"I was very concerned about this weekend, on the road against a good ballclub, 12-0 at home, but we pitched real well," said MSU coach Ron Polk. "I think the whole key was we pitched well. All of our starters pitched well. I think we made just one error all weekend. Pitching, defense and timely hitting wins you games on the road."
Nicholas (3-0) went the distance for the first time in his career, scattering three hits and striking out a career-high eight as the Bulldogs earned their first three-game series sweep in six visits to Fayetteville. The Greenville, Ala., product gave up a run in the second inning when Andrew Wishy led off the inning with a walk, advanced on Clay Goodwin's single past third and Nick Pitts' sacrifice bunt, and scored the Razorbacks' lone run on an infield groundout by Ryan Fox.
"I thought that Todd Nicholas was in command today; three hits on the road against a good ballclub and he walks only four while striking out eight," said Polk. "When he throws strikes, he is very effective. His changeup was very good. He got a lot of his strikeouts on his changeup."
After the second inning Nicholas allowed only four base runners, two on walks and two more on bloop singles, with none of the runners advancing to second base the remainder of the game.
Mississippi State, which scored early and never trailed in either of the two previous weekend games with Arkansas, scored twice in the second inning off UA starter Jarrett Gardner (3-1), last week's SEC Pitcher of the Week. Freshman Brad Corley doubled to deep center field to open the inning and scored on a two-out double by Jon Mungle into the left field corner. Thomas Berkery then laced a single into left, scoring Mungle and giving the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead.
"I told my ballclub if we scored some runs early, it might really bother their dugout and get them to thinking that they might get swept at home," said Polk. "I think that happened."
Matthew Brinson's third home run of the year, a two-out solo shot to right, gave MSU a 3-1 lead in the third, and State added a run and chased Gardner from the game in the fourth on singles by Brent Lewis, Mungle and Berkery.
State added an insurance run in the ninth off Caton Hall, the last of three UA pitchers in the game. Catcher Craig Tatum opened the inning with a single to right, moved to second when Jon Mungle's sacrifice bunt attempt fell in for an infield single, was bunted over to third by Berkery and scored on Joseph Hunter's sacrifice fly to center field.
Eight of the nine in the Bulldogs' starting batting order had at least one hit. Mungle went 3-for-4 and Berkery 2-for-3 with two RBI, while Steve Gendron extended his hitting streak to a career-best 14 games with an infield single to third base in the fifth inning.
"We got some timely hitting," said Polk. "I thought that we swung the bats very well. We only left five guys on base today."
The Sunday win gave the Bulldogs their first three-game road series sweep over Arkansas in six visits to Fayetteville, Ark. and bolstered State's lead in the overall series to 32-21 in a rivalry dating back to 1960.
Mississippi State plays host to first-time opponent Morehead State (7-11) in 6:30 p.m. games Tuesday and Wednesday before returning to rugged SEC Western Division competition with three games this weekend at instate league rival Mississippi (Fri.-4 p.m., Sat.-1:30 p.m., Sun.-1:30 p.m.).
MISSISSIPPI STATE 5, ARKANSAS 1
MSU 021 100 001 - 5-11-0
ARK 010 000 000 - 1-3-1
WP - Todd Nicholas (3-0). LP - Jarrett Gardner (3-1). HR - (MSU) Matthew Brinson (3). T - 2:22. ATT - 3,587.
Todd Nicholas and Craig Tatum. Jarrett Gardner, Jay Sawatski (4), Caton Hall (8) and Judd Kindle.
Gene Swindoll is the publisher and owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial site for Mississippi State sports since October, 1996. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org