Starkville, Miss.--Playing without starting shortstop Luke Jarvis because of back spasms and with Daniel Robert resigned to a DH role because of a sore arm, Auburn’s lineup took a hit on Friday and it showed with Mississippi State’s Konnor Pilkington limiting the Tigers (30-14, 12-7) to two runs on four hits in seven innings as the Bulldogs won 5-2 on Friday night.
Auburn starter Keegan Thompson battled, but allowed a season-high five earned runs on just six hits in six and two/thirds innings to take his second loss of the year. Mississippi State shortstop Ryan Gridley has three of the seven hits for the Bulldogs (30-14, 13-6) and scored two runs as they extended their lead in the SEC West to two games with the victory.
The loss was the first on a Friday night in conference play this year for the Tigers and while they had their chances, Coach Butch Thompson said you've got to tip your hat to the other pitcher on the mound.
"Konnor was really good," he said. "We did get to that pitch count but they just kept him out there. It's such a big game for both sides. We wanted Keegan to stay out there and I thought they both threw good. I thought Keegan took it to another gear a couple of times, but I won't take anything away from what Konnor Pilkington did. There's a reason why they've, outside of their first weekend, they've won every Friday night. We knew something had to give."
Leadoff man Jonah Todd had two of Auburn’s four hits and also reached base on a walk as he raised his average to .389 on the season. The Tigers left seven on base in the game, but twice left the bases loaded with chances to break the game open in the middle innings. One of those came in a huge spot in the top of the fifth. With the bases loaded and two outs and Auburn trailing 3-2, third baseman Joshua Anthony hit a liner to left that Cody Brown made a leaping catch on to save three runs.
The second-year said that may have been the play of the game.
"We had the bases loaded two innings in a row," Butch Thompson said. "I thought Josh's ball hit to left field that Cody Brown snared, I thought that was the hardest hit ball of the night. I think most of the time we're getting something we want out of that. That was a game-changer."
It didn’t take long for Mississippi State to put the pressure on Auburn with a run in the first inning to take the early lead. Leading off the game, center fielder Jake Mangum fouled off six pitches before being hit by a Keegan Thompson pitch. Up next, the SEC’s leading hitter Brent Rooker sent a single through the left side to put runners on first and second for the Bulldogs and no outs.
Following a sacrifice fly to put runners on the corners, Mangum danced off third base and caused Keegan Thompson to flinch. The balk allowed the run to score and give Mississippi State the early lead.
With both pitchers settling in, that’s how things would remain until the top of the fourth when Auburn finally got its first base runner. In control the first three innings, Pilkington walked Todd on four pitches to give the Tigers some life. Jay Estes followed with a single to right and when Dylan Ingram was hit by a pitch with one out it meant the bases were loaded for Auburn.
Auburn outfielder Jonah Todd reached base three times on Friday
Doing his job, Auburn third baseman Anthony hit a fly ball to center field that was deep enough to score Todd to tie the game at one. Blake Logan followed with a single to left field to again load the bases, but Bo Decker struck out to end the inning.
Needing a shutdown inning, Auburn instead had to watch as Ryan Gridley singled to give the Bulldogs a good start to the bottom of the fourth. Following a sac bunt, Gridley moved to third on a wild pitch with Elijah MacNamee at the plate. Taking a pitch the other way, MacNamee’s fly ball to right-center was placed perfectly in between Decker and a diving Todd in center. The triple scored Gridley to put MSU back in front.
With the infield drawn in, Prattville native Josh Lovelady’s chopper to third bounced over the head of Anthony and down the left field line for a double. That pushed the Bulldogs in front 3-1 but Auburn would load the bases with two outs in the fifth before an error on a Dylan Ingram ground ball cut the Bulldog lead to one.
Stepping to the plate already with one RBI on the night, Anthony got a pitch to hit on an 0-1 count and smashed a line drive to left field. Racing across to make the play, Brown misjudged the ball and at the last second threw up his glove to make the catch. Instead of a bases clearing double it was instead the last out and would be a sign of things to come for Auburn.
Down just one, Auburn couldn’t do anything at the plate in the sixth but Mississippi State would take advantage of the opportunity to extend the lead. Leading off the inning, Gridley doubled down the left field line and when Brown followed with a double to right it was 4-2 Mississippi State. Following a sacrifice bunt, Keegan Thompson recovered to strike out Lovelady and Tanner Poole to end the inning but the damage was done.
Already over 100 pitches, Pilkington went back out for the seventh to face Todd and the Auburn center fielder greeted him with a line drive over the head of the third baseman for what looked like a double, but Brown came up throwing and delivered a strike to cut down Todd at second for the first out. The Tigers went quietly after that, setting up Mississippi State for another insurance run in the bottom half of the inning.
Getting the first out of the inning and with a 2-2 count on Hunter Stovall, Keegan Thompson came too far inside and hit the Pelham native with a pitch to bring the top of the order to the plate. Following the same pattern, he again got two strikes on Mangum before hitting him with a pitch to bring Rooker to the plate. Recovering to strike out the powerful Rooker, the junior left the game with Klobosits coming on in relief. He immediately gave up a single to score pinch runner Harrison Bragg to push the Mississippi State lead to three.
That’s all the Bulldogs would need as Peyton Plumlee threw to scoreless innings of relief to secure the important first game of the series.
With severe weather expected in Starkville on Sunday the Tigers and Bulldogs will now play a doubleheader on Saturday. The first game is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start on Saturday with the series finale at 7 p.m. The 7 p.m. game can be seen on the SEC Network.