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By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – The past 12 months have not gone as planned for Mississippi State’s Torrey Dale.
After redshirting his initial season, Dale had worked his way up to 260 pounds and was part of the second team at defensive end. But just a few days before the 2013 spring game, Dale developed tonsillitis, forcing him to miss the remainder of spring practice.
Dale dropped 40 pounds during the recovery process putting him right back at the weight he started at as a three-star prospect out of national powerhouse John Curtis Christian (La.). He made his debut against Alcorn State last season and recorded a pair of tackles against Troy before more bad news came in – a torn MCL.
The knee injury did not require surgery but sidelined Dale for the rest of the season.
“It always hurts when you’ve put in so much work to play and something unfortunate happens,” Dale said. “You get setbacks, but that’s life so what you have to do is get healthy, work hard and come back out and do it again.”
That is the approach the 6-foot-6 rising sophomore took this spring. Dale was able to get his weight back up to 245 in time for spring practice and again found himself working with the second team at defensive end.
In MSU’s three spring scrimmages inside Davis Wade Stadium, Dale notched four tackles and two sacks.
“Spring is a time where you can put it all out there,” Dale said. “You don’t have to worry about putting in a game plan or anything, you can just go hard. If you go hard you’ll find your way onto the field. Spring is a big deal for everybody because that’s where you earn your playing time.”
Dale is one of eight defensive linemen the Bulldogs signed in 2012 and will be an integral part of the defense this fall.
“I feel like our D-line could be the best in the country if we all work hard,” Dale said. “We’ve got the mindset now where we all know what we want and are all going on the same mission to be the best and get to where we want to be.”
Dale heads into the offseason hoping to make up for lost time. He is striving to get his weight back up to 260 and stay part of David Turner’s rotation on the defensive line.
“I’m working hard to get on the field and make a statement,” Dale said. “That’s what I came here to do. Unfortunately, I’ve had some setbacks but I’ll keep pushing and fighting to do what I came here to do and that’s play.”
By Logan Lowery
No. 24 Mississippi State travels to Missouri for the first time in school history this weekend but Columbia is a very familiar setting to Bulldog coach John Cohen.
Cohen cut his teeth in the coaching profession for six years with the Tigers, first as a graduate assistant from 1992-94 and then as an assistant coach under Tim Jamieson from 1995-97 before landing his first head coaching gig at Northwestern State.
“My kids were born there and I have a degree from the University of Missouri,” Cohen said. “That part of it is neat until we throw a pitch, and then we’re playing another SEC weekend that’s very, very important to us.”
First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. tonight followed by a 2 p.m. start on Saturday. The series finale will be at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
The two programs have met just twice previously on the diamond with the Bulldogs winning both. MSU outlasted the Tigers 2-1 in 17 innings during last year’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala. Former catcher Mitch Slauter finally ended the affair with an RBI single in the bottom of the 17th after State had stranded 19 runners.
The Diamond Dogs other victory in the series came in the 2003 NCAA Starkville Regional, 10-5.
Preston Brown’s injury will force him to miss his third straight SEC start on the mound. The sophomore right-hander will not make the trip.
“Hopefully he can rehab to the extent to where maybe we can get him back later on in the season,” Cohen said. “That’s a tough blow to our pitching staff because that was a guy who was pitching it well.”
Junior right-hander Trevor Fitts will take the mound tonight for Mississippi State with sophomore southpaw Ross Mitchell pushing his start back to Saturday. Sunday’s starter will be determined by which pitcher has not been used during the previous two games out of the bullpen.
The Bulldogs (23-15, 7-8) are attempting to bounce back from consecutive SEC series losses. State was swept at LSU and lost two to Ole Miss at home last weekend. Cohen’s club struggled offensively on both weekends but got some confidence back with a 16-2 victory over Alcorn State Tuesday night.
Missouri is 17-18 on the year and 6-9 in conference play having won last weekend’s series at Kentucky. The Tigers lost at Missouri State 9-0 Tuesday night and have been shutout twice in their last three outings.
“We’re playing a good Missouri team that’s playing well right now,” Cohen said. “We’re excited about that opportunity. In watching their series against Kentucky, they’re a really solid club that can do a lot of things well. Hopefully we’ll go up there and play well because this is the time of year you need to start playing well.”
