“Today and overall, I think it’s been pretty good,” Coach John Cohen said following the week’s fourth scrimmage.
Sunday was pretty good indeed for fans of a fast game. Saturday’s show certainly went differently, and in a very different venue. Playing at Jackson’s Smith-Wills Stadium the Whites went wild in a 15-3 final. With different jerseys everything changed, offensively at least. Or maybe the Bulldog batters had emptied their accounts.
A trio of Gray (albeit teams didn’t always correspond to colors) pitchers were able to one-hit the Maroon roster this time, that lone safety coming off the bat of SS Ryan Gridley and in the top of the fifth at that. Gray starter RHP Jesse McCord had his struggles to be sure, and eight men would reach on him in just two-plus innings with three walks, three hit batsmen, and a couple of errors. He struck out two.
Still McCord was able to survive, stranding enough Maroons on his own before giving the ball to RHP Zac Houston to leave others un-scored in the top of the third. Houston took care of the top of the fourth in short order, just eight pitches; then it was RHP Jacob Billingsley taking over in what projects to be his 2015 role. Billingsley did get touched for Gridley’s single safety and made sure it didn’t matter.
Maroon starter LHP Paxton Stover allowed three of the four Gray hits, working 3.0-plus innings and taking the ‘loss’ in the process. He walked one and struck out one. Each starter rolled a double-play.
“We had two freshmen go out and they struggled with the strike zone with their fastball,” Cohen said. “But both McCord and Stover are going to be really good players.”
McCord was able to avoid first-inning harm despite a walk and plunking with the twin-killing off the bat of 1B Cole Gordon. The second was more intense yet, despite two great fielding plays by 3B Luke Reynolds to begin the frame. His first grab of a scorcher to the bag netted an out; his go-to-knees play off Gridley (batting in a different order slot this inning) was fine too but the skipped throw wasn’t fielded cleanly by Rea at first.
A plunking of SS Seth Heck, balk, and two-out walk of C Josh Lovelady had the sacks stuffed and the top of the Maroon order up. McCord steadied to roll-out leadoff batter CF Jacob Robson.
Stover had worked around his own game-opening walk without harm. After the Gray defense stranded everyone in the top of the second their offense came out swinging in the bottom, as DH Brown drove a fly deep to the left-centerfield gap for a leadoff triple. Rea went after the first pitch and singled to rightfield for what proved the day’s only run, as Stover managed to strand a pair and end that inning.
The Maroons did have a chance to catch up as McCord walked and plunked batters on with two outs, and on a 1-0 count to Gridley the call wen tot Houston. He coaxed the grounder to keep the 1-0 lead and made fast work of the fourth to set up Billingsley to close it out.
And the Grays could have padded their lead anyway in the fourth, against RHP Levi Mintz. The new pitcher only faced a pair, drilling C Gavin Collins and walking Brown. RHP Cole Barlow inherited the runners and was greeted by another aggressive Rea swing. It landed in right for a single that ought have left the bases loaded with no outs.
But Brown must have thought Collins had headed home because he kept turning for third and was run-down, with Rea sneaking into second behind him. Barlow struck out Trent Waddell, re-loaded everything with a plunking of Rooker, then got C Cody Walker to chop it to the left side. Reynolds made the do-or-die charge and snag to hold it to the 1-0 deficit.
Sunday met State’s scrimmage goal of getting some bullpen stints served, and under real pressures. This is key as the 2015 pitching plans are being re-stocked after ‘14s graduations in closing and set-up and such. Four intrasquads in and “I think that’s starting to take a little bit of shape for us,” said Cohen.
“I’m really pleased today with Zac Houston, the way he pitched. I thought we defended it really well, we ran really good time to first base, we took good swings when it mattered. We had a couple of baserunning mistakes.” The other was in the first inning when Gray CF Jake Vickerson was running from first on a grounder to shortstop. Vickerson expected a throw-over to first but SS Matt Spruill held long enough to notice and was able to throw Vickerson out at third. Those path mistakes and the plunkings did lead to some post-scrimmage penalty sprints.
The day’s standout though was Reynolds, a sophomore transfer from Hinds CC who is taking an early claim to third base. “He’s somebody who is tough to find in Division I baseball,” Cohen said. “He’s equally good as a defender, an offensive player, and as a runner. When we watched him play last year he just looked like a pretty frail kid, he’s gotten bigger and stronger and more physical and more confident. We really like what he brings to the table.”
The ripple-effect has been moving ’14 starter Matthew Britton to the middle infield, which had been his role in 2012-13 already. Britton did not scrimmage Sunday with a minor knee issue. And backup third baseman Reid Humphreys is now working in the outfield. “We’ve got to get Humphreys’ bat in the lineup, he’s too good a hitter,” Cohen said.
Humphreys showed that Saturday with a 2-of-3 scrimmage, five RBI and a grand slam in the old AA-size park, so outfield must suit him fine. “And he’s coming back from the arm issues he’s had,” Cohen said. “Britton is playing more second base, which we feel he’s more suited to. Our new guy, John Holland, we feel played really well and Seth Heck has always been consistent. The Gridley kid has played well for a freshman, so we like our middle infielders for sure.”
Mississippi State will keep a busy scrimmage schedule this week as well, though times were still tentative as of Sunday.