Opening Weekend has come and gone for 2023 Mississippi State Baseball. The results could have been better, 3-0 beats 2-1 anytime, but for a team with such a significant infusion of freshmen and transfer talent, some questions have been resolved, others have not, and perhaps even a new question or two has arisen in the first three games.
The obvious, second base, can practically be etched in stone. As long as he remains healthy, there is no reason to think anyone not named Amani Larry will be starting in that position. He not only showed some dazzling defense, the New Orleans transfer still carried the “one point zero zero zero” batting average into the third inning of game two, when he was retired on what was scored a bunt out to pitcher. He finished the weekend hitting .571 (with a 1.000 slugging percentage as well), which would typically be good enough for team-leading and even possible Southeastern Conference Player of the Week consideration.
It would, unless fellow teammate and redshirt freshman Bryce Chance had his own “welcome to Mississippi State Baseball” weekend, putting up a .586 BA, the first MSU home run of the season, and being named SEC co-Freshman Player of the Week, an honor shared with Auburn’s Ike Irish.
Larry and Chance weren’t the only ones whose first official game and series at Dudy Noble Field was successful. Just behind Leadoff Larry in the batting order, Samford transfer Colton Ledbetter put a .462 in the books for the series, with four of his six hits a trio of doubles and a homer, a handsome .923 slugging percentage of his own.
And, many of the “old reliables” from 2022 came through as well. Team Captain Luke Hancock hit .545, no homers but three doubles out of six hits; returner but new third base starter Slate Alford hit .429 with six hits of his own, and Kellum Clark continued his rocket launching swings, leading off two different innings in the Sunday game with screaming home runs, one which appeared to go about as high and far as some of the early Mercury astronauts.
Fellow slugger Hunter Hines struggled in his first few starts at first base, but he came through with a round tripper of his own, down the right field line into Adkerson Plaza, a shot that was reviewed and confirmed as Hines waited patiently standing on third base.
Some of the pitching questions seem to be answered, as Cade Smith and Memphis transfer Landon Gartman appear to occupy two of the weekend rotation slots. KC Hunt logged only two official innings in the Saturday 13-14 loss, striking out four and allowing only one hit, but he also walked six, a sign of the day for a staff that gave up six more free passes and surrendered a 10-1 lead. And, the “that’s baseball” tragedy was that Ball State transfer Nate Dohm, who pitched well in relief both Friday and Saturday, narrowly missed being the winner on Friday and by rule was tagged with the loss on Saturday while giving up no earned runs in either outing.
Altogether, six other pitchers besides Dohm are sporting “Senator Blutarsky” ERAs (0.00) at the moment, including Smith, Tyson Hardin, closer and Texas transfer Aaron Nixon, Logan Forsythe, Bradley Loftin, and switch pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje, who pitched one inning (from the right side only due to a sore left wrist, Head Coach Chris Lemonis explained) and qualified for the win by virtue of being the pitcher of record when State took the lead 4-3.
Freshman catcher Ross Highfill made his debut in the Sunday game, going 1-4 with a double, as Hancock moved to first base. Hines sat, but Lemonis indicated he’ll continue to try different defensive and hitting combinations during the early season as the task of fitting together the newcomers and returnees continues. Connor Hujsak, Wil Hoyle, Nate Chester, Von Seibert, and Aaron Downs all made brief appearances during the weekend and are expected to be in the mix as well.
It’s a short break on Monday only, as the Bulldogs are right back in action at home Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons, both vs. Louisiana Monroe (ULM) in games beginning at 4:00 and 3:00 pm, respectively. Then, another one-day break, and Arizona State comes to Dudy Noble Field for a Friday-Saturday-Sunday series, scheduled for 4:00, 5:00, and 1:00 pm, respectively. All games are on SECN+/ESPN+.