Diamond Dogs Play Fast Midweek Scrimmage

Opening Day is not far away, and the preseason pace has to pick up accordingly. So Bulldog baseball was going to scrimmage somehow, some Tuesday way if weather permitted. And it did, barely.

Coach John Cohen had the tarp pulled from Dudy Noble Field around 3:00, held a regular batting practice, and then started a scrimmage around 5:00. Against all odds the Diamond Dogs were able to play a full five innings before real rain arrived, unlike the previous attempt at holding an intrasquad.

"We only got to play two innings on Sunday," Cohen said. "We wanted to get out here. The rain skirted around us and we got five innings in. We wanted to set up some situations and really take a nice BP. We were able to do those things and create some matchups."

Some entertaining ones, too, especially in the fifth and final inning. That was when the Black team rallied for a 2-2 tie in the top of the inning, only to see the Gray respond in the bottom. A one-out single by first baseman Dylan Ingram scored Seth Heck from third base with the winning run.

The hit and run both came at the expense of righthander Ben Hudspeth, handed the ball and the tied score. The junior transfer had the deck somewhat stacked on him; as has happened in previous scrimmages the coaches altered the order for a specific situation and let Heck hit first instead of catcher Cody Walker. Heck worked his way on base with a walk, then Walker got plunked anyway for the winning run in a scoring position with no outs.

Matthew Britton didn't get bunt down and did bounce back to the mound the next pitch, with Walker forced at second. That still put Heck on third base for Ingram, and the freshman cashed in his chance with a drive up the middle

Up to that last inning the Grays were in control, having scored twice in the bottom of their second off Black starter Zac Houston. The freshman righthander had gotten through the first with no harm on a two-out walk, as Demarcus Henderson was thrown out by Collins on a steal attempt. The second was another matter as Reid Humphreys crunched a worm-burner to the left side that third baseman Alex Detz couldn't dig up. Gray catcher Zack Randolph moved Humphreys over with a bunt and a pitch got away from Collins for a free base.

Walker made it count by going the other way with Houston's pitch for a single and RBI. An out later Walker got to third base on an wild Houston pickoff throw towards first, and Britton joined him on the other corner via walking. He was running soon and Ingram dumped a short fly to rightfield for his first single-and-RBI combo. Walker scored and Britton kept coming all the way home. He didn't get there as Jake Vickerson's throw arrived first for the inning-ending out.

Ross Mitchell, the long-lefthanded reliever, needed more innings and was handed this starting assignment for the Grays. He got the top of the Black order—Vickerson, Detz, and Wes Rea—the first time up. Brett Pirtle took him to rightfield to lead off the second inning, and after an out and lots of cat-and-mouse the steal was successful. It didn't matter because Mitchell struck out Collins to strand him.

The Blacks did have a chance to cut into their deficit in the third as Brown dropped a double on the left-centerfield track. He took third on a ground ball to first base. With the order starting over lefthander Jacob Lindgren entered to strike Vickerson out swinging and hold the shutout another inning. For the Black staff Myles Gentry took over from Houston for the third inning and sat that side, then rolled three ground balls in the fourth. One required an excellent going-to-the-line grab by Detz and strong throw to out Randolph and end that inning. Lindgren returned to ground-out another lefthander in Detz, then was replaced by righty Levi Mintz. He drilled Rea before getting a line-fly out of Pirtle and inning-ending ground ball.

But his one-out walk of Collins in the top-fifth brought Lucas Laster from the bullpen. He nicked Jacob Robson, and a pitch to the outer-half against lefthanded hitter Brown got off the catcher's mitt for a pair I scoring positions. Brown was walked to the open first base, before Joey Swinarski foiled double-play hopes with a first-pitch single to rightfield scoring Collins.

Vickerson nailed one on the nose, but right to shortstop as everyone retreated to a base. So Detz got to swing one more time and delivered a RBI single to right. Just one RBI; Robson tied the tally and Brown tried to make it a lead only to be out well in front of the plate. That meant the Grays were batting to win in the bottom of the frame, which they did.

Mitchell had 2.2 scoreless innings with two hits, no walks and two strikeouts. Houston took the two runs on three hits in his 2.1 turns, with two walks and a strikeout. Gentry was solid, retiring all six faced with four-straight ground balls after a strikeout.

Detz, Pirtle, Brown, and Swinarski had the four Black hits and Brown reached base twice. Ingram was the hitting leader, 2-of-2 with a RBI on each swing.

Mississippi State was still finalizing plans for more scrimmages through the weekend, in advance of Opening Day just one week from Friday. Weather will factor in intrasquad scheduling, but so will the need to hone some starting pitching without risking any availability six and seven days later.

Coach Cohen: "We were able to get Ross Mitchell out here for sure. I thought he pitched very, very well. And of course Zac Houston came out and pitched pretty well. So I think we got a lot out of this even though it's tough weather. But we're going to have tough weather early in the year also."

Myles Gentry seems to have settled in as a mid-game righthanded reliever? "Yeah, I'm really pleased with Myles when he keeps it down. He's found a little better of a breaking ball. I think his fastball is a real weapon, it's not a big-time velocity pitch but it's got sink, it's got movement. And obviously there's a lot of deception in his delivery. So he's going to be a factor for us for sure. Because anybody with that low arm-slot, especially right-on-right, can be tough to hit."

How is the catcher position coming along? "I thought Gavin Collins caught really well today. I think he did a great job. I think Zack Randolph caught really, really well today. All of our kids are getting better for sure. I don't know until we get to the weekend, we might catch as many as three guys next weekend but all of them are doing a better job. And they're learning our pitchers better. That's really the most important thing, is their ability to receive, lead, and block the baseball."

How do you want to set this weekend's scrimmaging up? "We're going to need eight guys (pitching) so we're going to set it up to where we have four starters and had a guy right behind them. Because you can only throw 60 or 70 pitches early on. And like I mentioned the other day, we're a week behind where we normally are just because of when school happened to start this year and when our season starts this year. We'll go into it with those eight guys and have our matchup guys in between, and of course Jonathan Holder and Jacob Lindgren at the end of the game. We'll find out a lot about our club, I really like the four-game setup early on because it forces you to use all those guys and really gives you good evaluation early."

Do you know who you are going to throw Friday and Saturday this point? "I really don't. We just have to wait and see how we get through this weekend. You know, weather really determines a lot of that because you can't pitch somebody on Friday and bump them back to Saturday and you don't want to short-rest those guys. We'll probably know after this weekend for sure how that will fall."

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