New day, new Dawgs, same results for No. 11 MS State
STARKVILLE, Mississippi - Just one pitch. That's how long into the bottom of the first it took for Mississippi State's newcomers to start making noise at Dudy Noble Field as the baseball season got underway on Friday.
Opening Day is always full of firsts. Well, on Opening Day 2023, it was first impressions that ruled the afternoon.
From the time transfer second baseman and leadoff man Amani Larry smacked the initial offering he saw off the right-centerfield wall, right up until freshman pitcher Logan Forsythe induced a game-ending ground out to second to wrap an 11-2 win in Maroon and White, a message was sent. These new Dawgs have plenty of bite.
Larry reached base in all five of his plate appearances, going 4-for-4 with a double, three singles, a walk, and four RBIs. He also stole two bags. So much for early jitters at his new home.
"Pretty impressive," head coach Chris Lemonis said of Larry. "I didn't even realize until the end of the game that he never got out. And he made a couple of nice plays [ in the field]. He's a really good player. We knew that coming in. It just usually takes [newcomers] a little bit of time to get acclimated. It didn't take him any time at all."
How was Larry able to do it? How was he able to step in front of thousands of his new fans and not let the pressure to perform get to him?
"I knew there'd be a lot of people," Larry explained. "So, when I train, I train with the music loud and make sure [on gameday] I'm not just thrown into the fire."
Larry had another secret as well. He subscribed to the age-old baseball theory of taking things one pitch and one at-bat at a time.
"We have a game plan and we try to stick to it," Larry said. "I tried to do that every at-bat. Once you get your first one, it's not about that one anymore. It's about the next one."
Living in the moment is key in baseball. Take care of your business right where your feet are. Another fresh face was able to leave his mark on Opening Day by doing much the same.
Bryce Chance isn't a first-year Bulldog, but at the same time, he kind of is. He was on the roster a season ago but saw no action. Friday, as the designated hitter, Chance displayed he hasn't just been sitting around twiddling his thumbs the last 365 days or so. He was getting ready for moments like the one he had in the bottom of the sixth when he hit the very first Bulldog homer of the season - a two-run shot lined over the wall in right-center.
"If I'm being honest, I kind of blacked out," a still-excited Chance said of the plate appearance that led to his unforgettable swing. "I remember hitting it and thinking, 'No way it gets out, right?'"
Well, it absolutely did. It added to what had already been a fantastic State debut for Chance. He finished the day 3-for-5 with his homer, a double and three RBIs.
After all was said and done, Lemonis didn't seem all that surprised Chance was able to come out of the gates strong.
"He's been playing like that every day in our scrimmages," Lemonis said. "It's no different now. He's a special kid. He's not real big. He's probably not my fastest thrower or runner, but he really hits, and he loves the game of baseball. It's a real fun story with him because he puts his heart and soul into it. I redshirted him last year and he attacked some of his weaknesses, but he's a really good player. He's hitting those balls into the wind in that right-centerfield gap and hitting balls out of the ballpark."
For Chance, his wait to produce was challenging, but well worth it.
"Last year was probably the toughest year I've ever had baseball-wise, but I wouldn't trade it for anything," Chance said. "It gave me a chance to get my body right. I got to work at what I was doing. I became a good defender. I know I DH'ed [on Friday] but [last year] gave me a chance to actually have a spot in the field. It was difficult, but was one of the best thing that's ever happened to me...[Coach Lemonis redshirted me] to help me and protect me and I'm really thankful for that."
Others' production provided even further evidence Lemonis knows exactly which buttons to push as so many he's brought to Starkville shined in their Bulldog debuts.
Transfer Colton Ledbetter doubled in his first State at-bat in the second inning. Freshman Dakota Jordan had a single and reached base four total times as he also drew three walks.
Forsythe, along with transfers Graham Yntema, Nate Dohm and Tyson Hardin all stepped on the Dudy Noble mound in game action for the very first time. The quartet combined to throw five innings out of the bullpen, allowing just one earned run. Dohm, Hardin and Forsythe all had scoreless outings.
"I thought they were all great," Lemonis said. "As the lead expanded, I just wanted some guys to get their feet wet."
Many indeed got thrown into the water on Friday. And pretty much without fail, all swam to help the Dawgs win again.
If Opening Day was a sign of things to come, there'll be plenty more Ws where the first one came from.