By a score of 48-15, Mississippi State baseball went 4-0 on opening weekend at Dudy Noble, which included the biggest opening day crowd of John Cohen’s tenure on Friday afternoon.
Picking out one star, or one part of the game to be praised, is a bit difficult. Throughout the lineup and both at the plate and on the mound, MSU performed well.
For example, State’s bullpen pitched 22 out of 24 scoreless innings over the weekend. Worthy of remark, to be sure. Then, on their own plate, MSU’s 48 runs were the most in a four game stretch in eight years when the 2007 College World Series team had 53.
Said Cohen, “We scored a lot of runs this weekend, and in this ballpark, that’s not an easy thing to do. Hopefully that’s a trend that continues for us.”
There are a lot of reasons for that production, many players who had big games and bigger weekends. Perhaps none were hotter than sophomore outfielder Jacob Robson, one of only three Bulldogs to start every game. The speedster from Canada reached base safely in 16 of his 17 plate appearances. That’s kind of good.
“I’ve just taken a little bit of effort out of my swing,” Robson said. “There’s a better chance of me hitting the ball. As a speed player, putting the ball in play is essential, even if it’s not the hardest ball.”
It’s worked for him, and it’s been equally advantageous for Wes Rea, the senior behind him in the order. In three games this weekend (he sat out Sunday as a precaution after being hit in the knee by a pitch Saturday), Rea hit .375 and racked up a team-high seven RBI. Perhaps most exciting was his grand slam on Saturday, one of several times over the weekend MSU batters produced with the bases loaded.
“That’s the swing I’ve been working on,” Rea said.
Said Cohen, “I felt so confident at the end of the fall and the beginning of the spring, just because I’d never seen [Wes] in the rhythm he was in going into the season. If guys are on base, there’s no doubt he’s going to have a great year.”
It wasn’t just those two, of course. Freshman Ryan Gridley went 4-for-6 is in his first action as a Bulldog this weekend and scored four runs in the process. Junior infielder John Holland broke through Sunday with three hits and four RBI in the weekend finale. Sophomore outfielder Reid Humphreys started the weekend 0-for-6, but then rallied to finish the weekend on a hot streak of 6-for-10, including a home run and five RBI. Then, of course, there’s senior shortstop Seth Heck who extended his on-base streak to 34-straight games. That, naturally, dates back to last season.
On the mound, MSU had a host of big performances from veterans and newcomers alike. It seems, however, the most impressive one might be that of sophomore Vance ‘Moonlight’ Tatum. Appearing in relief Saturday, Tatum pitched 4.2 scoreless innings and earned the win for the Bulldogs.
Senior captain Trevor Fitts said last week he believes Tatum has the talent to keep MSU from having any dropoff with the loss of Jacob Lindgren, and judging by the way Cohen talked afterward, we might need to expect an increased role for the impressive sophomore.
“We knew he was going to be important to us,” Cohen said. “We really felt like he was going to be more of an end of the game guy, but we had to bring him in a little early. His role might evolve, because he’s that good. He can throw three different pitches in the strike zone and he’s highly competitive.”
Tatum joined Fitts, Ross Mitchell, Daniel Brown and Zac Houston as State pitchers who threw at least three innings without giving up a single run this weekend.
MSU’s performance in those four games made a statement for a team the polls couldn’t seem to decide on or trust in the preseason. Whether or not those on the outside expected it, those in the locker room had full confidence it would happen, and they don’t believe it will stop any time soon.
“I don’t think it’s a surprise,” Robson told reporters afterward.
Their key now is to keep it up.