The Notebook: Wrapping up a busy and successful weekend in MSU sports

So, a lot happened this weekend. The schedule will continue to be full as the spring rolls along, so we’ll have plenty to keep us occupied and entertained. It’s a fun time of year. Let’s start today off with baseball.

NKTVBPLFACLLSWZ.20140202181728John Cohen shared on Twitter that pitcher Trevor Fitts and outfielder Jake Vickerson were the respective Pitcher and Player of the Week for MSU. Vickerson, the younger brother of Nick, is making a push for a starting gig at one of the corner outfield spots. He’s one of if not the fastest guy on the team and started this weekend of scrimmages 5-for-5 at the plate.

Fitts, who started to be relied on more in the postseason last year, had his best outing of the postseason on Saturday, racking up five strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings, only giving up one hit and allowing zero runs. I’ll have more on Fitts soon, but his big day is just one of the many storylines from the pitching staff.

Freshmen Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton were both particularly impressive in a Sunday duel, and it’s that Sunday starting gig both may be after.

Elsewhere, pitching coach Butch Thompson said junior pitcher Brandon Woodruff is getting better and better, and is likely the starter for opening night. He said he may get vetoed, of course, but that’s what he would like to see. The rest of the spots, he said, are pretty much up for grabs and they hope to have the rotation set early this week.

More from Thompson on the pitching this weekend and going forward:

“I just feel like we’ve been inching closer and closer to being ready to go. I know coach has eluded to it, the last two days have been a reprieve from the weather a little bit and I feel like the arms have turned better. The hitters are getting on time more, also, but I think it’s helping us choose what pitches to get to.

“The two freshman starters made you feel like you have more depth today. They’ve consistently gone out and been competitive. It’s not just in the ability to make pitches, but in the running game, their field position, their awareness. We feel good about them.

“We brought our relievers back. This was the first time I got Holder in twice. I got a lot of these relievers two appearances in the same weekend. Down the road, that’s important.”

We’ve got media day with Cohen and the rest of the team tomorrow afternoon, so be on the lookout for that. Also, if you missed it Saturday, I rode with a few players as they delivered tickets to season ticket holders Saturday morning. Click down one blog post to check out that story.

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SSBEMRNWQWVIGPD.20140208215840A couple notes from basketball Saturday: MSU obviously lost, falling to Kentucky 69-59, the mood in post game felt, at the very least, like a tie, if not a win. Rick Ray warned his team not to get into moral victories, but the effort he saw from the players might have been the best of the year. If they played every game like that, he said, they’d have won a few more.

John Calipari had a similar refrain, constantly pausing in discussion on his own team to praise Ray and MSU for how well-coached they are and how hard they fought.

While Ray has conceded he doesn’t have the bodies to keep down the stretch (MSU led Kentucky early in both games this year), his counterparts across the SEC seem impressed with what he’s building toward, as Calipari joined Florida’s Billy Donovan in the group of coaches speaking exceedingly highly of Ray’s program.

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On another diamond, Vann Stuedeman and the MSU softball team had a tremendous opening weekend, winning all five games by a combined score of 43-3. That’s good, as I understand it.

She, too, felt her team had a promising start to the season.

“Feel real good about our depth,” she said. “We have a lot of speed. We were 24 for 24 on stolen bases. We had a pinch hit today, bases loaded double, two RBI.

“I’m looking forward to having a little bit of depth. Really good defense. I think we made one error in five games, which is good to see. It’s good to see the whole pitching staff throwing. Big picture looks good. We gotta work hard, though. We’ve gotta continue to grind and get better every day.”

A few notes, courtesy of media relations superstar Sarah Fetters:

– Mississippi State finished opening weekend hitting .368 as a team with a .519 on-base percentage.

– MSU completed the five games with 24 stolen bases. A year ago through five games, the Bulldogs had tallied 17 swipes. Mississippi State did not reach the 24-swipe total until game seven in 2013.

– Freshman Caroline Seitz slugged .929 during the opening weekend. The rookie MSU single-season record is .756 by Courtney Bures in 2005.

– Junior Julia Echols has hit .500 (five-for-10) with four runs batted in during the first five games of the season. In all of 2013, Echols tallied 10 RBI and 17 hits.

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Also on Sunday, MSU’s Top-10 men’s tennis team won another pair of matches, one over a ranked opponent, stretching their record to an unblemished 8-0. It’s the best start to a season for the program since 1972, when State started 9-0.

On Saturday, women’s tennis beat UAB in particularly impressive, winning every single set on the way to a 7-0 victory, improving their season record to 3-1.

“It was a challenge for the girls to be off for almost two weeks,” said head coach Daryl Greenan. “But they responded well. They played solid in doubles and were able to keep that going into singles. It was a collective effort and I’m really proud of how everyone played today.”

I’m not sure if other’s have pointed out, but the program had a big moment when it entered the rankings for the first time in some years, checking in at No. 75 in the most recent poll. It’s hard to offer a comparison for what the ranking means, but suffice to say it’s a big deal for MSU.

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SNOYEUVKHDFPUIA.20140209025338Outside of our hospitable Mississippi borders, both the men’s and women’s track teams pulled in No. 2 finishes at the New Balance Invitational in New York, once of the biggest meets in collegiate track and field each spring. The Bulldogs finished ahead of several highly-ranked teams, both SEC and non, to get the high finishes.

“Our teams have been training extremely hard, and to go out there and perform the way they did was outstanding,” MSU coach Steve Dudley said. “This meet is one of the most well-recognized and respected competitions in the country. I’m so happy for them, because they really deserve this.”

Particularly impressive to me was the high jump of Marcus Jackson, who cleared 7’3.75″. So, basically, Shaq could stand there and Jackson jumped over him with room to spare.

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BHFSNRPMKDVHDZA.20140208215838Also outside the state, the Top-25 women’s golf program got started a little bit this weekend when Georgia hosted the Lady Bulldog Individual Championship. MSU’s Rica Tse tied for third place at the event and was actually one shot off the win.

“I am really proud of Rica today. She has been working extremely hard in the offseason and it paid off for her,” fourth-year head coachGinger Brown-Lemm said. “It was critical experience for Blaise, Logan and Izel. They are not experienced collegiate players yet, but gained valuable experience for future use.”

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On Sunday afternoon, Vic Schaefer and the women’s basketball team fell 51-43 at Auburn. The Bulldogs actually led by eight at halftime, but frustrations on offense ultimately lost that lead, scoring only 15 points in the second half, along with 27 turnovers.

“We had some really good effort today from some individuals,” Schaefer said. “We had some times today when four players were getting it done defensively, and it is game of five. That is when it gets frustrating.”

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