"Auburn is a good ballclub. Everybody that has played them, Georgia Tech all the way down the line, thought that they were the best ballclub that they had seen this year. I agree with them and we hung with them. We could have won two out of three, which was our goal."
Mississippi State owned an early lead in the game. Steve Gendron opened a three-hit performance with a two-out single in the first. Gendron stole second, moved to third on a wild pitch and gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead when Matthew Brinson doubled into the left field corner.
That lead held up until the fourth inning when Josh Bell doubled and Chuck Jeroloman followed with a two-run blast off MSU starter Todd Nicholas (3-1).
"The (home run) pitch was where it was supposed to be," said Nicholas. "I had been pitching him inside and he was looking for it and it was there and he made contact."
Javon Moran and Tug Hulett chased Nicholas from the game with back-to-back singles to open the fifth inning, and relief pitcher Brooks Dunn loaded the bases when he struck Bobby Huddleston with a pitch. Scott Schade drove in a run with a sacrifice fly and Karl Amonite walked, loading the bases again and ending Dunn's appearance in the game. Josh Bell then greeted the Bulldogs' third pitcher in the inning, Saunders Ramsey, with a career-first grand slam that staked Auburn starter Colby Paxton (4-1) to a 7-1 lead.
The Bulldogs, who out-hit the Tigers 14-10 and stranded 11 base runners, were limited to two runs the remainder of the game and only one off Auburn relief pitchers Chris Dennis, Cory Dueitt and Steve Register.
"It is tough with their bullpen being as good as it is, especially with (Steven) Register being so nasty," said Polk. "When you get down 7 to 1, it is tough. But we battled and out-hit them but didn't get the timely hitting."
Brent Lewis, who went 3-for-4, doubled and scored on a single by Thomas Berkery in the sixth. Lewis opened the eighth with a single and later scored on a single by Joseph Hunter.
Paxton, backed by solid defensive play and a pair of inning-ending double plays, gave up only two runs on 10 hits.
"Colby did a good job," said Gendron. "He was locating his fastball well. That one inning, when we had the bases loaded and couldn't get anything out of that, I think that gave him a lot of confidence and he started making (good) pitches after that."
Register, who retired all five batters he faced after entering the game in the eighth, picked up his SEC-leading 12th save.
Bulldog starter Todd Nicholas, charged with four runs on six hits in four innings of mound work, took the loss.
"Velocity wasn't the problem," said Nicholas who was throwing in the 88 to 92 mph range in the first inning with a high of 95. "I was (throwing the ball) high. The adrenalin was flowing. We make adjustments just from knowing what is going on (with the umpire). I went from throwing high to throwing low, but wasn't getting the calls. When you take away me pitching around the knees where I usually am, that kind of messed me all up. I would miss high then get it back low and not get that call. I got no borderline calls. I didn't adjust quick enough. That was his zone and I didn't throw to his zone."
The weekend series had a paid attendance of 24,921, including Saturday's season-best 11,763 for Saturday's game.
Mississippi State concludes a season-longest seven-game homestand this week, hosting Mississippi Valley State Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and Samford Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
AUBURN 7, MISSISSIPPI STATE 3
AUB 009 250 000 --- 7-10-0
MSU 100 001 010 --- 3-14-0
WP - Colby Paxton (4-1). LP - Todd Nicholas (3-1). SV - Steven Register (12). HR - AUB-Chuck Jeroloman (2), Josh Bell (5). T - 2:50. ATT - 6,882 (paid), 5,804 (actual). Three-game series attendance total - 24,921 (paid), 23,155 (actual).
Todd Nicholas, Brooks Dunn (5) and Craig Tatum. Colby Paxton, Chris Dennis (6), Cory Dueitt (8), Steve Register (8) and Josh Bell.
How big was it to lose your first SEC series?
"This was big. We needed a win but it didn't work out."
This team hasn't had to face much adversity this season. How well do you think they will handle it?
"Oh, we will. We will definitely get back and work hard. I think that we will be fine."
One game separates the top three teams in the West.
"Anything can happen. We aren't going to worry about it. You can't win them all, but we will fight back."