Tonight: MSU RHP Trevor Fitts (2-2, 3.29 ERA) vs. MU RHP Brett Graves (3-2, 2.67 ERA)
Saturday: MSU LHP Ross Mitchell (5-3, 2.15 ERA) vs. MU RHP John Miles (2-4, 5.25 ERA)
Sunday: MSU TBA vs. MU RHP Eric Anderson (2-2, 3.15 ERA)
Spring practice is in the books for Mississippi State football.
There were not as many questions concerning the Bulldogs as there may have been in years past, with 18 starters returning from last year’s team that went 7-6 and won the Liberty Bowl.
The two most pressing quandaries I had about MSU heading into spring practice still remain. I do not know who will replace Gabe Jackson and Charles Siddoway on the offensive line nor do I see a clear solution to the Bulldogs’ placekicking problem.
Justin Malone and Jocquell Johnson did not participate in any team drills this spring so it is hard to pinpoint what their roles will be on the offensive line. Jamaal Clayborn and Ben Beckwith took most of the reps as first team guards while Damien Robinson received most of the work at right tackle.
Will State stick with that setup, or will Malone and Johnson factor in that mix this fall?
It would be hard for the field goal kicking to go anywhere but up after dreadfully inconsistent 2013. The Bulldogs were just 10 of 21 on field goal tries last season, with Devon Bell making 6 of 14, Evan Sobiesk going 3 of 6 and the departed Taylor Earhart making his only attempt.
Bell was removed from the equation entirely this spring and will focus strictly on punting and kickoffs leaving the team with only walk-on options. Sobiesk battled Westin Graves for the job but the duo combined to go just 6 of 14 in three scrimmages inside Davis Wade Stadium.
That should be a major cause for concern for Mississippi State fans.
The good news is the Bulldogs were able to escape the spring without any major injuries. Senior defensive tackles Kaleb Eulls and P.J. Jones both missed the spring with foot injuries which created an opportunity for some of the younger defensive tackles to gain quality reps.
This spring was also huge for Nick James. After redshirting his true sophomore year last fall, James has trimmed down and played with a tremendous motor in every spring practice I saw. I expect him to be a huge contributor for MSU’s defensive line in 2014. If there was a most improved trophy for spring, I’d have to hand it over to him.
Another player who caught my eye is redshirt freshman Gabe Myles. The former Starkville High School quarterback spent last season practicing in the secondary but made the move to slot receiver this spring and has several spectacular plays. Jameon Lewis will still get most of the reps there in the fall but Myles proved to be a valuable understudy and has a bright future ahead.
Fans have a lot to be excited for in 2014 as the Bulldogs open a newly renovated stadium and attempt to make their fifth consecutive bowl appearance…and I haven’t even mentioned Dak Prescott’s name until now.
Logan Lowery (logan.lowery@ journalinc.com) covers Mississippi State for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideMSUSports.com
By Parrish Alford and Logan Lowery
Rick Ray added one final piece to his 2014 class at Mississippi State on Wednesday by signing Jones County Junior College forward Johnny Zuppardo.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pounder took an official visit to Starkville over the weekend and committed to the Bulldogs on Tuesday. Zuppardo also had offers from Washington, Wichita State, St. Bonaventure, Iona and Kent State.
The former St. Stanislaus standout began his career at Arkansas State where he appeared in 24 games as a true freshman averaging 1.3 points and one rebound. From there Zuppardo transferred to Southern Miss where he was forced to sit out the 2012-13 season due to transfer rules.
Zuppardo helped lead the Bobcats to the NJCAA National Championship this past season averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He earned was selected to the NJCAA All-Tournament team.
Zuppardo is the fourth member of the MSU signing class joining fellow forwards Demetrius Houston and Oliver Black along with guard Maurice Dunlap, who all signed in the fall.
Smith chooses Rebels
Ole Miss basketball has signed Terrence Smith, a 6-foot-4 guard from Tennessee-Martin, to a postgraduate scholarship, Rebels coach Andy Kennedy announced on Wednedsay.
Smith, a native of Russellville, Ala., is scheduled to graduate from UTM in May.
Smith averaged 14.6 points and 2.8 assists on a Skyhawks team that wen 8-23. He shot 42.9 percent from the floor, 43.8 percent from 3-point range.
Wednesday was the first day of the spring signing period for basketball.
The Rebels also signed Rod Lawrence, a 6-4 wing from South Plains (Texas) Community College.
Lawrence averaged 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds in 31 minutes a game last year while shooting 32.8 percent from 3-point range.
