STARKVILLE — Daryl Norris knew these days would come.
Every baseball player has them sometime. But after the way his college baseball career started at Mississippi State, it had to be a little surprising how quickly and completely he fell into his first collegiate slump.
Norris claimed the SEC’s first 2011 freshman of the week award in late February, going 5-for-8 with eight RBIs in the two games against Akron and Lamar. He earned the honor again a month later after going 5-for-9 with four runs scored and earning a win on the mound with 5 1/3 innings of scoreless relief in a series sweep of Auburn last month.
Since then, the bottom has dropped out.
Norris, who has started 15 games at first base and eight as a designated hitter for the Bulldogs, is hitless with four strikeouts in his last 10 at-bats over the last seven games and his batting average has plummeted from .359 to .308. He was 0-for-2 in one start as the Bulldogs dropped two of three to No. 4 Florida last weekend, but the Fairhope, Ala., alum is trying to take it in stride.
“That’s just the game of baseball,” he said after Saturday’s 18-0 loss to the Gators. “I’m still working hard and trying to get back where I was earlier.”
Mississippi State coach John Cohen said Norris, like many hitters, is pressing a bit in his eagerness to break out of the slump, but he’s confident Norris will work his way back to his earlier form.
“He’s putting a lot of effort into his swing and he needs to just relax and let it happen,” Cohen said. “It’s usually a situation where early in a ballgame you can tell whether Daryl’s on it or not on it.
“Daryl’s going to be a very, very good hitter here at Mississippi State. He’s getting a lot of action early on, because we need him.”
Norris came to Mississippi State with a sterling high school resume.
A five-year starter at Fairhope, he was Alabama’s Mr. Baseball in 2010, hitting .444 with 11 home runs and 65 RBIs as senior, while striking out 108 batters from the mound.
He’s been used a short reliever this year at MSU, recording a 1-0 record and 1.29 ERA and one save in six appearances.
“When I came in, I was figuring I was going to be primarily a pitcher,” Norris said. “Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep swinging the bat and pitching as well. I really enjoy doing both, getting to play every day and then getting on the mound some, too.”
Despite his recent struggles, Norris is enjoying his time at MSU. His family travels to Starkville often in their RV, and Norris loves the atmosphere around the program, which drew more than 10,000 fans to Dudy Noble Field on Saturday.
On the field, he believes the combination of a steady mental approach and some adjustments with his swing will get him back where he needs to be at the plate.
“I’m just really getting on top of a lot of balls, getting a lot of groundouts right now and not hitting a lot of line drives,” Norris said. “You’ve just got to keep that positive mindset and not let the past games interfere with what you have in front of you.”
Fortunately, he has some experience breaking out of slumps. He started his senior year at Fairhope hitting only .260 through his first 15 games before ending the season on a tear.
It’s difficult not to press, he said, “but you learn from experience that you’ve got to not try to do too much and just do what you’ve been doing throughout your whole life.”
Mike Herndon/The Mississippi Press