State Slugs #4 Gators 7-5 In Series Opener

Jonathan Ogden swears, he really is using one of those new, low-power bats. Just don't try to tell Florida pitching that after the Mississippi State shortstop slugged a pair of pitches out of the park for three key runs in a 7-5 victory over fourth-ranked Florida in Friday's SEC series opener.

"It happens, I guess!" shrugged Ogden after the first two-homer outing of his college career. Even better, it happened when Mississippi State could really use the unexpected punch. Ogden's two-run blow in the first inning gave the Bulldogs a lead, and his solo shot in the third proved ultimately the winning difference.

Nor was he alone in leaving the yard. DH Cody Freeman added a one-run homer in the second inning, both belying Coach John Cohen's evening forecast. "When I saw the wind blowing out I'm thinking that's not good for us, that's not who we are. And of course it ended up working good for us!"

Very good indeed, as Mississippi State (21-9, 5-5 SEC) evened their league record and in the process picked up a sixth victory in their last eight meetings with ranked opposition. Florida dropped to 24-7, 7-3 SEC, and a tie for third in the Eastern Division.

For these Diamond Dogs to knock anything over the fence was notable enough. What made the evening remarkable was all such shots came at the expense of Gator starter Hudson Randall. The sophomore has been unbeatable thus far and came to Dudy Noble Field with a 0.54 earned run average. In fact he hadn't allowed an earned score in SEC action…until tonight.

That was when a State squad that sputtered last weekend at Georgia came alive at home, rattling Randall (5-1) for four scores in just the first turn and six total—or as many as he'd allowed total this year--for the evening on nine hits. The righty was chased after just 2.1 innings. Ogden credited both sound scouting…and just plain old confidence.

"I mean, we knew he was hittable, he was going to fill up the strike zone. So we all had a good approach at the plate." Ogden was among four Bulldogs with two base hits, albeit his were the biggest knocks. New-for-Friday leadoff man C.T. Bradford had three safeties and scored once, that being the first MSU tally of the evening.

With Randall ruled out early game-one turned into a battle of bullpens, and State had the best relief work over the long evening. Three Dogs took turns of two outs to two innings supporting starter Devin Jones, but it was closer Caleb Reed making the last and biggest impression. Despite tossing 25 pitches Tuesday night in sealing a 5-4 win over #17 Southern Mississippi, the junior righthander recovered in time to get the last six outs and record his fifth save.

"You've got to be ready to throw every day, that's my job!" Reed said after a 31-pitch stint with one hit and four strikeouts. Three of the latter were looking as Reed located nicely to preserve the two-run margin. No, he claimed, he wasn't tired.

"I didn't throw much Wednesday and Thursday but enough to get my arm working. I've been here three years and know what I have to do. That's the best I've located my fastball in a long time. And I worked both sides of the plate, that's the reason I was able to get those lefties. Thiggy called a great game and got me some calls."

Some of them full-count called Ks that frustrated the Gators, one of whom objected enough in the dugout to attract ump attention. The win went to Taylor Stark (2-0) as he entered in the sixth and limited Florida to their last run and put in 2.0 official with two strikeouts and a walk.

State starter Jones had a 3.0 inning outing that served nicely in setting up the bullpen. He took the first four Gator runs on eight hits with a walk and four strikeouts. He was tagged for two tallies in the first turn, as a one-out base hit to leftfield by Josh Adams was compounded by a throwing error into another base. So with two outs Mike Zunino got the opening RBI with a double to left. He came on around as Brian Johnson bounced a single up the middle for the 2-0 lead.

Yet it went worse for Randall. Twice as badly in fact. Bradford worked a 3-1 count but instead of taking dropped a single behind shortstop. Freeman went down two quick strikes, fouled off another and on 1-2 roped a drive over the centerfielder scoring Bradford. Freeman advanced to third on a grounder getting the Gators an out from taking a lead into the dugout.

LF Trey Johnson kept the inning alive with his run-scoring single, letting Ogden swing. Which he did on a fastball, lifting a long one that kept carrying until clearing left of the centerfield wall. It was good for a sudden 4-2 lead and Randall had to strand yet another runner after a five-hit first frame.

