By MATTHEW STEVENS
One game in the books of the 2011 season and the Mississippi State baseball team couldn’t be more pleased.
With 11 runs on the board and a career outing on the mound by junior right-hander Devin Jones, the Bulldogs recorded their eighth-straight home opening victory.
The Eupora native was asked by Bulldogs head coach John Cohen before his opening day start Friday afternoon, how far into the game he could get on 80 pitches. He didn’t need even that many to get further than he ever had in his MSU career.
“Devin just absolutely did what he’s been doing in the fall and all spring,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “His actions really spoke today. If he pitches like that, he’s going to win a lot of baseball games for us.”
Jones (1-0) finished seven quality innings giving up just one hit (a single in the third inning) while striking out four and walking one in just 68 pitches.
“I tried to locate and get ground balls especially with these new bats,” Jones said. “I went over the gameplan with (MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson) and the attitude was just ‘let them hit it’ because not many people can hit a ball out of Dudy Noble Field.”
Jones, a converted closer from last season, got his first-ever win as a starter after having seven opportunities over the past seasons since arriving at MSU as a All-State selection and 48th round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians out high school.
“Two years ago, Devin wanted to see if he could light up the gun,” Cohen said. “That’s just the process that Butch Thompson has been selling which is economy and not electricity.”
State (1-0) quickly got on the scoreboard first when Nick Vickerson put away the doubt that power was impossible with this new aluminum bat mandated by the NCAA. The senior designated hitter took the second pitch he saw and easily deposited it into the left field seats for a solo home run.
Akron (1-1), who had already defeated Lamar 2-1 earlier in the afternoon at Polk-Dement Stadium, was able to keep the deficit to just two early on but a six-run explosion in the sixth inning sent Zips starting pitcher Alex Loftin (0-1) to the locker room early. That frame featured four different State hitters recording an RBI and a two-run home run by shortstop Jonathan Ogden that barely cleared the left field wall that made it a 5-0 lead.
“We’re probably one of the smallest teams in the SEC but we have a lot of guys that can get the job done,” Ogden said. “We’re not going to be a big power hitting team. We’re going to be scrappy this year.”
Mississippi State would have eight different players record an RBI Friday and five of those left the ballpark with a multi-hit day.
The speed and athleticism that Cohen had been preaching in the offseason to be the identity of this club was showcased as MSU stole three bases on Akron pitchers and had seven of its 14 hits go for extra bases.
“I think we have a very athletic group on the field and that’s how we’re going to have to play,” Cohen said. “We had to bunt for a hit, steal a base, hit and run today. We had to do all of those things today.”
Five different MSU players made their college debut Friday as Cohen’s 22nd-ranked recruiting class from a season ago was on display with freshmen C.T. Bradford, Demarcus Henderson, Hunter Renfroe, Taylor Stark and Daryl Norris all seeing action in front of the announced attendance of 3,074.
“Getting all of those guys involved today is so important to us as a club because they are going to be a factor,” Cohen said.
Bradford, who was the only freshman in the starting lineup, went 3-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. Norris finished the game on the mound striking out five of the seven batters he faced.
The Bulldogs will play its first of three scheduled doubleheaders today against Lamar (11:30 a.m.) and Akron (3:30 p.m.) and sophomores Chris Stratton and Chad Girodo scheduled to pitch for the Bulldogs. The final game of the weekend round robin occurs Sunday against Lamar at 2:30 p.m.