Three appearances into his college career at Mississippi State, Evan Mitchell still doesn’t know it’s not supposed to be this easy.
Each time the freshman from Marietta, Ga., has gone to the mound at Dudy Noble Field, he’s gotten a win and that was no different Sunday in the Bulldogs 7-3 victory over Georgia State.
“I knew just to calm down and take a deep breath and get back to the plan, keep pitching and keep chugging and listening to what coach Thompson was telling me,” Mitchell said.
The MSU starter contained the Panthers offense to just two runs on six hits and two runs while the 6-foot-2 right-hander struck out a career-high seven without what his catcher called “his best stuff.”
“I left a couple of pitches up and they hit the ball pretty hard, but we stuck to the gameplan and it turned out well,” Mitchell said.
In a early-season debate among the Bulldogs coaching staff as to who will be Mississippi State’s third weekend starter on the mound, Mitchell is making a serious case for that spot.
“It’s hard to deny him with the quality he gives us,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “He just didn’t throw as many strikes as he normally does but that’s why we like him so much, because he is a strike-thrower.
Mitchell (3-0) ran into a serious jam in the second inning with Georgia State (9-4) loading the bases but he tossed an effective over-the-top breaking ball that completely fooled Panthers leadoff hitter Mark Micowski into a strikeout looking.
“He had a 3-2 breaking ball that he threw, which is really gutsy and he threw it right down the middle of the plate and got a punch-out,” Cohen said. “That was huge, those are the things that really pay dividends with freshmen.”
Mitchell’s perspective was much less complicated than the way his head coach interpreted the situation.
“(MSU catcher Wes Thigpen) called it and I felt confident and threw it right in – that’s really it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell was two outs away from the Bulldogs (10-3) eighth quality start of the 2011 season matching last year’s total before being relieved by freshman Daryl Norris for a three-inning save.
Norris, the former Mr. Baseball in the state of Alabama only surrendered a ninth-inning home run to Panthers leftfielder Aaron Schmitz for the first save of his college career.
“I’m really pleased with our freshman pitching today,” Cohen said. “Evan was not as sharp as he usually is, his previous two appearances, but the way Daryl came in and threw the baseball is something we really needed because we play so many games in a short amount of time.”
The bottom of the MSU order got on base on 8-of-17 plate appearances and drove in three runs Sunday including a two-RBI day from Thigpen.
“We’ve worked hard on our strokes and everything started to come together and we got comfortable at the plate,” Thigpen said. “Hopefully we keep it going.”
A lot of that success in the back half of the batting order had to do with the aggressiveness on the base paths as the Bulldogs had four different baserunners steal a base including a delayed double steal that involved designated hitter Cody Freeman taking home while the GSU defenders were worried about Jaron Shepherd stealing second.
MSU freshman right fielder C.T. Bradford and senior first baseman Ryan Collins had the multi-hit days of the game and were a combined 4-for-9 against GSU right-handed pitching.
“I really feel Collins is starting to see it better and swing it better and Shepherd is too (plus) Oggie (Jonathan Ogden) takes the best swing he had all weekend,” Cohen said.
Mississippi State is scheduled to have two mid-week games as Mississippi Valley State concludes MSU’s 14-game homestand to start the season and will travel to UAB for its first road contest of the 2011 campaign.
“We haven’t made a decision yet on who we’re going to throw on Tuesday,” Cohen said. “We’re probably thinking that Kendall Graveman will throw on Wednesday because UAB’s field plays a little bit smaller and he’s a ground-ball guy. That’s our first thought. We’re probably going to get six guys out there (Tuesday).”