"It was a good game, and a great weekend for us," said Ogden.
Great in almost every imaginable way. In picking up two victories each over visiting Akron and Lamar, the Bulldogs amassed a final offensive ‘score' of 40 runs to just three; while MSU pitching hung zeroes on the board in 33 of 36 total innings. Oh, and the Dog defense acquitted itself admirably without a single error assessed all weekend in 140 official chances.
Great, indeed. No wonder a freshman like outfielder C.T. Bradford could say, "This is really fun."
Though given how quickly and completely Mississippi State jumped on Lamar (1-3) the Sunday fun was almost entirely concentrated in one huge inning. Which, ironically, came immediately after the Bulldogs fell behind for the first and only time all weekend. It didn't take long to erase—obliterate, really—that deficit as State would chase three Cardinal pitchers in just that one inning and all without any outs to their linescore. By game's end seven Lamar moundsmen had taken turns, though all of the 14 MSU hits came at the expense of the first five. Garrett Seward (0-1) got the loss and start, a very short one as he faced just three batters before the hook came out with bases loaded. He was charged with the first three runs on one hit with a walk.
State planned split pitching responsibility for Sunday with a couple of first-timers taking the hill. Junior Tim Statz got the start and put in 2.2 innings with both Cardinal runs allowed on four hits and three walks, and a pair of strikeouts. Freshman Evan Mitchell entered a little earlier than planned to end the third inning and go the next three full frames, with two hits and three strikeouts. Thus he was awarded the win on length of stint in his initial college outing.
Lamar leftfielder Kevin Roebuck had been the early-day hero as his walk-off home run beat Akron. Two outs into the top of the first he connected again, taking Statz over leftfield for a solo homer and the only Cardinal highlight. Statz would have to wait over 40 minutes before returning to the hill, with 17 Bulldog at-bats coming up.
Four pitches put leadoff Dog LF Nick Vickerson on, and got the Cards bullpen going already. Barely in time though, because CF Brent Brownlee's bunt pushed along the first base line wasn't handled for an infield single; and 3B Jarrod Parks took one off the shoulder to load the bases. Taylor McInnis didn't have to stay around much longer himself, as it turned out.
Because DH Daryl Norris tied it up as he dropped a single in front of the leftfielder for one run, when everybody else had to hold. Fellow frosh Bradford's hit to centerfield was worth two runs and a 3-1 lead with Dogs on corners, still no outs, and the Cards defense playing straight. Which prompted Coach John Cohen to play the bunt game again, this time for a run as C Wes Thigpen laid it down. Except it wasn't a sacrifice because the catcher beat the ball to first base while Norris came home.
CF Ryan Collins reloaded the bases with a walk, and on 1-1 to Ogden it was another bullpen call with lefty Stephen Tromblee summoned against stuffed sacks. So technically he wasn't responsible for any of the four runs scored when Ogden's big fly cleared leftfield for the slam and 8-1 lead. Ogden admitted had the benefit of some advance scouting on Tromblee.
"I played with the guy in junior college, so there was kind of a little bit going on there." It was the senior shortstops second homer of the opening weekend.
And the assault wasn't over as a walk, third base throwing error, and Brownlee bunt single filled ‘em up again. Parks got his first RBI with a single, and even State's first out of the afternoon expanded the lead with a sacrifice fly from Norris off Tommy Roebuck. With three again on and two outs Collins singled in the first pair, as the relay throw sailed into the dugout scoring Bradford as well. The inning came to a merciful end with a 13-1 lead.
Statz could obviously relax a bit with the big bulge and might have let off too much. A two-out single in the second didn't matter but in the third turn he loaded the bases on a single and two outs. A one-run single from Jude Vidrine moved up State's pitching schedule as Mitchell took over to end the inning with a fly ball.
Mitchell would take a one-out double in the fourth and two-out single in the fifth and no other damage before turning the ball over to C.C. Watson. He, as did following relievers Victor Diaz and Taylor Stark, had a walk and strikeout and no more hits. Lamar ended with just six safeties on the day.
But the Bulldogs had a little offense left to show. Bradford drove in Vickerson with a two-out single in the fourth. Then in the fifth State batted around again. Collins reached on a three-base error in leftfield and scored on a wild pitch; Vickerson drove in Ogden with a single; and Norris got his third RBI of the afternoon with his third base hit.
Cohen practically cleared the bench and bullpen in the later innings, using the lopsided margin to give more rookies live game experience such as Diaz and Stark. Bradford had been planned to pitch a late inning but was saved in this case. "I don't mind at all!" the kid grinned, knowing his hill-time will come soon enough.
Bradford and Norris, the two hottest frosh, each had three RBI and two hits; while Parks led the hit parade with three safeties and scored three times. Vickerson crossed the plate four times, and of course all nine starters scored at least once in the opening inning.
For his part Cohen was almost apologetic for how easily State dispatched the defending Southland Conference champions. The Bulldogs had to get superb Saturday pitching from Chris Stratton and Caleb Reed to take a 2-0 win from the Cardinals, after all. "I'm kind of shocked to see how the game developed early," Cohen said.
But shocked in a good way of course. For that matter the opening weekend played out with surprising ease for the Diamond Dogs in all areas. Not that the players seemed surprised. "We came out and pitched great, scored a lot of runs, and we played great defense," Ogden said.
In fact the Bulldog defense did not get many serious tests the first times around, whether it was because the visitors were unfamiliar with the pitch clock and resulting tempo; or still getting used to the new bats; or just being in 70-degree February weather, which contributed to over 10,000 fans watching the four State games. If anything Cohen's opening weekend optimism was a little more cautious than the final statistics would indicate.
"Are we going to have some errors, absolutely," he said, adding "It's easy to pay good defense when you get a lot of strikeouts." And MSU pitchers did that with 36 strikeouts to 13 walks. Cohen is not a huge fan of fannings since they usually require more pitches than a routine roller or fly-out. Still mowing down their early opponents had to do good things for pitching confidence, as did a .151 average-against and sub-1.00 ERA.
State's head coach might have been just as surprised at how his team hit the ball, a .366 average with 40 hits in four game…19 of those hits for extra bases in fact. That did not include the times Dog batters reached the first bag and just took the next without pausing. And Cohen was particularly proud of the short-game successes.
"It was an opportunity to show our players, especially our young players, what we are trying to get done offensively. I like to manufacture every way possible, and that's what we did. That's also where a lot of the errors (five by foes) came from."
Their first weekend in the books, the Bulldogs begin settling into a season routine. State hosts Northwestern State this Tuesday at 4:00, before entertaining Belmont in a three-game weekend series. Cohen and Coach Butch Thompson had not set pitching plans just yet though the head coach said "five or six" will throw the midweek game. As for Friday and Saturday "It will probably be similar to this weekend," Cohen did say, which would mean Devin Jones in game-one and Stratton the second.