STARKVILLE -- This year's Mississippi State baseball team is made up of all shapes and sizes. They come from both far and wide ranging from California to Florida to Canada and everywhere in between.
This weekend the potpourri of baseballers are challenged in a major way as the Bulldogs (7-2) travel all the way to Los Angeles for a three-game set against UCLA, USC and Oklahoma. Out of all the different players from all over the country, two players from the Coast could be difference makers for the Maroon and White.
Zac Houston has established himself as one of the more important pieces on MSU's pitching staff. Hurling a fastball over 95 mph, the Poplarville junior has worked himself into the starting rotation after coming out of the bullpen a year ago.
Houston threw more than three innings just once in his 25 games prior to this season, but when MSU hired new pitching coach Wes Johnson, he saw the potential for a dynamite SEC starter.
"He was wanting to be in that (closer) role," Johnson said. "His mentality was fine back there but turning around you need his arm to be resilient. Because he was a competitor you saw some of his outings last year where he was out there giving it everything but his arm wasn't where it needed to be."
Houston has shown the signs of that ability already this season and built on what he might say was a disappointing start to open the season. In his season debut against South Dakota State, Houston threw just 3 2/3 innings giving up six hits and five runs (one earned).
The comfortability showed last weekend, though. Houston came out against Nicholls State on Sunday with a career performance. The fireballer had six shutout innings with just three hits and 10 strikeouts to get his first career win.
That culminated a weekend where MSU's starters threw nearly 30 innings of scoreless baseball striking out 34 batters and it makes the decision tougher on head coach John Cohen on who to piece in for a Sunday role during SEC weekends. That's a good problem for the Bulldogs and their coach.
"All of the starters are where we want to be right now," Houston said. "(This weekend) we'll play it by ear but whatever guys they put on the field are going to compete and give us a chance to win."
This weekend will see either Houston or Daniel Brown take the Sunday starting nod and Houston has made his case.
Strong showing in OF
Just as difficult as it is to keep Houston off the mound in a starting capacity, it's becoming as increasingly difficult for Cohen to keep Biloxi native Cody Brown out of the lineup.
Things have changed with the depth and talent brought in for the outfield but Brown's production hasn't. Since his redshirt freshman year, Brown has produced at a high level when his number has been called. Now a junior, keeping him on the bench at any point will be difficult.
"Cody is one of those guys who makes the most of his opportunities," Cohen said. "He works extremely hard and he's a leader on our ball club. He's going to be a difference maker. I don't think we can do what we want to do this year without Cody being a huge part of our team."
Brown is just behind MSU newcomer Jack Kruger with a .389 batting average in seven games. Brown has three doubles and a team-high two triples to this point, slugging at a .778 mark.
With Brent Rooker and Reid Humphreys adding into the mix, finding the right man to play is tough. Like the pitching staff, it's a great problem to have.
"Every day you have to show up to the park ready to play," Brown said. "Whether you're in the lineup or out of the lineup, you know there's always a guy that's going to do the job the same way. It's really good knowing you have that kind of depth."
Whether or not the two Coast standouts get starts this weekend, they'll have to factor into MSU's plans for the Bulldogs to be successful.