There are some absolutes that govern Mississippi State baseball, even in late January during the team’s first preseason scrimmage at a frigid Dudy Noble Field. A good crowd will gather for any Diamond Dog competition, experienced veterans who led the team to a national championship last spring will shine, and a newcomer or two will rise to the season-opening occasion. There also might be a troubling setback to overcome.
State pushed its scheduled initial spring scrimmage back one day due to Friday’s forecast of temperatures in the low 30s with a whistling northerly wind. It was little better Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs were greeted by a 37-degree first pitch, but a decent crowd nevertheless huddled behind home plate and down the third-base line. Even more enjoyed a sun-splashed outfield lounge.
For the record, the visiting black team defeated its maroon-clad home unit 3-1 in a six-inning intra-squad game. MSU will scrimmage again Sunday.
The first spring scrimmage featured the post-College World Series debut of Landon Sims. The Cumming, Ga., hard-throwing right hander who was the team’s shutdown closer a year ago, started for the Maroons Saturday. He did not scrimmage this past fall, but is expected to fill a weekend starting rotation role in 2022.
Sims, who was 5-0 with a 1.44 earned run average in the team’s title-winning season a year ago, did not disappoint. Displaying a low 90s fastball and sharp slider, Sims struck out Brayland Skinner and Slate Alford to open the game, working ahead in the count to both batters. Goal regular first baseman/catcher/designated hitter Luke Hancock displayed another baseball definitive: good hitting beats good pitching when a good hitter can predict the pitch. Sims fell behind 2-0 to Hancock and the left-handed hitter turned on a Sims fastball, depositing the baseball in the right field chairbacks. It was 1-0 in the top of the first inning.
Left fielder Brad Cumbest followed Hancock to the plate and dropped a shallow fly into right center, but Cumbest became the victim of another early season conclusive: cold weather can wreak havoc on muscles under stress. Trying to stretch his single into a double, the power hitting outfielder came up lame between first and second, grabbing at what appeared to be his left hamstring. The fact he was tagged for the third out of the inning was the least of any concerns at the time. Cumblest hobbled to the dugout and later departed the playing area. Sims gave up those two hits with a pair of walks and three strikeouts over his two innings of work.
KC Hunt started for his team and recorded all six putouts via strikeout. After allowing a Jess Davis single and Kamren James walk to start his outing, he retired five straight before getting Davis on a punchout to finish his day’s work.
The Black team made it 2-0 in the third off freshman left-hander Cole Cheatham. Skinner walked to lead off the frame and scored when freshman Slate Alford laced a double into the right-center field gap. Alford, who was a fall standout, later tripled to the same space in the sixth.
The Maroons narrowed the deficit in its half of the third off Parker Stinnett. With two out, Lane Forsythe sliced a triple to right, a liner that narrowly eluded Drew McGowan. Forsythe scored on single to center by Von Seibert.
Hancock started the Black rally that accounted for the game’s final score. He walked to lead off the fifth, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on a Tanner Leggett single between shortstop and third base.
If Hunt was not the most effective Bulldog pitcher on the day, he was hard-throwing left hander Andrew Walling. The junior college transfer rebounded from a shaky fall with two innings of one-hit relief Saturday, striking out four of the first five hitters he faced.
In all, Black unit pitchers struck out 14 batters over six innings. The two teams played errorless baseball in the frosty conditions.