Next up in the SEC are two road trips to South Carolina and Florida.
"We are looking forward to it, going to play South Carolina and Florida. They will be good series."
You guys play so well on the road in the SEC (6-0) and not as well at home (4-4). Do you have an answer for that?
"I don't really know. Really, I'm not sure why that is."
Is it harder to play here because there are so many fans compared to other places?
"Expectations are higher at home and there is a lot of pressure weighing on you. But it's still fun to pitch here."
You had two weeks between starts. Did that have any effect on how you pitched today?
"Missing last week kind of threw me out of whack. I'm not making excuses because I should have done better."
What do you do when you haven't thrown in a game in two weeks? Do you have bullpen throwing during that period?
"I threw an extended bullpen last Sunday, but it is different because there aren't guys taking swings, fighting off pitches."
Was Auburn the best hitting team that you have faced this year?
"Oh yes, they would fight off good pitches. They were really bat disciplined. They wouldn't go for the fastballs a little outside. They knew the umpire wasn't giving much. Their pitchers had told them that the umpire was tight. They were pretty smart (hitters)."
25 total runners stranded in the two losses. Does that tell the story of the two games?
"We had no problem hitting the ball this weekend. But, I think that we lacked the key hits which helps teams to win. Auburn got their fair share of keys hits and that is why they won 2 out of 3 this weekend."
Talk about how jammed up the Western Division is.
"It is great. You have LSU, us and Auburn. It is fun. This weekend is one of the most fun weekends that I have had. Even though we lost, it is great two top-ten teams playing, especially at Dudy Noble with a big crowd. It would have been fun to have won, but it's still exciting when you know you are going up against some of the best in the nation."
You go from 1st to 3rd in one day, and you can go from 3rd to 1st in one day next week.
"Yeah, it is so tight that it doesn't really matter. We go to South Carolina and win 2 out of 3 and we may be back at the top. You never know."
Do you think it will be like that the rest of the season?
"I think so. This year, maybe no team will separate themselves. Us, LSU and Auburn are so close together. Maybe, if someone gets swept, it might give some separation."
Do you have any idea why you guys have such a good SEC road record and are only playing .500 ball at home?
"I don't know. We prepare the same way for every game. I don't know what it is about playing at home. I love playing here. I know everybody else does, too."
Is it just that old saying, "that's baseball"?
"Yeah, it's just baseball. Who would have thought that the freshman catcher would come in and hit a grand slam off Saunders. Nobody ever really hits the ball hard off of him."
It's not often you have the number 9 hitter, the shortstop, hit the big blow.
"Jeroloman hadn't hit but one home run all year. He's not what you would classify as a home run hitter. (Josh) Bell is more the prototype home run guy. He's pretty strong."
"We left more guys on base again than they did. There's not much you can do but pat the guys on the back and march forward. I think Auburn and Mississippi State will see each other again down the line."
Talk about your team's defense.
"We didn't give them anything. We made all the plays. I thought that Corley made a great play in right field early in the game. Mungle made a good play going back to the wall. Gendron made all the plays this weekend."
Nicholas and Johnson had tough outings. Is it because teams know more about them now?
"Yeah, the word gets out, they have video on them and make better adjustments on them. Now, they are going to have to make better adjustments themselves. I still feel like our pitching is good and will continue to get better. Other pitching staffs will start wearing down, too, which will help our hitters a little bit more."
"Auburn's Steve Renfroe said before the game Saturday that we were the best team that his team had faced all year which makes you feel good."
Todd had his velocity but not his control. Was part of that due to not getting to pitch last weekend?
"I think so. He's still a young pitcher and not getting to pitch at all last week was part of it. Hopefully, we won't get any more rainouts."
Will you re-think who you use as middle relief pitchers during SEC play, maybe use Jeff Lacher and Robby Goodson more?
"You have to use Lacher mid-week. A lot of times his pitch count is up and you have to win those mid-week games.
"We always re-evaluate pitchers all the time. We are not going to panic because we got beat by two timely hits today and yesterday against a great ballclub. We are not going to scrape everybody and start all over again."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.