(Photo: Ryan Gridley) Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page

Mississippi State shortstop Ryan Gridley is back to good health and ready for the season opener.

Mississippi State won the Southeastern Conference Baseball title last season thanks in large part to the play of sure handed shortstop Ryan Gridley. Back for more this spring, Gridley has begun to make most every play in the six hole seem routine. As the Diamond Dawgs prepare for Friday's season opener against Texas Tech, they do so with a new skipper filling out the line-up card.

On Friday at 4 PM, Mississippi State will usher in a new era of baseball. Former major leaguer and LSU assistant coach Andy Cannizaro was hired to replace John Cohen who took over as athletic director shortly after Scott Stricklin left for the same post at the University of Florida. 

The game of SEC musical chairs left the Bulldogs with a baseball friendly AD, Cohen, and one of the hottest names in all of college baseball, Cannizaro, as the new skipper in Starkville. 

Gridley reports that the change in leadership has been rather seamless in the Bulldog clubhouse. While coaching changes can often be dicey undertakings, the Milton, Georgia product reports that these Bulldogs have adjusted well.

"I think we're going to do really well with him as our head coach," Gridley said of Cannizaro. "He is a really enthusiastic and positive guy. You never really hear negative comments from him even when something bad happens. He focuses on the positive. 

"I really like that, because it gives you confidence as a player. It's okay. I know that if I make a mistake as a player that this guy has my back. It's a really good feeling going into a game knowing that your head coach and the other players have your back. That just sort of flows throughout the whole team."

For Gridley, the relationship between player and coach is a bit more intimate. Cannizaro, a former shortstop, understands the pressures that go along with being the captain of the infield. The talented junior shares that the two have found some common ground with which to form some common bonds.

"It feels really good when he talks to me and tells me that I am a good player," Gridley said. "I know how good of a player that he was. I know that he is not going to lie to me about that. It make me have a lot more confidence.

"I honestly believe that everybody on the team has a lot of confidence, because of the confidence that he instills in the players. He makes you feel really good when he steps out on the field."

Cannizaro mentioned during Mississippi State's baseball media day that the Bulldog infield will essentially have three shortstops on the field with Luke Alexander playing third, Hunter Stovall serving as the second sacker and Gridley holding down the shortstop duties. 

Gridley reports that he has a lot of confidence in the players around him and that he expects the team to be very good defensively this season.

"It makes me so comfortable on the infield to know that we have all of the holes covered," Gridley said. "If we need to turn a double play deep in the six hole, I know that Stovey (Stovall) has the quick hands to roll it up like that. I know that L.A. (Alexander) has a great arm from third base. It's just going to be a dynamic infield this year."

Alexander played some as a true freshman last year, but some nagging injuries limited his opportunities. Now back in good health, the talented sophomore is ready to be an every day starter.

"He has done really well this fall," Gridley said of Alexander. "He is a little more crisp with his stroke. His defense has always been really good, but he looks even more solid now. Every year you see some guys really develop and I have seen a lot of that in Luke this year."

Mississippi State will host Texas Tech and Western Illinois in the season opening weekend beginning Friday. The Bulldogs will open the season against Texas Tech with sophomore left hander Konnor Pilkington on the mound. Right hander Peyton Plumlee is set to start against Western Illinois on Saturday.

State will play both teams on Sunday as part of a double header. The starting pitching assignment for game three is still a matter of discussion, but sophomore right hander Ryan Cyr is scheduled to start game four. 

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