Thomas commits to Bulldogs
Mississippi State football added another playmaker to its 2015 fold as three-star athlete Deddrick Thomas became the Bulldogs 10th commitment.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pounder from Memphis is rated as the No. 16 prospect in Tennessee and the nation’s 52nd-best at the “athlete” position according to 247Sports.com. The latest commitment has the Bulldogs’ class ranking 10th nationally.
Thomas also had offers from Cincinnati, Duke, Marshall, Memphis, Middle Tennessee, Ohio, Ole Miss, South Alabama, Southern Miss and Troy.
Thomas is expected to be a slot receiver in college.
Last season, Thomas helped lead Central High School to an 8-4 record and into the quarterfinals of the Class 6A state playoffs.
By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Rick Ray added one final piece to his 2014 class at Mississippi State on Wednesday by signing Jones County Junior College forward Johnny Zuppardo.
The 6-foot-9, 240-pounder took an official visit to Starkville over the weekend and committed to the Bulldogs on Tuesday. He signed a national letter of intent today.
Zuppardo also had offers from Washington, Wichita State, St. Bonaventure, Iona and Kent State.
The former St. Stanislaus standout began his career at Arkansas State, where he appeared in 24 games as a true freshman, averaging 1.3 points and 1.0 rebound per game. From there Zuppardo transferred to Southern Miss, where he was forced to sit out the 2012-13 season due to transfer rules.
Zuppardo helped lead the Bobcats to the NJCAA National Championship this past season by averaging 15.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game. He was selected to the NJCAA All-Tournament team.
Zuppardo is the fourth member of the MSU signing class, joining fellow forwards Demetrius Houston and Oliver Black along with guard Maurice Dunlap, who all signed in the fall.
By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – Following Sunday’s lopsided loss to in-state rival Ole Miss, Mississippi State coach John Cohen was disgusted with his team’s approach and performance.
The sixth-year coach vowed to outwork every other college baseball team in the second half of the season starting on Monday.
“It’s takeover time for the second half of the season,” Cohen said following Sunday’s loss. “I think we can still play well. There’s a lot left out there for us. There are things like (Sunday) where we’re not representing ourselves very well. We’ve got to move forward and not let that happen.”
Mississippi State responded in a big way Tuesday night in a 16-2 rout of Alcorn State.
The Diamond Dogs dropped to No. 24 in the latest Baseball America poll, falling seven spots after losing its second straight Southeastern Conference series. MSU is 23-15 overall and 7-8 in the SEC, which is tied for fourth in the Western Division.
After finishing as the national runner-up at the College World Series last year, the Bulldogs were ranked as highly as No. 2 in the preseason but have underachieved thus far in 2014.
To get their attention, Cohen had every player shave their facial hair before returning for practice on Monday’s practice.
“Our ultimate goal is to win a national championship, and that’s every year here at Mississippi State,” said first baseman and team co-captain Wes Rea. “I kind of felt like we were getting lackadaisical a little bit, and we had to re-evaluate how bad we wanted to be here and how blessed we are to play in this environment that the people of Starkville create for us.”
State was at 8-7 in conference play at this point last season but won two of their final three SEC series in the month of May to get hot heading into the postseason. Rea is hoping for a similar path this time around.
“We’re a game behind where we were at this point last year, and look how that turned out for us,” Rea said. “We’ve had some problems but we put them behind us. From a long-term standpoint, we’re not far off from where we need to be.”
Mississippi State responded in a big way Tuesday night in a 16-2 rout of Alcorn State. The Bulldogs had 15 hits led by Alex Detz, who went 3-for-4 with a double and four RBIs.
Rea was 2-for-4 with an RBI while Matthew Britton was 2-for-5 with a double.
The Diamond Dogs travel to Missouri this weekend.
The Bulldogs (22-15, 7-8) split last week’s games against Southern Miss and Ole Miss by winning an extra-inning affair from each.
MSU is 12-0 all-time against Alcorn State outscoring the Braves 181-34 in the series. ASU was able to keep things close a year ago and nearly pulled the upset in a 7-6 decision.
The Braves are 6-32 on the year and are just 2-22 on the road this year. Alcorn State dropped a SWAC series at home to Alabama State over the weekend.
Neither team has announced a starting pitcher.
Looking back: The Diamond Dogs split with in-state opponents last week winning a pair of extra-inning contests but also losing their second straight SEC series. MSU defeated Southern Miss 4-3 in 11-innings last Tuesday in Pearl but were outscored 23-9 by Ole Miss losing two of three on Super Bulldog Weekend.
Looking ahead: The Bulldogs host Alcorn State tonight at 6:30 p.m.
