March 5, 2013 11:42:01 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- After completing its 16th straight win to start the 2013 season Tuesday night at Dudy Noble Field with a 14-2 win against Mississippi Valley State University, the debate still rages on about Mississippi State baseball.
The national pundits and Southeastern Conference are still withholding judgement until the No. 3 Bulldogs (16-0) not only play a perceived higher caliber opponent but play in a game away from the friendly confines of Starkville.
"I do think it is worth mentioning they haven't even left home yet and we're almost a month into the season," Baseball America senior writer Aaron Fitt said. "On the other hand, I know that schedule is intentional by their coaching staff so it you're going to do that, dominate. And that's exactly what they've done."
Mississippi State certainly dominated its first in-state opponent of the season by easily taking care of its in-state rival. The Bulldogs bullpen combination of Louis Pollorena, Preston Brown, Trevor Fitts and John Marc Shelly held the Delta Devils without an earned run and just three hits after sophomore right-hander Brandon Woodruff managed to only get one out in his 12-pitch performance.
"We felt like early on Woodruff didn't have his command and I think in the long run it'll be really good for him because he'll be able to point back to this and learn from it," MSU coach John Cohen said.
After a slow start that saw MVSU (2-12) get the first run on the board, the Bulldogs' offense exploded for nine extra base hits and had nine players record an RBI.
"This club could really become a really good offensive club but even when you have that, you know that the other aspects of the game are something you can control more from a night to night basis," Cohen said.
MSU junior outfielder Hunter Renfroe, a preseason candidate for the Golden Spikes Trophy given to the nation's best college baseball player, had 2 for 3 evening that included a massive two-run home run in the sixth inning. Tuesday night marked his fourth multi-RBI game and first since coming back from a slightly fractured right hand.
"We have to take every game we play here early seriously and let's face it -- tonight we weren't really doing that at first," Renfroe said. "The one I hit out surprised me but the hand and swing are really feeling good for him. I've told Coach Cohen I'm physically fine and I can be in the lineup everyday."
MSU is one of eight undefeated Division I college baseball teams left in the nation but according to WarrenNolan.com has an ratings percentage index of just 34 due to a strength of schedule ranking of 205.
However, of the eight teams left without a loss, only one school has a strength of schedule under No. 133 and that's Oregon State University (12-0).
MSU is second in the country behind the Beavers in runs allowed per game at 1.6 and have been defeating each of their 16 opponents this season by an average of six runs per game. The Bulldogs bullpen has been dominant as MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson begins the schedule taking care of his starters' arms with strict pitch counts. MSU relievers have only allowed six earned runs in 68 innings and are holding opponents to a .162 batting average.
"We're going to find out a lot about our club throughout this season no doubt but I really believe every time we go out there, the two things we're going to do is pitch it and play really good defense," Cohen said.
MSU will get a nice test this weekend when they open up a three game series against the University of Central Arkansas (12-1) as the Bears are a projected favorite to win the Southland Conference this season.
In less than two weeks, MSU will host Louisiana State to open up SEC play in a battle that will obviously give everyone involved a better perception at the future expectations for this club. Right now the only thing certain is they may not be able to get much higher until MSU has to deal with some of the adversity every team must encounter in the course of a four month season.
"We think they're an Omaha team plain and simple and that's why we ranked them at No. 5 to start the season," Fitt said. "Judging by the depth, the arms and the experience coming back, those should be the expectations for them."