Elijah MacNamee (Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page)

Soph Delivers in Cleanup as State Offense Gets Back On Track

Victories matter much more than statistics. It’s still fun to win with numbers, such as the batting stats Mississippi State showed in sweeping Tennessee.

“More runs and more hits,” Elijah MacNamee said. “It’s looking good.”

MacNamee himself was looking really good in what has become his new batting position. Swinging fourth in the Diamond Dog order, the outfielder went 6-of-13 with four runs batted in and three runs scored himself.

MacNamee would have ‘cleaned up’ even more if not for the even better numbers by a couple of those batting ahead of him. Order-toppers Jake Mangum and Brent Rooker each drove in six in the three victories. So one can only wonder how many ribbies MacNamee could have plated without that prime production higher in the order.

Not a worry, the sophomore said. The real story was the entire offense getting in a higher gear for what realistically was a must-win and even must-sweep series.

“I knew we were coming out ready,” MacNamee said.

Ready and able to swat the baseball at a .406 clip. Slugging rate was even better at .604. MacNamee contributed to that with one of the three homers in the sweep, his first as a Bulldog in fact. Six doubles were about as impressive, but three triples?

That shows Mississippi State was dialed-in at the dish. Because, they were MacNamee said.

“I think we finally woke-up and said we need to quit trying to do too much and do what we know how to do. Because we know how good we are, how young we are, and talented. We brought it to the table.”

In the process MacNamee, a transfer from Blinn, Texas, College, raised his own average from by 53 points. He is still far from the .403 hitting of his junior college year, but a learning curve was expected.

All he wanted was a chance to show the swing every day, rather than in-and-out existence as a substitute or pinch-hitter.

“I knew I always had it there. I just had to get the rust off, coming off the bench now and then.”

Well and good. But, why cleanup? Or why now? Well, with the controversial but so-far successful switch of league-leading slugger Rooker up to second in the order, somebody has to hit fourth. Why not MacNamee?

He isn’t the least bit intimidated by the responsibility, either. “I’m in there for a reason and to do my job. And not to do too much,” MacNamee said.

“I feel like I’m getting really comfortable. Sometimes I feel like I get too comfortable and I’m a little late on some pitches. But other than that I feel great.” Besides, he said, the approach doesn’t change just because he’s been moved up to cleanup. Look for something to drive, preferably the right-center gap, and don’t try to knock it out of the county.

Oh, and don’t strike out. Which had been an increasing issue in recent weeks as an offense that started February hot cooled-down markedly and was swept at Arkansas. Whatever the differences in opposing pitching, the second SEC weekend was a total turnaround.

And strikeouts were down. Not down enough for Coach Andy Cannizaro’s tastes, but still trending a better way. As MacNamee pointed out, State hit “over .500” with their two-strike approach this time.

“Everyone’s approach was more aggressive, not take so many first-pitch fastballs. Because we’ve been taking way too many of those.”

To first-year coach Cannizaro, the development of MacNamee as a four-hole hitter is one sign of continuing team progress. “He just (gives) quality at-bats, one after another every day. He’s picking up gigantic hits and his quality at-bats with runner in scoring position are good now.

“And he’s another young player. It’s getting acclimated to Division I baseball and ready to play in the SEC.”

The Bulldogs (15-10, 3-3) are of course already playing in the SEC. A home sweep doesn’t entirely offset the emotional strains of being swept on the road. But it sure does a good job evening-up the record here in the still-early season. Doing it with strong hitting and steady scoring is the best boost to confidence, too.

“They say hitting is contagious and you can obviously see we hit,” MacNamee said. Now, can the Diamond Dogs take this offense back on the road and produce? Tuesday will be one good test with a 6:30 matchup at Memphis.

Then is an even more intense test. The SEC schedules-maker has assigned the annual Bulldog-Rebel rivalry to weekend #3. It is also the early series of the week, beginning Thursday evening in Oxford. There awaits the best pitching staff in the league whether graded by ERA or strikeouts or hits allowed.

A challenge, yes. An opportunity too MacNamee believes.

“Yeah, I think we’re ready for that, for sure. We’re getting hot at the right time. Ole Miss is our rivals. And we’re going to go there and beat them.”

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