs are in for a big season on offense.

9. Jameon Lewis top returning receiver in SEC

OXHVDDDACCWANZN.20131231233943The best returning receiver in the conference this year? One could easily make the case for Jameon Lewis, the do-everything senior for MSU. He’s got more yards than any others back in 2014 and he’s one of the very few players in the country to have scored career touchdowns rushing, receiving, passing and returning. In fact, twice in 2014 he scored three different ways in the same game.

Lewis and Prescott showed immediate rapport in 2013 and everything indicates that will continue in 2014.

10. Mullen as 100 percent offensive coordinator

Let the record show, Dan Mullen has always been the guy in charge of the offense. But this year it goes to another level. After Les Koenning left for Texas, Mullen hired a quarterbacks coach, but not an offensive coordinator. He himself is the coordinator now. The offense runs through Mullen – playcalling, pace, formations, the works. He’s got the personnel he wants and he’s going to run the offense he wants.

Based on his history as an offensive coordinator – particularly with a dual-threat quarterback – that ought to be a good thing for the Bulldogs.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment