STARKVILLE – Sunday featured a couple of significant firsts for Mississippi State baseball, and the Bulldogs figure they’re just getting started.
MSU finished off its first sweep since 2007 with a 5-0 win over No. 22 Auburn (14-10, 2-4 SEC) at Dudy Noble Field. It was State’s first shutout in league play since 2008, a span of 88 games.
And so, third-year coach John Cohen has his team sitting at 18-6 overall, 4-2 in the SEC.
Senior catcher Wes Thigpen isn’t the least bit surprised at what’s transpired for a team that the coaches picked in the preseason to finish last in the Western Division, which is where State has finished each of the previous three seasons.
“That’s fine, that’s what we want to be,” Thigpen said. “We want to be underdogs, we want to prove to them that nobody owes us anything, and we’ll play with a chip on our shoulder every time we go out there.”
Thigpen had two hits and knocked in MSU’s first run of the game. The Bulldogs totaled 10 hits to Auburn’s four.
Junior Nick Routt made his first SEC start in more than a year. In 32⁄3 innings, he allowed two hits, struck out three and was removed after his 53rd pitch.
Cohen was keeping Routt on a strict pitch count as he continues to monitor the left-hander’s elbow.
“His command was off at times, but I thought he spun the fastball very well,” Cohen said.
The win went to freshman Daryl Norris (1-0), who pitched the other 51⁄3 innings. He retired the first eight batters he faced and gave up only two hits. Norris fanned two and walked none on 51 pitches.
It was his longest outing of the year.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to pitch that long or not, but coach (Butch) Thompson has faith in me and just let me keep going,” Norris said.
Auburn starter Derek Varnadore (3-1) was cruising along early, keeping MSU off balance with his deceptive delivery and allowing only three hits while striking out seven through the first four innings.
But State got to him in the fifth for four runs, highlighted by two bunts, a successful hit-and-run and a two-out, two-run single by Jarrod Parks, who had struck out looking his first two times up.
“He is just a really tough kid mentally,” Cohen said of the senior. “I think that’s one of the strengths of our club this year, is we have a lot of kids mentally who are tough enough to deal with striking out twice.”
It’s seniors like Parks and Thigpen who are savoring this early season success, and they’re eager to build on it.
“That is definitely a sign of things to come,” Thigpen said. “It was really big for the guys who have been here before – Cody Freeman, Ryan Collins – that never got to experience that. They’ve been here working and grinding for so long, we wanted to do that for them especially and for us and get us really going.”
MSU stole a run in the sixth when Jaron Shepherd purposefully got in a rundown with two outs. The pitcher failed to cover first, so Shepherd made it back safely, and Adam Frazier scored from third for a 5-0 lead.
MSU returns to action Tuesday when Alabama A&M visits Dudy Noble Field.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal