By Brad Locke
It was a fun trip, but Jeff Brantley paid the price for it.
It was 1985, and Brantley took the mound against Auburn, just a few days after he’d pitched during Mississippi State’s trip to Hawaii. He got shelled by the Tigers.
“He said the worst he ever pitched in his amateur career was after he came back from Hawaii,” said John Cohen, who then was Brantley’s teammate and is now MSU’s head coach.
Brantley eventually recovered and went on to play in the major leagues. Twenty years later, Cohen’s concern is more immediate, because the Bulldogs are once again in Hawaii.
Starting today, State (7-1) plays a four-game set against the Warriors.
It’s a trip that was scheduled by his predecessor, Ron Polk. Don’t expect the Bulldogs to return any time soon.
“From a competitive standpoint, I think there’s pretty good competition here in the lower 48 states,” Cohen said. “In the future, I think we’re probably going to get more bang for our buck by staying in the country.”
There will be little recovery time for the Bulldogs when they return after Sunday’s finale.
Valparaiso visits Starkville for a doubleheader the following Wednesday, and then it’s the first weekend of SEC play, against South Carolina.
That gives Cohen six games to find a lineup and pitching rotation he’s comfortable with against SEC competition. Seventeen position players have started at least one game, and Cohen has used a different lineup each time out.
“I’m not convinced we have a best nine yet,” he said. “We have a best 15 or 16.”
Also, 13 pitchers have seen action. Freshman starter Nick Routt (2-0, 0.64 ERA) and senior reliever Chad Crosswhite (0.00 ERA, two saves) are a couple that have stood out.
Junior right-hander Ricky Bowen (0-0, 4.91) has been a bit of a mystery, though. In two starts, he’s yielded four runs and walked seven in 7.1 innings.
“We’re not going to give up on Ricky,” Cohen said, “because he’s going to be pretty dang good.”
Junior left-hander Tyler Whitney will start today’s game for State. In his only other start, he gave up five runs – all unearned – in 4.2 innings.