Brown, Fitts Make Solid Scrimmage Starts

Cold conditions cancelled the first scheduled start of scrimmage season. But the weather deities must have felt like making it up to Preston Brown, because he found a fine first-of-February day to take the hill. Which he took advantage of.

The sophomore righthander threw three scoreless Saturday innings in his first competitive stint of preseason. Brown, opening for the White team, worked around four hits in the three turns with a strikeout and a walk, and improved his standing in the ultra-competitive contest for real starting duty in 2014. "I felt good," Brown said. "So a pretty good day overall."

It was a very good day for some baseball at Dudy Noble Field. Coming after a series of freezeouts, the mid-60s conditions felt almost spring-like. And the timing couldn't have been better for Mississippi State since this was ‘First Pitch' day. Officials reported 1,018 tickets taken for the team introduction event and talk by former Major League pitcher and Mississippi native Roy Oswalt.

Following the indoors activities a fair portion of that crowd found a box seat to watch State's fourth scrimmage of preseason. The seven scheduled innings ended with a 2-2 tie, which was good enough for everyone involved. Those staying around for the end even got to see the best (fun) saved for last. With two outs and nobody on, Maroon leftfielder Jake Vickerson spanked a grounder to the right side.

White first baseman Wes Rea got over for the stop, thought he went to the turf in the process; and closer Jonathan Holder made it to first base an instant ahead of Vickerson to catch Rea's literal from-the-seated position toss. Not only did Rea show his arm strength in the process, as well as superb ability for a big man, but unlike their famous failed try at Charlottesville the pitcher made a clean snag. And, immediately jogged over to give his first baseman a hand-up.

Otherwise though it was a serious intrasquad game of sides that wanted to win. Certainly Brown hoped for a sound start after that cancelled chance; because the first weekend was shortened to two scrimmages Brown settled for relief duty. This time as a starter the results were more than acceptable. He worked around a single-and-steal by Demarcus Henderson in the bottom of the first inning, and second-inning single by Cody Walker as well.

The third was more problematic as bottom-of-order Dylan Ingram reached on a scratch single and Jake Vickerson walked. It looked like a tie game when Henderson bounced a base hit just over Alex Detz's reach. Instead shortstop Seth Heck got over behind third for the grab and was able to throw home ahead of Ingram for the out.

"I had a couple of struggles in the stretch," said Brown. "But I felt I worked things out as the game went on, and overall a pretty good day." A day that ended after three-complete. "We were at a 50 pitch limit and I think it was 51."

"I got the changeup working and got a lot of sink. It really helped me out in the fall and has carried over to the spring. My fastball had a lot of movement and I felt like I got a lot of ground balls with it." Eleven grounders to be exact, whether for hits or outs, with only one true fly ball out of the 14 he faced.

Junior righthander Trevor Fitts was in the same make-up starting situation as Brown and finally got to go first today, too. He took a little longer to get up to speed as White centerfielder C.T. Bradford singled the first pitch. Fitts did do something unusual for this preseason by getting Detz out, on a fly ball. But Rea zipped grounder inside the third base bag for a double, and Brett Pirtle lifted a fly far enough to centerfield for the sacrifice and RBI.

Fitts settled in as a two-out double in the second by Jacob Robson did no harm; nor a walk-and-steal by Detz in the third. Fitts returned for the fourth inning to get his pitch count to the target, with Pirtle singling and Gavin Collins walking but neither scoring. Fitts' line was a run on four hits with three strikeouts and two walks.

The Whites padded the lead a little in their half of the fifth, at the expense of lefthander Lucas Laster. Outfielder Cody Brown singled to left and a wild Laster pitch advanced him. Rightfielder Joey Swinarski walked and while Bradford was out on a slow bouncer he did put the pair into scoring positions. Detz drove in Brown with a single to the right side for the 2-0 lead, and Laster was replaced by righty Jacob Billingsley. He got Rea to hit it right to third baseman Reid Humphreys to start the double play.

Billingsley struggled some in his relief stint last weekend but after the twin killing he sharpened with five-straight outs. He walked Collins in the top of the seventh with one out but caught him jumping for second and threw over for the Rea rundown.

The Maroons didn't score Humphreys (walk, steal) in their fourth, but finally scratched the scoreboard in the bottom of the fifth. Lefthander Vance Tatum gave rightfielder Brent Rooker a one-out walk, with Swinarski's second base hit of the day putting the pair on. Tatum got Vickerson to fly out before being replaced by righthander John Marc Shelly. Centerfielder Derrick Armstrong beat him with a base hit up the box scoring Rooker, and the throw-home was errored at the plate for runners at third and second.

Heck again saved a run, ranging over to snare Henderson's grounder and throwing to first just in time. Shelly created his own jam in the sixth with leadoff walks of Humphreys and Randolph, advancing each with a wild pitch. Cody Walker's ground ball was too sharp for anyone to take the chance, and Britton checked his swing on a strike three.

Righthander Myles Gentry took over to face second baseman Kyle Hann…who rapped the tying base hit on a single past his diving White counterpart. Humphreys scored, Randolph didn't because Swinarski got the throw home in time for the third out.

Though it wasn't a save setting Holder was due some live work. Plus the fans present got to hear his take-the-mound music again for the first time at DNF since last June's Regional championship. Holder struck out Rooker swinging, Ingram looking, and made his part of Rea's play pay off.

Six of the ten (it's a scrimmage remember) White batters had a base hit and Detz reached twice with his walk. He has made base on a hit, walk, or error now 11 times in four scrimmages. Five Maroon batters hit safely and both Swinarski and Henderson did it twice.

The only error was on the long throw-home not caught cleanly which allowed an extra base but no runs as it turned out. Still Coach John Cohen must remain concerned about how his backstops are coping with the running game. The first four steal attempts all succeeded though with good throws two were likely outs. In all four scrimmages the catching has been split four-and-three innings on both teams.

After the first weekend Coach Butch Thompson said his goal was getting the eight main candidates a scrimmage start. Midweek cold has forced another adjustment with just one more scrimmage left, and it has also been moved for weather. Sunday's seven-inning scrimmage is now 10:30 am. Players had tarped the field for Saturday night ahead of the expected rain.

If the intrasquad is played Thompson will go with either the two freshmen of last Sunday, Dakota Hudson and Austin Sexton; or try to get Zac Houston and Avery Geyer their own starts; or some combination thereof. The first regular-season weekend is a four-game set after all, so the plan is to have as many arms ready as possible Brown said. "He's done the piggyback thing before and it's been good. Everybody is getting their pitch limit and helping us get through a ball game."

"I feel everybody is filing it up and throwing a lot of strikes. We have a really good pitching staff, one of the best in the nation, and I feel like we'll do good no matter who is in there."

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