A gloomy afternoon with clouds blanketing the Mississippi sky was not enough to keep the Mississippi State University and the Youngstown State University fans from supporting their teams in the MSU home opener. MSU swept the opening weekend.
Ethan Small, a junior left-handed pitcher from Lexington, Tennessee, had one walk in game one. Small kept throwing strikes, showing fans from the first game that he is ready to help take the Bulldogs to a Championship this season. Following game one, Small said there is more of an emphasis on throwing strikes this season—something he struggled with in previous seasons.
“Its like attack the zone, if they hit it they hit it,” Small said. “Throw fastballs for strikes aggressively in the bottom of the zone, and let the rest take care of itself.”
Small said his confidence in his team has grown and he did not doubt them once. He said he expected them to pull through for a win, despite MSU trailing at one point 3-0.
“If there’s anything I know about our offense is that it’s going to come around eventually,” Small said. “And as a starting pitcher, there was never a moment where I doubted them.”
New head coach Chris Lemonis said he was pleased with Small’s performance in the first game, even though he could tell Small had some extra energy starting off.
“I thought he (Small) was really good, especially early,” Lemonis said. “I think he was excited early, so he kind of ran out of gas a little bit, but really command the fast ball.”
Lemonis also said opening day was awesome, but he is ready to focus in on baseball and his coaching.
“Just getting the stadium going, opening day, my first game, the kids first day—a lot of mental things,” Lemonis said. “The kids did a great job getting through that. I want to get out there and play the game and coach.”
MSU got a leg up on YSU early on in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader and the second of the series. JT Ginn, a freshman right-handed pitcher from Brandon, stayed on the mound until the sixth inning, with a total of 68 pitches as he lead the team to a 14-2 victory in his first career start.
“It was everything I imagined it would be and more,” Gunn said. “It was good to get out there and get my first start and it was fun.”
Tanner Allen also lead the team in hitting as he drove in nine runs and did not strike out in nine plate appearances in the game.
“I was just taking advantage with what they gave me,” Allen said.
Jordan Westburg, a sophomore infielder from New Braunfels, Texas, said is was truly special to open the finished stadium with success.
“It’s exactly what you dream about opening day at the new Dude–the atmosphere was awesome, even though it wasn’t the best weather out, the fans showed up, we really appreciate that,” Westburg said.
The ball sprung off the bat as Hayden Jones, a freshman from Huntertown, Indiana, sent his first hit over the right field fence in the final game of Mississippi State University’s opening series against Youngstown State University as MSU won 8-0.
“I don’t even remember the pitch coming in, I just remember swinging and making contact,” Jones said. “The ball went up and it was an unbelievable moment with the guys. The fans went crazy, it was just an experience to live through—it was unbelievable.”
Home runs are special because they are so hard to come by, and they are even more rare as a first hit of someone’s career. Jones defied those odds as he sent it into the stands in right field.
“Just having Jake (Mangum) talking to me before,” Jones said. “He was like, ‘Hey, you are going to get your first hit.' It was one of those positive things with all of those guys there for you.”
Jones said he was not as nervous playing in front of a big crowd as he thought he was going to be. As Jones rounded the bases, he was greeted by a special light display MSU uses to celebrate home runs.
“I was halfway to second and I was like, ‘Okay lights are about to go,’” Jones said. “You hit second base and it is 'wow.' I remember smiling a cheese right when I turned third. It was an experience for sure."