Rankings: State fell seven spots down to No. 24 in the latest Baseball America poll.
In the SEC: The Diamond Dogs travel to Missouri for the first time in history for a three-game series. Friday’s opener is set for 6 p.m. followed by a 2 p.m. first pitch on Saturday. Sunday’s finale is slated for a 1 p.m. start.
MVP: Derrick Armstrong has continued his tear at the plate going 8-for-13 during the week with three walks and three stolen bases. The senior outfielder from Columbia, Tenn., has raised his batting average to .356 on the year and has had five straight multi-hit games.
By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – A day after watching its in-state rival rally to win with four runs in the bottom of the 10th inning, No. 19 Ole Miss made sure to not make the same mistake twice.
The Rebels scored the first 10 runs on Sunday’s rubber game against 17th-ranked Mississippi State and clinched the weekend series with a 12-2 victory in front of 10,371 at Dudy Noble Field.
“We just had to stick to our plan even though it turned out bad (Saturday) night,” said Ole Miss third baseman Austin Anderson. “We had to come back and be ready to go. The coaches kept stressing to be aggressive, go right after them and kind of punch them in the mouth early.”
The Rebels (29-9, 9-6) not only scored a season high in runs but also collected their highest hit total of the year with 20.
Anderson had a big hand in the Ole Miss offense, going 4-for-5 with two doubles and a pair of runs batted in.
Preston Overbey went 3-for-5 with three singles and three RBI while Auston Bousfield was 3-for-6 with three singles and drove in one. Braxton Lee and Will Jamison were each 2-for-4 while Will Allen was 2-for-5 with two RBI.
Sam Smith improved to 5-2 on the mound for the Rebels. Smith’s start lasted six innings, giving up two runs on six hits with three strikeouts and a pair of walks.
“Sam was as good today as he’s been all year,” said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco. “He was just really spotting up his fastball, breaking ball and change-up. Defensively we were outstanding, turning a couple of double plays.
“Then our offense had 20 hits. Some great days by a lot of guys, and I’m really proud of the way we showed up today.”
Justin Massie picked up his first save of the season, tossing the final three shutout innings.
The Bulldogs (22-15, 7-8) scattered eight hits on the day led by Derrick Armstrong, who was 2-for-4 with two singles.
MSU left eight runners on base and committed three errors.
“Ole Miss played really well today and I give them all the credit in the world,” said MSU coach John Cohen. “I’m not sure we could’ve beaten a very good junior high baseball team today. We were absolutely uninspired in every phase of the game which is really disappointing.”
Ben Bracewell (2-3) lasted just 22⁄3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits with two walks and a strikeout. Brandon Woodruff surrendered seven runs and Lucas Laster allowed three in relief.
The Rebels return home to play LSU starting on Thursday, while State hosts Alcorn State on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
By Logan Lowery
STARKVILLE – The largest crowd to ever watch a college baseball game on campus also witnessed one of the most dramatic as No. 17 Mississippi State rallied with four runs in the bottom of the 10th inning to defeat instate nemesis Ole Miss 6-5.
But Bulldog fans already had reason to celebrate having broke the NCAA attendance record with 15,586, shattering their own previous record from 1989 by 595.
“This is not only important for our athletic department and our baseball program but for our whole university,” said MSU coach John Cohen. “This is like a homecoming in the spring. To see this many people show up for football, baseball and other events is really exciting for our kids. This is something they’ll never forget.”
Freshman catcher Gavin Collins, who delivered the game-winning single, had his entire family visiting Dudy Noble Field for the first time from Lake Forest, Calif. Collins was overwhelmed by the atmosphere on Saturday.
“I just want to thank this crowd,” Collins said. “15,000-plus, that’s awesome man. Everybody being here just gave us that extra boost to come back and get that win. This was a big win for us.”
MSU now owns the top 11 on-campus crowds in NCAA history and 17 of the top 25. Friday night’s crowd of 13,324 ranks as the eighth-most ever and was the largest ever to see a game on Friday. The Bulldogs also boast the largest fan base to view a three-day SEC series with 29,915 in attendance.
Saturday’s attendance marks the 33rd time in school history it has eclipsed 10,000 or more. The Diamond Dogs have surpassed 10,000 or better three times this season.
State also holds claim to the two largest Super Regional crowds in NCAA history with 12,620 and 13,715 fans respectively during the 2007 Starkville Super Regional against Clemson.
Dudy Noble Field was ranked as the top venue in college baseball by StadiumJourney.com last summer.