Jones Zaps Zips In Opening Day Shutout Win

Those forecasts for lower-scoring, faster-paced games might ultimately prove accurate. But this era of low-powered bats still began with a high-scoring afternoon as the Diamond Dogs slugged Akron 11-0 in their season opener at Dudy Noble Field.

Mississippi State cranked out 14 base hits at the Zips (1-1) expense, half of them for extra bases including home runs by DH Nick Vickerson and SS Johnathan Ogden. Eight of the nine Bulldog starters either accounted for a hit, a run, or an RBI in the opening-afternoon rout. Those numbers seemed to belie expectations that revised college bats would cut all offense dramatically.

Yet Ogden had an explanation for the opening day outburst. "Every single of us was so anxious to get out here. It felt good, and it was a great way to start off the season."

What made the greatest impression though wasn't at the plate. It was on the mound where Devin Jones dominated this day. Handed the ball for the first pitching of 2011, the junior righthander responded with the best outing ever at State. He mastered Akron for seven complete innings, the longest stint of his college career, facing just one man more than the minimum with one walk and a single.

"I felt real good," said Jones. "I just tried to locate and get ground balls, that was a big thing today. And I had great defense behind me. We got up a couple of runs and that allowed me to settle in, and I feel it was a great outing."

Jones wasn't the only one feeling that way. "Devin did what he's been doing in fall and spring. I'm so happy for him because his actions spoke today, and if he pitches like that he's going to win a lot for us." Should Jones be able to work both as fast and effectively as this first outing, he will. Those seven frames involved just 68 pitches tossed, beginning with just six offerings needed to retire the first-inning side.

"We've been working on limiting pitches with all our pitches and I feel it's working well, along with our defense again," Jones said. As for what was working well on opening day, "All of it was efficient. The slider needs a little work for strikes but it got me outs when I got in a jam. For the most part I filled up the strike zone."

So did the other Dog to throw, as true freshman Daryl Norris took care of the last two innings with five strikeouts and a walk. Alex Loftin took the loss for Akron, putting in 5.1 innings with five runs on seven hits, three walks, and two strikeouts.

After Jones' quick first frame, his offensive cohorts knocked out the first run of 2011. Literally out, as leadoff man Vickerson mooted much dead-bat discussion on the second pitch. His drive carried over left-centerfield. State's other first-inning run was manufactured. 1B Ryan Collins walked, stole second base, took third on a strikeout/wild pitch to LF Brent Brownlee, and came home on a fly ball off the bat of CF Jaron Shepherd.

That was enough initial cushion for Jones to really relax. He did open the second inning with a walk but nothing came of it, and a pair of third-inning strikeouts showed he was getting into the groove. Jones even tried to work changeups into his repertoire, and while he said one of those accounted for the only Zip hit one out into the fourth "He didn't get a good piece of it." Jones responded by coming back with another changeup that was lifted into rightfield.

Not only did rookie C.T. Bradford make the grab but he was able to double-off runner Drew Turocy who was ‘sold' into taking second by MSU infielders. Jones sat nine-straight to end the stint.

By then the Bulldogs had blown it open with six runs in their sixth turn. Shepherd got it going with a leadoff single and C Wes Thigpen bunted him over. Bradford looked at a strike on 3-0, fouled off another, but looked like a veteran lining one over the second baseman to score Shepherd and take second on the single. Loftin's day ended on the next State swing as Ogden lifted a fly ball that carried over left-centerfield for two more RBI, a 5-0 scoreboard, and Zips pitching change.

Righthander and side-armer Benjamin Danziger had no better results, walking 2B Sam Frost and Collins and allowing both to steal safely. 3B Jarrod Parks had tripled in the previous innings without further results, but his double this time produced another pair of runs. Brownlee scored Parks with a two-bagger as well, though he overslid the second sack to end the inning after the runner crossed.

The Bulldogs padded their final margin in the seventh, with three-straight singles to start the surge. Substitute SS Demarcus Henderson scored Shepherd with a ground-out, and with two outs Collins got another pair of RBI with a single to leftfield. Reliever Jon Pusateri entered to end that inning and throw the bottom of the eighth as well.

He wasn't as dramatic as MSU rookie Norris though, as the righthander shot down five of the seven he faced. His Dog debut symbolized much of what Cohen hopes can happen over the course of this season in fact, as the coach worked five true freshmen into opening day action.

"It's invaluable to have a guy like C.T. Bradford get some big hits under his belt; to get a Demarcus Henderson on the field, a Hunter Renfroe," Cohen said. "Getting all those guys involved in day-one is important because they're going to be a factor."

Friday also saw the first use of the pitch clock, which was not invoked in State's win but did come into play early in Arkron's 2-1 win over Lamar. For his part Jones did not think the clock was any factor, but he did believe the bats were partly responsible for this game getting done in exactly 2:00 official hours.

"It definitely helped speed up the pace of the game. And Darryl came in and did a great job throwing strikes."

An 11-run outburst the first time around probably is not an indicator of what to look for all season, Ogden cautioned. "We're probably one of the smallest teams in the SEC and we're not going to be a big power team," he said, despite apparently disproving it himself with the homer. "We're going to be scrappy and bunt and line-drive." And, pitch-and-field, too, as long as moundsmen fill the zone the way Jones and Norris did Friday.

Ogden also applauded the 3,074 that made opening afternoon. "We definitely needed to show them that we're here to play this year and it's going to be a different year."

That, agreed his coach, is the goal. "There's going to be some bumps in the road but it's great to start off like that." Cohen also should feel greater having gotten another stressful Friday event taken care of. "I don't know what's frightening, starting off a new season or your daughter getting her driver's license today."

The Bulldogs continue opening weekend with two Saturday games. They take on Lamar at 11:30am with sophomore Chris Stratton starting; then turn around for a rematch with Akron at 3:30. Chad Girodo has been booked for first pitch. Sunday will put Tim Statz on the hill for State at 2:30 against Lamar.

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