Paxton Stover‘s first two outings at Mississippi State were far from what he had planned.
The true freshman pitcher made his debut on opening weekend against Cincinnati and surrendered six runs on four hits and two walks while recording only two outs.
Stover’s next opportunity came in his first career start against Western Kentucky on March 11. He was unable to record an out after giving up a single and two walks to load the bases.
“I didn’t feel nervous but in reality I was,” Stover said. “I just think that affected me and my ability to compete and you could see where I had trouble finding the strike zone. But I’m going to figure it out.”
Figuring it out meant time with nationally renown pitching coach Butch Thompson. Stover has been working with Thompson ever since to regain confidence in his command.
“He always tells me to just play catch and try not to worry,” Stover said. “He’s big on it’s not what pitch you throw but where you throw it. I think I’m just trying too hard to get it there and that’s what’s causing me to not find the strike zone.”
Stover’s arsenal features four pitches – a two and four-seam fastball, slider and change-up. He has been clocked as high as 91 miles per hour but has seen his velocity decrease to the mid to low 80’s of late.
Thompson’s work with the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder has been as much a mental exercise as it is from a physical standpoint.
“He really works on your mind,” Stover said. “He tries to get you into a winner’s mentality where you can go out there and compete every time and that breeds success.”
Success is something that Stover saw plenty of at Dyer County High School, where he was considered the No. 2 left-handed pitcher in Tennessee and ranked 92nd nationally. He went 9-2 as a junior with a 0.50 earned run average and 111 strikeouts in only 84 innings of work.
Stover was selected as a first-team Louisville Slugger All-American and All-Southeast Region honorable mention by Perfect Game as a senior.
He quickly learned however that pitching at the college level is
“One of the main things is it’s a whole lot more competitive,” Stover said. “In high school ball there was always the intimidation of guys knowing who I was and that I was going to an SEC school. Here it’s not like that.”
Stover landed offers from Austin Peay and Belmont and received interest from Vanderbilt and Ole Miss but had his heart set on Starkville from the beginning.
“I chose Mississippi State because it had a great baseball program,” Stover said. “I love the atmosphere of baseball here. It’s amazing. I’ve always liked Mississippi State and even if I wasn’t going to play ball anywhere, I still wanted to come to school here.”