Mississippi State baseball has gotten hot at the right time due to several factors.
Did you know that Mississippi State, in the last 15 games, is 10-5? Of those 15 games, 11 were against teams ranked, 9th, 10th, 12th and 20th. MSU wound up winning 6 of the 11 games. Of the 5 losses, 2 were by 1 run and 2 were by 2 runs.
The start of that 10-5 run saw the return of MSU's leading hitter, junior centerfielder Joseph Hunter. Hunter, during the previous 11 games of which MSU went 5-6, was not able to play due to a broken finger. His return solidified the outfield, which earlier in the season lost the services of senior OF Jon Mungle for the year.
Before you give Hunter all the credit for MSU's resurgence, a few other players did their part. MSU inserted true freshman 3B/C Ed Easley in the 2nd spot in the batting order a few games into the 15-game run. His batting average, during that span, was .365 (23-for-63). There's more folks. Junior C/3B Thomas Berkery also went on a tear, hitting .355 (22-for-62). MSU also started playing sophomore DH Joseph McCaskill. McCaskill, who was 7-for-20 in the previous 43 games, hit .419 during this span (13-for-31).
One other player besides Hunter finally got healthy, sophomore second baseman Jeffrey Rea. Rea took advantage of a week off prior to the 10-5 run to heal a pulled hamstring that had been bothering him for weeks. And his batting average suffered. But, over the course of the next 15 games, he hit .358 (24-for-67).
Before you give the hitters all the credit, the pitchers also did their part. Bulldog pitchers gave up 3 or less runs in 10 games, 4 runs once and 5 runs twice. For the most part, the starters got into the 5th and 6th inning. Then, the bullpen took over. And what a bullpen it has been. In 47.2 innings, they have given up just 10 runs (7 earned) for an ERA of 1.33. The ERA is not what's the most impressive. The relief staff only walked 7 batters. That's 1.33 per 9 innings. They also only allowed 35 hits during the 47+ innings.
Although a number of relievers were used, two stood out during the 10-5 run. Sophomore RHP pitcher Mike Valentine, a guy who was seldom used last year but has found a believer in new MSU pitching coach Russ McNickle, threw 18 innings, allowing 1 earned run, which converts to a 0.50 ERA. He allowed 9 hits, walked 1 and struck out 8. Junior RHP Brett Cleveland threw 11.1 innings, allowing 3 earned runs (a 2.43 ERA) on 9 hits and 1 walk. He also struck out 9.
What does this all mean? It means there was nothing magical about MSU winning 10 of their last 15 games. What happened were two key players (Hunter, Rea) became healthy, a freshman hitter (Easley) started growing up at the plate, a veteran catcher (Berkery) stepped up like a veteran should do, two seldom used sophomores (McCaskill, Valentine) took advantage of the opportunities given them, and the coaches made adjustments.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.