Nerves Get Fitts Ready For World Series Start

OMAHA -- He's already started once here. So there oughtn't be any more big-game butterflies, right? Trevor Fitts just laughs. Really laughs. "Yeah, I get nervous every game, it doesn't matter. I just feel if I didn't get nervous for a game I wouldn't be playing the game any more, it wouldn't matter to me."

Monday's contest most assuredly matters, for Fitts and the Diamond Dogs and everyone ever associated with Bulldog baseball. Mississippi State is playing UCLA for the College World Series championship, with the best-of-three series beginning Monday evening. And because the Dogs are game-one home team, it will be Fitts standing on the mound with ball in right hand.

"If I get the start it will be an awesome opportunity for me," the sophomore said. "But anybody on our pitching staff that may get the nod will do a great job."

There is no ‘if' to it any more as Coach John Cohen confirmed following Sunday's practice at Creighton University. The Bruins have booked righthander Adam Plutko (9-3, 2.29), their usual series-starter.

Something Fitts is certainly not. In fact he has started just five of his 17 appearances this year, and has yet to pick up a decision either way. His total innings? 28.1 of ‘em compared to Plutko's 118.0 in 18 starts. This much as anything represents the utterly-opposing approach to pitching taken by Mississippi State this season compared to, well, anyone else.

If this means he is the most obscure starter in this Series field, that is just fine by Fitts.

"Yeah, I kind of like that I guess! I'd rather people not know who I am and then me come in and hopefully dominate the game and stuff like that. If people don't know me they don't see me coming."

UCLA has seen Fitts, at least a little. He lasted 2.1 innings in Monday's win over Indiana, with two runs on as many hits, a walk and four strikeouts. The decision went to Chad Girodo on 6.1 superb innings of very long-relief with Jonathan Holder picking up a 21st save of the season. Still Fitts felt like a winner, having gotten to toe Ameritrade Park rubber and throw on the biggest stage of all college ball.

"It was just an amazing feeling, all those people watching and stuff like that. I couldn't ask for a better experience, except to go for more innings obviously! But that all starts with me and how I throw the ball, pound the zone."

As the linescore showed Fitts might have gone longer against the Hoosiers had he not given a one-out walk in the second inning, followed by a wild pitch and RBI-single. He was lifted an out and a hit into the third inning, with that runner also scoring eventually. Fitts felt he showed some signs of finding the rhythm, not to mention strike zone, that could bode well for a second start.

"I hope to pick up where I left off, just throw a lot of first pitch strikes and really pound the zone. I feel that's what propels pitchers into the game and stuff like that."

At the same time, UCLA is not an easy team to fan often. So Fitts has no illusions about blowing the Bruins away early or at all. Just the opposite.

"I see that they grind out at-bats, they're not going to just roll over because they may not have the highest batting averages. They're not going to give up, they've been finding ways to win of late. So we're going to try to make sure they don't find those ways."

Interestingly, Fitts has seen this sort of act before. By his own ball club. Perhaps not as often here in 2013 as the Bulldogs became a more proficient offensive order. In 2012 now, it was a scratch-and-claw from opening day to last out. And Mississippi State still won its share, Fitts said. "Last year we didn't have very good batting averages but we still won the SEC Tournament and had a great year."

This year is greater by-far as the long-sought national championship is right within reach. Of two teams that is, and going into the week it will take a brave bettor to stand on either side. Not least because Ameritrade Park has almost taken the longball out of the offensive equation. Almost, as State's Hunter Renfroe showed Friday with a three-run homer against Oregon State. Even that one was not a classic loft-job, and Fitts has seen the consistent south wind knocking well-struck balls down short of the fence.

More to the point, the pitcher agrees: this College World Series finals matches the two teams out of eight qualifiers which best-suit the ballpark. It is no coincidence.

"Both teams have great pitching staffs and stuff like that. I haven't looked at UCLA hitters too much but I know our hitters are focused on ground balls and line drives. I mean Renfroe's home run, it wasn't just a big league pop-up. It was more of a line drive. And Wes (Rea) had a pretty good shot at it too.

"It's great feeling. I love pitching in big ballparks, obviously since I chose Mississippi State! Dudy Noble is awesome."

In his first CWS start Fitts had a familiar face in the stands. High school coach Jeff Mauldin was in town for the game. "His son's team had the Omaha tournament. So he had to leave, it was getting too expensive to stay here the whole time! But he was like yeah, you threw a good game, I just don't understand why you threw so many breaking balls! So he's still wondering why I'm throwing certain pitches in certain situations."

To get outs of course, as a starter should. True, the label ‘starter' means something pretty different for Mississippi State. They are tasked with limiting damage for two, three, if very effective four or five innings before giving the game to that bullpen bunch. It's a backwards approach for baseball purists but has worked out amazingly well for the Bulldogs.

This is a much larger matter, and with the great prize at stake State is letting Fitts start a series for his first time. Though, he was the game-one choice for the SEC Tournament; mostly as that ‘series' began on a Tuesday.

Either way, "It's kind of like you're playing the regional and super regional all over again," Fitts said. "We just got done with another regional, basically, and now have the super again. And anything can happen these next three games."

Anything? Yes, anything, such as a big breakout opening stint. He's at Omaha where dreams can come true.

"I kind of watched it a little when I was growing up, I remember when LSU won it and I think the pitcher's name was Louis Coleman. He threw a lot that week and I was like man, I really want to do that someday. I remember recently watching South Carolina's runs and thinking that was really special."

Now is Fitts' chance to do something really special, great even. Just don't ask him if starting the most important-possible series makes him an ace. "I feel like Kendall (Graveman) is the ace of the staff. I feel like we're all good.

"Coach (Butch) Thompson has reiterated that the whole season. I remember the first day he texted all of us who is our best pitcher? And the correct answer to that is whoever is on the mound."

Exactly where Fitts will be standing Monday evening.

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