It was a busy, eventful weekend for Mississippi State's athletes, so let's review the highlights and lowlights before looking at what's ahead.
• The baseball team dropped two of three at No. 12 South Carolina, falling 14-2 in Sunday's finale. To win one game in Columbia – an 8-7 decision on Saturday – is about all you could've hoped for with this young group. Coach John Cohen had to be encouraged with how freshman hurler Chris Stratton bounced back from his poor showing the previous weekend versus Georgia. In the Saturday win against SC, Stratton allowed three runs on eight hits, walked five and struck out two in five innings. OK, not spectacular, but not bad either.
It was certainly better than the Bulldogs' other starting pitchers. Freshman Kendall Graveman didn't even make it out of the first inning of Friday's 10-2 loss, and Tyler Whitney gave up five runs in 2.1 innings on Sunday.
• Spring football has hit the halfway point, and it seems the defense is looking good. Kinda hard to say, of course, just how good anyone is in spring going up against themselves. But the D won Saturday's first full-scale scrimmage despite a handful of big plays by the offense.
I know what you're thinking: Who's winning the QB battle? Too soon to tell. Chris Relf has been inconsistent in his throwing – par for the course – while Russell still looks like a freshman at times, although it's clear he's got the tools. We'll watch that situation closely over the final two weeks of practice. Same with running back.
• MSU's track and field team showed out at the Texas Relays in Austin, especially the sprinters. A 25-year-old school record in the 4x200-meter relay was broken: O'Neal Wilder, Dwight Mullings, Kendall May and freshman Tavaris Tate ran it in 1:21.09 to finish second. Also making the podium was the men's 4x400 relay squad, which finished second, and Emanuel Mayers, who took third in the 400-meter hurdles.
• Jarvis Varnado now owns five defensive player of the year awards – from this year alone. No. 5 came last night, when the National Association of Basketball Coaches handed him their top defender award in Indianapolis. Varnado, a 6-foot-9 senior and the NCAA's all-time leading shot blocker, has also won such honors from the SEC, the Sporting News, Rivals.com and CollegeInsider.com.
THE WEEK AHEAD
• Baseball returns to action Tuesday against Jackson State (6:30 p.m.). I'll try talking with Cohen today to get his thoughts on the past weekend. This coming weekend, the Bulldogs (15-13, 3-6 SEC) return home to take on Arkansas (22-6, 6-3) in a three-game set.
• The football team resumes spring drills Tuesday at 3:45 p.m. It'll be the eighth of 15 practices, the final one, of course, being the Maroon-White spring game on April 17. Now that I've got wheels, I'll be able to make it to a lot more practices and provide y'all with better coverage. For what it's worth, my recovery is going swimmingly, and I thank all of you again for your thoughts, prayers and patience.
• Varnado can pick up some more hardware on Thursday, when the Howell Award will be handed out in Jackson. He won it last year, and he's battling Chris Warren of Ole Miss and Jackson State's Garrison Johnson.
The winner of last year's Gillom Trophy is also from MSU, Alexis Rack, and she's up for it again. Her competition is Bianco Thomas of Ole Miss and Pauline Love of Southern Miss. It all takes place at the Mississippi Hall of Fame and Museum. For tickets, call 1-800-280-3263.