MSU’s super sophs return following impressive freshman season
At a school where the tradition of the baseball program runs as deep as the home runs hit by Will Clark and Rafael Palmeiro in the mid-80s, the talk every spring in Starkville turns to All-Americans, series sweeps over SEC opponents and trips to NCAA Regionals.
Last year was no different, except that the majority of the talk around Dudy Noble Field centered around a group of nine young men – the recruiting class of 1994. The group, comprised of six Mississippians, one Alabaman, one Floridian and one Kentuckian, was rated as the nation’s best by Collegiate Baseball, the first time a group of MSU newcomers had received that high an accolade. Throughout the storied history of the Mississippi State baseball program, few freshmen have had a significant impact on their team, let alone an entire class of freshmen.
However, when, on opening day in 1995, seven freshmen played (including four starting infielders) during the Bulldogs’ 19-1 win over Minnesota, it was evident that this was indeed a very special freshman class. By late March, when the 22-man SEC travel roster included an unheard of 11 freshmen, usually high expectations were raised even more.
Though Dustin Dabbs, Eric DuBose, Brad Freeman, Rob Hauswald, Jeremy Jackson, Richard Lee, Barry Patton, Adam Piatt and Scott Polk each came to Starkville with impressive credentials, continuing the tradition at Mississippi State is not always an easy thing to do.
“At first it was intimidating coming into a program with the reputation and expectations of Mississippi State,” Hauswald said. “Once we got to playing with each other, though, it got better and the pressures of playing in the SEC as freshmen just sort of worked themselves out.”
Despite starting with an impressive 10-0 record, the Bulldogs’ inexperience showed early in the season as they were swept by Florida in their opening series of Southeastern Conference play. However, they demonstrated their resiliency as they bounced back to take two of three games from Kentucky at home in Dudy Noble Field.
“Last year, we were pretty young,” DuBose said. “We didn’t really know what to expect when we went to Florida for that first SEC weekend.”
The Bulldogs finished with an 11-16 conference mark and a disappointing sixth-place finish in the SEC West, but the young players’ abilities were evident toward the end of the 1995 campaign. MSU finished the regular season by taking two of three games against conference foes LSU and Mississippi.
“It is difficult for any high school senior, even coming from a successful high school program, to jump right into, a top-notch Division I program, let alone into the SEC and the SEC West Division, which is one of the top conferences in the country,” Associate Head Coach Pat McMahon said. “That takes a lot of learning and growth, and is a lot to ask of a young man.”
To say that each of these Bulldogs were successful before their arrival in Starkville might be a bit of an understatement.
Dabbs earned honorable mention all-USA honors from USA Today after his senior season at Tupelo High School. He was twice named to the Mississippi all-state team and was one of just 72 players invited to the USA Baseball Fall Trials in the fall of 1994.
DuBose was also invited to the USA Baseball Fall Trials after his senior year and was a member of the 1994 USA Baseball Junior National Team. He was also an all-state selection after tossing four no-hitters for Patrician Academy in Butler, Ala.
Freeman joined Dabbs and DuBose at the USA Baseball Fall Trials in 1994 after a standout career at Oxford (Miss.) High School. He was also an honorable mention selection to the USA Today all-USA squad and was named as the Mississippi High School Player of the Year by Topps and Coca-Cola.
Hauswald was named to the all-USA High School Baseball Team by USA Today and was listed on that publication’s Preseason Super 25 after his senior season at Lafayette High School in Lexington, Ky. He earned first-team honors on the Mizuno USA all-American team and was named as the Kentucky Player of the Year by both USA Today and the Gatorade Circle of Champions.
Jackson was an all-state selection at West Lauderdale High School in Collinsville Miss., after helping the Knights to three consecutive state championships. He was also one of four Mississippi State signees who had played in the United States Olympic Festival during the summer of 1994, earning two wins for the Gold Medal-winning South team.
