Diamond Dogs Scrimmage To A 1-1 Draw

Given the nature of club and coach alike, it wasn't easy sticking to schedule. Because it meant leaving the field with a tied score. Yeah, John Cohen said, there was the temptation to add an inning or two and have one side win. "But we have some time constraints. And I feel it was a pretty competitive game."

It was that. In their first scrimmage of preseason practices the split Diamond Dog squads played to a 1-1 deadlock over seven innings. After the Grays got their one run in the top of the first inning, the Blacks needed five frames to answer. They also had speedy outfielder Jacob Robson taking his lead off second base with one out in the bottom of the seventh and chances to settle the scrimmage.

But having put Robson on the paths with a one-out walk and steal, All-American closer Jonathan Holder made sure it stayed tied. After walking outfielder Demarcus Henderson, which made the double-play possible, Holder got third baseman Reid Humphreys to fly out to short center. Then it was the day's hot hitter, catcher Zach Randolph, flying-out to short rightfield.

Though plenty of daylight was left Cohen let things stand there as a father-son event was already getting started at the Palmeiro Center. In fact while the Diamond Dogs were wrapping up the game kids and even some dads were posing for photos with the College World Series runners-up trophy. Besides, said Cohen, there are lots of scrimmages ahead in the three weeks leading up to Opening Day 2014, including a 1:30 Sunday set.

For the first official day of preseason conditions were reasonably good, sunny and low 50s for a change. Mississippi State had pushed the first scrimmage back just in case, and Cohen said the result was combining two days of work.

The work of most interest was on the mound, by a pair of righthanders who lead the list of rotation candidates come conference season…if healthy. So it was encouraging to watch Brandon Woodruff (Black team) and Ben Bracewell (Gray) get in a couple of starting innings against each other. Senior Bracewell went two-plus innings without a run on one hit and a strikeout, though he did walk three batters.

"I thought he was good," Cohen said. "You know, he didn't command the ball as well as he wanted to, his slider probably wasn't what it normally is." This though the coaches expected in the transition from tossing indoors or bullpens when warm enough. Scrimmage pitchers were asked to throw down in the zone today, especially with late-breaking balls. "And to compete, really," said Cohen. "That's something Benny can certainly do."

Woodruff's status is even more closely-watched. The junior has been brought along cautiously since last April's shut-down for elbow surgery and while he had a few quick stints in fall ball his status is of daily concern. So to go 2.0 innings today in a starting role was progress for sure. And even if he allowed the one Gray run in that opening frame, it took some good batters and good (for them) luck to make it happen.

After an opening out Woodruff was touched for a scratch single, as third baseman Alex Detz lined a sharp short-hopper shortstop Kyle Hann couldn't come up with. On full count first baseman Wes Rea singled to leftfield with Detz on the move and able to take third. Second baseman Brett Pirtle hit a hard grounder that one-hopped right into Woodruff's knee. The pitcher was able to recover for an out at first base as Detz came across and end that inning with a grounder of catcher Daniel Garner.

An in-order second completed Woodruff's day. Preston Brown entered for the top of the third and was able to leave centerfield C.T. Bradford (single, steal) on second base and Detz (walk) on first with a pop-out of Rea. A top-fourth reach by shortstop Seth Heck with two outs didn't hurt as catcher Cody Walker struck out swinging.

Bracewell was through after a walk, wild pitch, and walk to open the bottom of the third. Reliever Lucas Laster got defensive help as leftfielder Derrick Armstrong went into the gap for a sliding catch of Nick Vickerson's fly ball. But Laster nailed Jacob Robson in the helmet to load the bases, bringing in Trevor Fitts. The rightander kept the 1-0 lead with a called strikeout of Demarcus Henderson and check-swing strikeout of Reid Humphreys.

An out into the top of the fifth lefty Ross Mitchell made his first live mound appearance since the College World Series. The rust showed as he was tagged for singles by Cody Brown and Joey Swinarski, then Mitchell produced a trademark comebacker-ball off Bradford's bat. Only the centerfielder's speed and left-side start prevented a double-play as Swinarski was forced at the middle-bag. A walk of Detz came to naught as Rea turned on the first Mitchell pitch. The low grounder went right to well-placed Humphreys for the force.

It also kept it a one-run game, and the Blacks evened the tally in their turn. Rooker and Vickerson singled around an out and Robson walked. Righthander Myles Gentry inherited the jam and promptly plunked Henderson for the hard-way RBI. Gentry steadied and got a called strikeout to leave the sacks stuffed with the 1-1 tie.

Which is how it ended. Blacks lefty Jacob Lindgren shrugged off a leadoff single in the sixth with three quick outs, and righty Will Cox got the Grays in-order in their seventh. Juco transfer Paul Young, who didn't pitch in fall camp, got the sixth-inning turn to begin his spring. A two-out plunking of Hann and walk of Rooker did no damage as first baseman Dylan Ingram flew out to straight center.

On the whole it was a clean seven innings with only one error ruled, when freshman Humphreys had a grounder go off his glove in the fourth inning as he learns this corner. Detz reached base three times with a hit and two walks batting second in the Grays order. Randolph had a pair of base hits for the Blacks.

"We still have lot of spots that there is a lot of competition for," Cohen said. "We did make some mistakes today but I think there were a lot more pros than cons through the day." And speaking of pros, a reported 15 scouts were on-hand for the start of the scrimmage.

Sunday's outlook is similar weather-wise, though things fall apart fast after that. So the coaching staff has a busy Sunday planned.

"I thought we got a lot done today and hopefully we can get the rest of our arms out there tomorrow and start piecing together some at-bats," Cohen said. "And then hopefully get a different forecast than the one we're seeing right now for next week."

All scrimmages are open to the public.

Media relations director Kyle Niblett reported today that advance sales for the First Pitch Banquet on February 1 are nearing 500, and double what was sold ahead of last year's event.

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