There is a history of Ole Miss pitchers doing well in this midweek, nonconference game and moving on to help their team in a big way.
In 2005 Eric Fowler hadn't reached his potential. Then came the old Mayor's Trophy contest at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson. The left-hander struck out 11 Bulldogs in 7.2 innings of scoreless work as Ole Miss won 5-1. Fowler would become an important part of the weekend rotation the rest of the way through a memorable Super Regional against Texas.
A year later it was Will Kline who stepped up in the same game against MSU and pitched a 1-0 masterpiece, striking out nine Bulldogs in seven scoreless innings. For the rest of the 2006 season and throughout the 2007 season, Kline would not only emerge but become the ace of a talented Rebel pitching corps.
There are similarities to the situation with Goforth tonight. The Rebels may not need someone to emerge at this point as much as they need for Goforth to fulfill his own potential in whatever role that might be.
Entering the season as the Rebels' top closer, a role he'd garnered after Jake Morgan was lost to Tommy John surgery back in the fall, Goforth hasn't been as successful as needed. He's pitched some recently in a middle-relief or late-innings role.
Now he gets a start. Again, who knows where it might lead? But it is important, and quite a change, according to Goforth.
"It's definitely a lot different," said the third-year sophomore righthander of starting rather than relieving. "The biggest thing is you know you're definitely going to get in the game. You know you're going to pitch. There's the preparation before you start, like certain times to stretch and warm up and be in the bullpen. So you're going through that. Mentally it's a lot different. As a closer or reliever, you're in the dugout and waiting for your name to be called. You're kind of on guard the whole time. Starting, you can't go out there like I normally do and throw it as hard as I can every pitch. You have to pace yourself."
Goforth said it has been since his high school days at Neshoba Central that he's started a game. Now he gets to do it again on one of the biggest stages of the season. Some view the UM-MSU game in Pearl each year as the 31st most important contest of the regular season, after, of course, the Southeastern Conference games.
Which brings us to another similarity for Fowler, Kline, and Goforth. They are all Mississippians who understand the rivalry between the instate schools.
"It's definitely a big rivalry, being the Governor's Cup," said Goforth, with an 8.31 ERA and a record of 0-1 in 13 innings pitched this season, with three saves in 11 total appearances. "It's a rivalry that means a lot to the fans. And it also definitely is for us players."
Mississippi State is 14-10 overall and took two of three games from Georgia over the weekend to stand 2-4 in SEC games.
The Rebels, ranked 11th this week, are 19-6 and 4-2.
Goforth hesitated calling this one any more important than other contests.
"It's another game, and you have to take it like you're playing anybody," he said. "It doesn't matter who's in the other dugout. We're playing ourselves. We're playing the game. So you have to take it that way. But then again, it is Mississippi State. It is our instate rival. We definitely want to beat those guys."
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said starting Goforth isn't as surprising as it might seem.
"It's something we'd thought about, even back into the fall," the 10th-year UM head coach said. "It's a chance to get him out there and let him get some work in. I don't want to make it more than it really is. Certainly if he's lights out, he could turn into a starter. But that's always been an option. We just think it's a good time to do it."
Bianco said Goforth, who has struck out 10, walked seven, and given up a staff-high six home runs this season, will stay in the game until they feel it's time for him to come out.
"So he's not on a hard pitch count, and that's not to be vague," he said. "I don't know what the number is, and we'll watch the velocities and if he looks tired we'll bring him out. Certainly I don't think he's going to throw a complete game. As long as he looks strong, he'll probably go."
With a Sunday starting role apparently on shaky ground as Trent Rothlin and Matt Tracy have had their struggles, Goforth stops short of admitting tonight's game might be a tryout for that important position.
"I'm not sure," he said, admitting he had at least thought about it. "I'm just going to go out and do the best job I can. I'm just going to focus on starting this one game. If that comes up in the future, then so be it."
Certainly if the past is any indication, it just might.
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