By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – As he sat in the dugout during the final game of Mississippi State’s 2009 season, against LSU, Connor Powers recalls thinking, “For some reason I just don’t think this is going to be the last time I play here.”
For Powers, “here” the past four years has been Dudy Noble Field. This weekend will definitely be the last time the senior first baseman sits in that third-base dugout. The Bulldogs (21-28, 5-19 SEC) close out their 2010 home schedule with a three-game series against Vanderbilt (36-13, 12-10) starting at 6:30 p.m. today.
After a fine junior season, Powers was drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 11th round, but he ultimately decided to return to school. That’s turned out to be a good decision.
“If I’m a professional scout, I’m a lot more impressed right now than I was a year ago, a lot more,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “He’s a much more complete player.”
Cohen cited Powers’ strikeout-to-walk ratio. In 2009, the 6-foot-2, 242-pounder struck out 64 times while walking 35 times. This season, he’s whiffed just 32 times with 35 walks.
Powers is hitting .389, which is 88 points higher last season, and he’s raised his on-base percentage from .411 to .489.
Powers said the key has been “making a commitment to get a good pitch to hit.”
That patient approach is what Cohen emphasized to Powers during last season’s exit meetings.
“He has unbelievable strike zone recognition,” said fellow senior Ryan Duffy. “He could probably hit 30 home runs if he wants to, but he’s really shown that he knows the zone very well right now.”
Overall, Powers’ power numbers haven’t dipped from last year.
He has 14 home runs, five fewer than all last season, and a career-high 18 doubles, which ties him for the SEC lead. Powers’ slugging percentage has risen from .668 to .724, and his 64 RBIs (he had 63 last year) lead the league.
Powers’ progress was evident back in the fall, according to senior pitcher Tyler Whitney.
“He was a lot tougher out,” Whitney said. “He’s just grown up a lot mentally over the last year with his approach at the plate.”
Struggles and strides
Powers hails from Napierville, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, but he knew where the best baseball was played: the SEC.
That’s why he joined then-coach Ron Polk’s Bulldogs, choosing them over the likes of Purdue, Iowa and Illinois State.
“No disrespect to them,” Powers said, “but it’s a whole other game playing SEC baseball than I would’ve gotten a chance to play at those schools.”
Powers’ freshman season met his highest expectations. MSU reached its eighth College World Series, and Powers contributed, hitting .306 with eight home runs as a full-time starter, mostly at third base.
He now admits that he expected such success to simply happen. The cruel irony is that the program he joined because of its past excellence has struggled mightily the last three seasons.
MSU will miss the SEC Tournament for the third consecutive season. Since 2008, the Bulldogs are 23-60 in SEC games heading into this weekend.
“It is definitely frustrating,” Powers said. But he added, “I think the program is going in the right direction.”
While the team has struggled, Powers’ time in Starkville has still been quite beneficial to his game. He leaves not regretting a moment of his MSU career.
“The things I’ve learned over the past couple of years playing baseball, it would probably take me hours to even scratch the surface,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about the game and life in general ever since I’ve been in college.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571
Vanderbilt @ Miss. State
- Tonight: 6:30 p.m.
- Saturday: 2 p.m.
- Sunday: 1:30 p.m.
- Tonight: Vanderbilt RHP Sonny Gray
(6-4, 3.07) vs. Mississippi State LHP
Tyler Whitney (0-3, 5.82)
- Saturday: Vanderbilt RHP Taylor Hill
(5-3, 3.22) vs. Mississippi State RHP
Chris Stratton (4-3, 5.97)
- Sunday: Vanderbilt RHP Jack Arm-
strong (6-1, 3.64) vs. Mississippi State
TBA 19 HR, 63 RBIs