As easy as it might have looked the early outburst impressed Cohen. "He throws three different pitches wherever he wants. I think his command was a little off, but thank goodness we got the barrel in the right spot several times."

Jones held that lead through the top of the second despite getting two Gators on. Ogden had to go in the hole and throw fast for a force at second base. Then Jones returned with a larger margin after Freeman sailed a solo shot to just about the same spot as Ogden before him.

"We knew he was going to bury a lot of breaking ball and just throw fastballs straight at us," Ogden said.

That run was MSU's margin after the top of the third though as Florida hit Jones hard again. Preston Tucker singled to open and with an out B.Johnson doubled for one run. A single and strikeout later it was Daniel Pigott lining a bullet just past second-sacker Frazier's glove for another RBI. Jones had Gators on corners but fortunately nine-batter Cody Dent was back up and went down again on strikes.

Randall's night was about to end though. He escaped one extra base knock as Johnson's fly landed just foul; but not when Ogden turned on a one-out slider and cleared leftfield for a 6-4 lead. Nick Maronde came in to end this inning.

With a bit more margin State didn't hesitate summoning Daryl Norris to face the top of Florida's order. He had two on and an out, then fanned cleanup Gator Zunino and grounded out Johnson with good sink on his pitches. But an out into the fifth the plate got a lot smaller and consecutive walks had the tying runners on bases. Florida called in lefthander Jeff Moyer to pinch hit for Dent.

The Bulldogs countered with lefty Chad Girodo. He had to field a little nubber himself for a force at first, which left both runners in easier scoring positions. Girodo wound Kamm Washington into the ground on the strikeout.

State ended Maronde's strikeout string with singles by 3B Jarrod Parks and T.Johnson around one out, then a bad pick-move to second drew a undisputed balk call. So Maronde went ahead and plunked Ogden to load the bases. Frazier fanned but Shepherd outlasted the pitcher for a walk forcing Parks across for the 7-4 advantage.

But Florida's first two in the sixth reached. Ogden made a great stop of Adams' grounder only to, apparently, pull 1B Ryan Collins off the bag. Another hit later and Stark was summoned. The frosh struck out Zunino and rolled a force at second, but Ogden tried for the double-dip and sailed this throw into the dugout for a run-scoring error. Stark shrugged it off with a called strikeout of Austin Maddox.

"I was primarily throwing sliders, I came in just trying to get swing-and-misses. I came in with my best pitch tonight and gave it to them."

Righthander Greg Larson had ended State's fifth, left Bradford on first bag in the sixth, and sat the seventh-side. Keenan Kish opened the Bulldog eighth by walking Shepherd and stranded him at third.

Stark had one on with an out in his seventh and Moyer taking another swing. He made it a good one but the rocket went right into Collins' glove for an easy double-off. Florida's order started over in the eighth and after bouncing a pitch into Washington's leg Stark was replaced by Reed for a right-on-right matchup. He won it on a called full-count strikeout of Adams, and after going full again on Tucker got another called-K.

That loomed very large as Zunino doubled into leftfield. "I'm not used to a righthander getting a big hit," Reed said. "But I knew I could do the job and our defense could do the job behind me." It did. Though first base was open Reed pitched, mostly in tight, to lefthander Johnson and made it work by rolling him out to first base.

Reed returned for the ninth, though southpaw Bradford was warmed in case anyone reached. "But to Caleb's credit that never happened, he just dominates the strike zone," Cohen said.

Four Gators had multiple hits led by Tucker, 3-of-5 with a run, while Zunino had both his side's doubles.

Game-two will be at noon central for regional telecast on CSS. State will put soph righthander Chris Stratton (4-2, 3.04) on the mound while Friday designated hitter Brian Johnson (4-1, 2.92) will pitch from the left side. Despite using four relievers Cohen is comfortable with the available arms, though he obviously plans a day-off or two for Reed. If that is possible.

"Caleb is the guy that's going to be tackling us! He will want to pitch tomorrow in front of all these folks. But we have some guys. It would be great if Stratton can get us into the seventh tomorrow."

Gene's Page Top Stories