Blake Smith gambled with a walk-on opportunity to come to Mississippi State after his junior college career was complete.
The Fort Payne, Alabama native turned down scholarship offers from home state schools Troy, UAB and Samford in order to pursue his dream of pitching in the Southeastern Conference.
“It was a big chance taking a walk-on spot,” Smith said. “I knew there was a chance that I wouldn’t even make the team. I knew that coming in but I was willing to take that chance to play in the SEC. It worked out though.”
Smith went unnoticed by four-year programs when he graduated from high school and took Shelton State Community College up on its offer. He logged a 1.69 ERA with 31 strikeouts in 32 innings as a freshman and followed that up with a school-record 0.45 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 40 frames as a sophomore.
“I’d always wanted to play Division I baseball but junior college was my only option out of high school,” Smith said. “I went there for two years, kept working and was given this opportunity here.”
In his first season with the Bulldogs, Smith made 20 relief appearances and posted a 2-2 record with five saves. The 6-foot, 195-pound right-hander sported a 2.93 earned run average with striking out 31 and walking 15 in 27 2/3 innings as a junior.
After pitching on two different levels at the collegiate level, Smith noticed a drastic difference in the talent levels of the batters he has faced.
“Every hitter in every lineup in this league has the ability to hurt you,” Smith said. “You have to make pitches to every hitter. You can’t make a good pitch every now and then. Every pitch has to be a quality pitch.”
Smith made his MSU debut on Feb. 21 against South Dakota State and notched saves in both the SEC Tournament and Starkville Regional. He was also the man on the mound when the final out was recorded and Diamond Dogs had clinched their first SEC regular season title since 1989.
“I can’t say that I wasn’t a little nervous,” Smith said. “The adrenaline was definitely pumping with that many people in the stands. You just have to learn how to control it. There’s nothing wrong with being a little nervous and having a little energy.”
Smith brought home another title this summer playing for the Santa Barbara Foresters in the California Collegiate League. In 12 relief outings, he was 0-1 with a 3.95 ERA, 20 strikeouts and eight walks over 13 2/3 innings.
“It helped a lot,” Smith said. “You play against the same caliber of guys as you do in the SEC.”