SPRINGFIELD, MO- Just about everyone in college baseball has one guy in their starting rotation. You know the type. The guy they can throw out there on Friday nights and feel pretty good about at least being able to compete with just about anyone else. Missouri State has their guy in Jordan Knutson, a durable, veteran starter who appears to have saved his best work for this, his senior season.
The teams that have real postseason aspirations probably have two guys. These teams not only have a Friday guy they have a high level of trust in, but they also likely have a guy on Saturday they feel gives them a good chance to win a series every single weekend. MSU also has one of those in sophomore Dylan Coleman, who showed well last season in his debut in Division I baseball, and in particular, showed a knack for the strikeout, as his 82 Ks were good for third all-time among MSU freshman, one spot behind future first-round draft pick Brett Sinkbeil.
Having three such guys is relatively rare in college baseball, even for the powers in the sport. How many times do we see an otherwise quality team meet their undoing in the postseason because they simply run out of pitching once they throw their first two starting pitchers and go through a couple of arms in the bullpen?
And that’s precisely why the Missouri State Bears have such a luxury with JUCO transfer junior Doug Still as the third guy in their rotation.
Just past the halfway point of the season, Still has already turned in some outstanding performances. Against Rhode Island on opening day, he threw six innings, giving up five hits and one run with one walk and three strikeouts in his team’s blowout win.
After a tough start against Belmont and then a start against Central Arkansas where he walked five in 4.1 innings of work, he came out and spun a gem against a good Minnesota team. Against the Gophers on March 12, he threw seven innings, giving up seven hits and a run with one walk and eight strikeouts. Then, last weekend in his first MVC start, he threw seven innings against Bradley, giving up four hits and two earned runs with a walk and four strikeouts.
A start against Dallas Baptist is a whole different animal, though. The Patriots are the Bears’ biggest challenge for the Missouri Valley Conference title, and even though MSU had already captured the series win by the time Still’s Sunday start rolled around, this was no small moment. As first baseman Justin Paulsen mentioned after the game on Saturday, there’s a huge difference between being one game up on DBU and three games up, even at this relatively early juncture.
“Obviously, we’re the top two teams in the league,” he said. “I told the guys after the game (on Saturday) ‘Do you want to be one game up on these guys or do you want to be three (games up)?’ If we can get three games on these guys, it’s going to be very important.”
All Still did in that type of big moment was go out and throw seven more innings, giving up six hits and one run with one walk and eight strikeouts in a 7-3 win.
“He’s been very consistent,” said Missouri State head coach Keith Guttin. “Sundays have been good for us. The conditions were not really conducive to great pitching, but I thought he really mixed well, had command, and he was outstanding.”
For Still, it was a continuation of what he’s learned through this, his debut season at the Division I level.
“Just to not overthink,” Still said when asked about what he’s learned. “Do what I’ve been doing, do what we’ve been doing as a team, and it’s going to go our way either way. Couldn’t ask for more.”
Now, through eight starts, Still has somewhat quietly been a pretty large part of a team that could potentially end up running away with the MVC. Over eight starts, he’s 4-1 with a 2.74 ERA. In 46 innings of work, he’s struck out 47, walked 15, and held opponents to a .236 batting average.
And he’s not just the type of Sunday starter who is going out there and getting it done with smoke and mirrors, either. Still is a legitimate pro prospect, at least as far as the Atlanta Braves are concerned, because they’ve drafted him twice now. They took him in the 33rd round of the 2014 draft out of high school and then again in the 30th round of the 2015 draft while he was at Jefferson College. If he continues to have a season like he’s having for MSU now, he’ll certainly get another crack at starting his pro career sooner rather than later.
But, for now, Still is perfectly happy winning games for the Bears and helping them push for the postseason, a run that looks ever more likely after this sweep of a conference rival.
“This is what everyone looks forward to,” Still said of the marquee series. “On offense, you couldn’t ask for more, defense was working, pitching was great all weekend. It was a great weekend for baseball.”