Spencer Price (Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page)

Mississippi State reliever Spencer Price leads the nation with 14 saves.

Mississippi State heads into the weekend series with Auburn with 29 wins on the season. Sophomore Closer Spencer Price has had a hand in 17 of those victories. With a 3-1 record, a team best 2.10 ERA and nation's best 14 saves, it is safe to say the former Olive Branch High School star is proving his worth on the college level.

Coming to Starkville by way of Meridian Community College, Spencer Price has gone from obscure newcomer to the Diamond Dawg fan's relief pitcher of choice late in games. While Bulldog fans are growing accustomed to seeing #55 jog in from the bullpen, Price reports that his transition from starting pitcher to final frame phenom sort of happened by accident.

"It happened to me in high school, because we had three great starters," Price explained. "I really didn't have anywhere else to go, so my coach just threw me in the bullpen. I just ran with it. Coach gave me the ball in situations where he needed a guy to come in and throw strikes and get outs. He didn't need me to be over powering. He just needed me to get a job done.

"It has just sort of developed over the years for me. As I got used to come into games late, I learned to be more attack oriented. I am a guy who just goes after hitters and tries to get punch outs. I always want to be a guy who is dependable late in the game."

Starting pitchers often have the luxury of feeling out the opposition or establishing some sense of rapport with an umpire and his strike zone. For chaos coolers like Price, they simply have to come out firing and finding the zone very early in their appearance.

"Once you accept that role as a reliever, you know that you're not going to have the time to come in and establish the fast ball away or set up a change-up," Price said. "I know that when I come into the game that I have to throw strikes. 

"Everything has to be a strike. If you come in walking people, then you start giving up runs and rallies start. That's how you lose ball games. I know that I have to throw strikes. When I come in, I have to battle. I have to find it quick. I get loose in the bullpen as fast as I can and then I take my eight warm-ups on the mound to try and get a feel for it."

Price entered his first season in Starkville ready to compete for the closer role, but he understood the players battling for that spot were ultra talented. The Bulldogs returned Blake Smith who was money down the stretch last season as the Bulldogs won the SEC regular season title. Add in some other talented signees and Price had some work to do.

"When I got here, I wanted to be the closer," Price shared. "When I got here, Blake (Smith) and Jacob Barton, the closer from LSU-Eunice, who didn't give up a run until his last game of the season were here. I knew right away that I had my work cut out for me. 

"During the fall and spring, it was me and Blake both switching out and closing scrimmages. I could have seen myself as the set-up guy. I was perfectly okay with that role and I started preparing myself to be an 8th inning guy. When Blake went down, then I had to come through and take the 9th inning."

Despite being on the shelf for a year, Smith has remained engaged with the team and done his part to help Price prepare for his duties as the Bulldog rally stopper.

"(Smith) keeps me calm and gives me advice about how to handle certain situations and moments," Price said. "He is always telling me not to let it get too big for me and just take a breath. He is always encouraging me and telling me that I am plenty good enough and that I wouldn't be out there if I wasn't."

As the final fireman looking to put out the flames, Price is not one who relishes giving up the ball. An extra inning affair last week against Alabama saw Price leave the game with the outcome still in doubt. That is not a habit the talented right hander plans to make.

"I hate it. There is nothing worse than having coach come take the ball out of my hand," Price said. "I want to always be the guy to finish it and I don't like other people having to come in and clean up my mess. I just want to be the guy to get it done and be a guy that can be counted on."

The Bulldogs have counted on Price to take the hill a team high 23 times. The personable Price even boasts a perfect 1.000 batting average on the year after a 1 for 1 night at South Alabama just over a week ago. While it has taken some time to settle in, Price has earned the confidence needed to compete at a high level in the Southeastern Conference. 

"I guess it all really started to come together for me in the fall," Price said. "I was able to get our guys out and these are D1 hitters that can hit everything. There as good as anybody, so when I started getting our guys out, then I started realizing I could get outs at this level. It's really just baseball and really about executing pitches."

The Bulldog pitching staff has struggled with injuries for the biggest part of the last year. Price reports that the adversity has brought the unit together and has forced them to really lean on each other as they find a way to get 27 outs per game.

"We just have a Bulldog mentality. We know what we have to do," Price explained. "You know your number is going to get called more often and you're not going to get as much rest, but we love going out there and pitching. The hardest part is just making sure that our arms and our bodies are ready to go every single day. Sometimes you throw two days in a row or sometimes three days in a row. It just depends on the situation. We have guys that want to be out there everyday."

Price reports that he would take the ball every single day if that is what it took to help the Bulldogs win games. At some point, the bravado has to give way to good judgment. Price reports that his competitive fire burns bright, but he has to make good decisions to ensure continued good health and success.

"If coach calls my number, then I am going out there no matter what," Price said. "Unless my arm is dragging the ground, I am going to go out there and find a way to get outs for this team. I believe in sacrificing for the team. I am going to always give everything I have to help the team get a win."

Many Bulldog fans may be unfamiliar with the tune Price chose as his walk-up song, "Blow Me Away" from Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania based Breaking Benjamin. Price reports that the song has been with him for several years and has real meaning to him.

"I was probably 10 or 11 years old when my cousin showed me that song," Price said. "I thought it was a sweet song. I started listing to Breaking Benjamin and I loved it. I just love that genre of music. 

"When I got into high school, I had to have a walk-up song. I was scrolling through my phone and I said this is it. I knew then that I would never need another one. I knew that was going to be my walk-up for years. 

"The lyrics make me think about giving it all for your team. It says that only the strong will survive and I believe that personally. I know I have to be strong to go out there and find a way to help my team win."

On top of the SEC standings with four weekends left in the regular season, Mississippi State will host second place Auburn this weekend in a huge series for both teams. Tickets, as always, remain available for Bullldog baseball. Friday's first pitch is set for 6:30. Weather may be a factor for Sunday, so fans are advised to be mindful of possible changes to Saturday's schedule.

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