Mississippi State

Coast quartet should boost Mississippi State's baseball team

COURTESY MISSISSIPPI STATE 
 Former Gulfport Admiral Myles Gentry hopes to bounce back after an injury-shortened 2015 season at Mississippi State.
COURTESY MISSISSIPPI STATE Former Gulfport Admiral Myles Gentry hopes to bounce back after an injury-shortened 2015 season at Mississippi State.

The consensus school of thought seems to be Mississippi State will bounce back from a rather under whelming 2015 campaign.

With the season set to start Friday, most national polls have the Bulldogs ranked in the mid-teens to early 20s.

Once again MSU will have a strong Coast presence with outfielder Cody Brown (Biloxi) and right-handed pitchers Zac Houston (Poplarville) and Myles Gentry (Gulfport) -- all juniors -- joined by freshman southpaw Konnor Pilkington (East Central).

Both Brown and Houston are coming off strong sophomore campaigns.

Brown was second on the team with a .309 batting average. The outfielder also led MSU with 14 doubles and was third in hits with 46. Brown's .400 on-base percentage ranked fourth on MSU.

He didn't slow down over the summer, hitting .255 with eight doubles, one homer and 16 RBIs en route to being named a Cal Ripken Collegiate Baseball League All-Star.

While Brown looks to factor heavily into one of the Bulldogs' outfield slots this season, MSU's pitching roles seems a lot more fluid.

Plenty of options

Houston more than held his own in 2015 -- he was 0-2 with a 3.66 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 31 innings in relief. While he's sure to see plenty of playing time, the former Poplarville standout's role is up in the air.

"I think Zac is much more comfortable in the starting role for now. I think he is open to help our ball club in any capacity," MSU coach John Cohen told reporters on media day. "He might be throwing better than anybody on our whole team. Is he a starter on Saturday or Sunday, or do we start him on Tuesday? We have some options.

"He has really benefited from (new pitching coach) Wes Johnson. I think Wes has really connected with him. He is a power arm and he has thrown a couple of balls 98 mph this spring."

Johnson pointed at Houston likely starting this season, but the new pitching coach didn't rule anything out.

"He has been phenomenal. When you look at a staff like this and the talent we have, you wonder how you can get 50 innings out of Zac Houston or whoever," he said. "The answer is to find out what role they do. A closer needs to recover quickly. Zac's arm takes longer to recover. If you start him, you give his arm that time it needs to recover, then he is able to do more for our ballclub."

Bouncing back

Gentry is coming off of a difficult '15 season that was shortened due to injury. As a result, the former Admiral only appeared in five games. The previous two seasons may be better indicators of the right-hander's true ability. As a freshman, Gentry posted a 4-1 record with a 3.69 ERA, a .200 opponent's batting average and 30 strikeouts in 31.2 innings. In 2014, Gentry posted a 4.78 ERA with 25 strikeouts in 32 innings.

"Myles Gentry is fighting his tail off to get his arm back to where it was. It hasn't even been a year since his surgery," Cohen said of Gentry, who had surgery on his torn labrum last season.

Pilkington is a bit of a wildcard for the Bulldogs, who have a lot of options on the mound. The former East Central hurler has seen his velocity creep up to 93 miles-per-hour since enrolling at MSU and seems to have impressed his new coaches. Still, his role is up in the air.

Busy start

It won't take long for Cohen to see what he has in his team as the Bulldogs open the season Friday against Florida Atlantic, play South Dakota State and FAU on Saturday and then close the weekend Sunday against SDSU. MSU then turns around and plays Memphis on Tuesday. The Bulldogs play a similar schedule the following weekend against UMass-Lowell and Nicholls State.

"We want to use as many arms as possible to start the season. It would not surprise me if we use 12 or 13 arms five games into the season," Cohen said. "That is something that we need to do to find out what these kids can do. Several of these kids are going to be freshmen. We are really looking forward to the opportunity to get out there, get some innings under the belt and see how we perform in game conditions."

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