Things are beginning to fall into place nicely for Mississippi State sophomore redshirt left-hander Todd Nicholas, bidding to land a berth as a starter."> Things are beginning to fall into place nicely for Mississippi State sophomore redshirt left-hander Todd Nicholas, bidding to land a berth as a starter.">

MSU Lefty Nicholas Sizzles in The Fall

<img src="http://www.genespage.com/images/01players/baseball/2003/tnicholas.jpg" align="left" width="120" height="163"> Things are beginning to fall into place nicely for Mississippi State sophomore redshirt left-hander Todd Nicholas, bidding to land a berth as a starter.

The 6-2, 208-pound flamethrower certainly didn't hurt his chances in his last outing on the mound in the opening game of the 2002 Banana Split Series.

A highly-touted, 22nd round Major League draft pick by the New York Mets out of Greenville, Ala., Nicholas and MSU ace lefty Paul Maholm, selected by the Minnesota Twins in the annual pro draft, hooked up in a magnificent pitcher's duel in the first game of the Bulldogs fall classic.

The dynamic lefty duo battled to a standstill through four innings, putting up nothing but "goose eggs" while they were in the game, which ended in a 2-1 triumph for the White Team in a squeaker.

"We both had excellent outings I thought," explained Nicholas, who turned down an offer from the Mets and at least four SEC schools to become part of one of the "richest traditions" in college baseball at Starkville, a model diamond city.

"I'm still spell-struck sometimes when I see some of the big crowds that pile into at Dudy Noble Field, Polk-DeMent Stadium," said Nicholas of one of the top fan drawing schools in the country.

A General Business Administration major, Nicholas said he'll probably never forget the first time he pitched in an SEC game his freshman campaign at MSU. He was redshirted last year and feels like "everything has worked out for the best" during a season on the sidelines.

The first time the hard-throwing southpaw took the hill in an SEC game was in a relief appearance against LSU.

"Mississippi State's fans are unbelievable," he said, explaining how they turn out in droves. "I had never pitched in front of so many fans. I tried not to look up in the stands and instead tried to concentrate on getting the LSU batters out," added Nicholas, who worked a hitless and scoreless inning in relief against the Bengals with a walk and a strikeout.

In the Banana Split Series opener, Nicholas matched the veteran Maholm nearly pitch for pitch with both lefties notching seven strikeouts each in four inning stints.

"I'd like to think I helped my chances of seeing considerable mound duty next spring," said Nicholas, who pitched in the Coastal Plains League in North Carolina this summer.

"We've had several pitchers throw the ball well during the fall practices and Todd is definitely one of them," said Schoenrock, pointing out how the young hurler is pitching with confidence and poise.

"I'm tickled with the fall Todd's had," said Schoenrock of the Fort Dale Academy product who has topped out with a 98 miles per hour fastball this fall.

"He has good velocity and he's gotten stronger during the redshirt season. I think pitching in the Coastal Plains League helped Todd. There's a lot of players from the ACC and the SEC who've improved their skills in the league."

Schoenrock said Nicholas' fastball command has been good which has been a big plus for the first alternate for the USA Dixie National Baseball team as a pitcher. He also played first base.

Nicholas explained earlier this week while watching the hotly-contested National League Championship Series between the St. Louis Cardinals and the San Francisco Giants.

"I'd like to see Barry (Bonds) win a World Series although I don't have anything against the St. Louis Cardinals, while over in the ALCS, I'd like to see the California Angels emerge. I was glad to see them (Angels) beat the New York Yankees," said the one-time slugging first sacker.

"I haven't swung a bat in probably two years," added Nicholas, whose older brother Mark, also a first baseman, plans to be in Starkville Friday to see the annual Maroon-White game scheduled for a 4 p.m. start at Dudy Noble Field.

"I'll stick with pitching," said Nicholas, who said it's awesome playing on a Ron Polk-coached team. "I believe he really cares about the team and the players. He's a great guy and he wants us all to succeed. That's a great combination."

Nicholas had some nice words for MSU's pitching coach, too. "Coach Schoenrock has taught me so much. I believe he's the best pitching coach I've ever been around and I've been around some pretty good ones throughout my career."

Basically, Nicholas throws three pitches, although he's worked with more - the fastball, change and the curve.

"Locating is crucial," explained Nicholas. "To work ahead in the count instead of falling behind is big, too."

Nicholas and Maholm have been tentatively penciled in to pitch Tuesday in what could be the deciding game of the best-of-five Banana Split Series. The fall series, tied at one game apiece, resumes Sunday and Monday at Dudy Noble Field. Admission is free.

Nicholas pointed out Mississippi State has a lot of young players - both pitchers and position players - and said he is already getting excited about the prospects of what will transpire this spring.

"This team is very close," noted Nicholas, rooming with catcher J.B. Tucker who hit the first home run of the season last year for the Dogs.

Mississippi State qualified for the SEC Tournament for a league record 16th straight time. MSU defeated Georgia at the Hoover Met for its only win in the annual tourney and did not receive an NCAA bid something the Diamond Dogs hope to remedy in 2003.

"We want to be the best team we can be, play together as a team and not as individuals," Nicholas stated firmly.

"It's not even Christmas yet, but I'm looking forward to the new season," added Nicholas, a very likable young man who has patterned his game to some degree after the Arizona Diamondback's "Big Unit" Randy Johnson, another magnificent lefty.

Don Foster, a veteran newspaper writer, is the Sports Editor for the Starkville Daily News. He will be writing regular feature articles for Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports and Mississippi High School sports on the internet.


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