Lee earned honorable mention honors on the all-USA High School Baseball Team selected by USA Todayand was named to the all-state team by both the Jackson Clarion-Ledger and the Mississippi Sports Writers’ Association. A threetime MVP at Jackson (Miss.) Academy, Lee was also the MVP of the 1994 MPSA All-Star game.
Patton, an all-state selection at Kosciusko (Miss.) High School, was named to the ClarionLedger and Mississippi Sports Writers’ Association first teams. A three-time all-division selection, Patton was also named to the Clarion-Ledger’s preseason Dandy Dozen list as one of Mississippi’s top 12 players prior to his senior season.
Piatt, who prepped at Bishop Verot High School in Fort Myers, Fla., joined Dabbs, DuBose, and Freeman at the USA Baseball Fall Trials and played alongside Du Bose, Jackson, and Polk on the South squad during the US Olympic Festival, both in 1994. An honorable mention selection to the all-USA team chosen by USA Today, Piatt was also a member of the USA Baseball Junior National Team in 1994.
Polk, no relation to Bulldog head coach Ron Polk, also earned honorable mention selection to USA Today’sall-USA team after a prep career at MadisonRidgeland Academy in Madison, Miss. Named the 1994 Mississippi Player of the Year by the Gatorade Circle of Champions, Polk was an honorable mention choice to the Mizuno USA all-America squad.
“Eric, Scott, and I played together on the Junior National Team,” Piatt said. “It helped that we had the chance to see some other top players from across the country. Seeing those other players and knowing that we could compete with them really helped my confidence.”
Coach McMahon echoed similar thoughts.
“It is a difficult transition for them coming in as freshmen, but playing in the summer leagues is a great experience for them,” McMahon said. “Any international experience they get is wonderful. Coming off their freshman year, and having played a significant role last season, they will become veterans quickly.”
Every indication from their performance last season suggests that they did indeed mature quickly.
DuBose developed into the ace of the staff, assuming the No. 1 starting role the latter part of the season. After his standout freshman year, DuBose was invited to the 1995 USA Baseball Team Trials and was named as a freshman allAmerican by Mizuno and Baseball America. ln addition, this January DuBose was invited to USA Baseball’s spring camp to compete for a chance to represent the United States at the Olympic Games later this summer.
“I don’t really know about my chances with the USA team,” DuBose said. “I could get hurt or someone could come from out of the blue. But I think if I play well this season, I will have a pretty good chance. It is nice to know that I am one of only three or four left-handed pitchers that they are considering.”
Hauswald was named honorable mention allAmerica by Mizuno after an outstanding rookie campaign that saw him start 52 of the 56 games he played. He was also third on the team, second among the newcomers, with a .301 batting average.
Lee started 54 games, the most by any member of the recruiting class. He was second on the team with a .304 batting average and earned honorable mention all-America status by Mizuno.
Polk also earned honorable mention allAmerica status from Mizuno after his rookie season which saw him make 25 appearances on the mound, second only to veteran Scott Tanksley.
“It was definitely a learning experience,” Piatt said. “I think we struggled a little because we were young and inexperienced, but hopefully we can continue to improve. All the starters are a year older and we have our leaders back.”
A year older and with experience under their belts, last year’s freshman class can now set their sights to returning Mississippi State to NCAA Regional play after a two-year lapse, and to fulfilling their own individual goals.
“One of my goals, which is a goal of a lot of the guys, is to win the SEC and go to a regional,” Hauswald said. “A lot of guys talk about winning the regional and going to Omaha. Sure, I’d like to be an all-American at the end of the season just like anybody else. But if l don’t accomplish any of those individual goals and we still get to Omaha, I’ll be happy.”
With the tradition of Mississippi State baseball, there is always talk of winning the SEC, and every season a trip to an NCAA Regional is expected. With the talented freshmen from ’95 back for their sophomore season, that goal could once again become a reality.
This story originally appeared in one of the issues of the 1996 Mississippi State baseball gameday program.