Tigers Shell State To Open Decisive Series

Good thing the Southeastern Conference stage remains set to achieve their postseason goal. Because Thursday evening the Bulldogs just didn't show up for the opening act.

Instead Mississippi State got shown-up, as Louisiana State battered the Bulldogs in a stunning 17-1 rout to begin a decisive SEC series at Dudy Noble Field. The outcome drew LSU (35-19, 12-16 SEC) within a game of State (32-20, 13-15) in the still-chaotic Division standings. Though, the Tigers are still sixth in the West, while the Bulldogs found themselves in four-way tie for second place.

More weirdly, within that deadlock State would come in second based on combined wins. Thanks to Florida getting a leg-up on the overall league lead the Dogs are still playing from a control position in SEC Tournament terms. They didn't know such exact standings when they assembled behind shortstop for an impromptu team meeting after the last out.

They did know something else equally important.

"We said keep your heads up, we lose 1-0 and it's still a loss," C Wes Thigpen said. "We're still in it, come back tomorrow and compete better and find a way to get on base more, find a way to win, do whatever it takes to win."

LSU did what it took to win big, crushing State pitching for 14 hits with seven doubles and two home runs. The Tigers used four runs in the fifth inning, then powered ten more across in the sixth to make it a blowout. But then they only needed the pair of scores recorded in the top of the third to better the Bulldogs, who managed their one run way back in the second. That was about the only blemish on Kevin Gausman's line as he dominated Dogs in a 7.2 inning outing.

The performance proved why this freshman was promoted to game-one starter down the season stretch. It also confirmed concerns by Coach John Cohen after two days of scouting calls. "Everything I heard about him came true tonight. He is a very good pitcher in this league, it's kind of hard to believe he hasn't been successful every time out this year."

The righthander wasn't quite unhittable; he did allow four safeties out of the 110 pitches tossed. Beyond that second inning score though Gausman (5-6) had things under nigh-complete control. He struck out seven and walked just one. "He had us off-balance all night. He has a really a good fastball, he threw his changeup to both sides, and he didn't throw his breaking ball much but when he did it was effective," aid Thigpen. "You really tip your hat to him."

Luis Pollorena's third SEC start for State was not nearly so successful as the first two. The lefthander lasted 4.1 innings but had to throw over 80 pitches in them and absorbed seven hits for as many runs. After beating Tennessee and Ole Miss, it was a frustrating first start on the home field.

Catcher Thigpen said Pollorena (6-4) wasn't getting enough first-pitch strikes, which was how State wanted to attack Tiger swingers. All of them righthanded, in fact, as LSU committed to go after the southpaw. And when strike-one was called, "He was struggling to get that second pitch over."

The Tigers were hacking from the start as three first-inning fly balls showed. That tack worked a bit better in the second after a leadoff double by Mikie Mahtook, as he advanced the remaining two bases on consecutive lofts to rightfield for the early 1-0 lead. State was able to match that one, as 2B Nick Vickerson was plunked and RF Jaron Shepherd singled. LF Brent Brownlee bunted to Gausman and when the pitcher went to first base Vickerson came on home for a tied tally.

Temporarily. Pollorena ought to have been out of the third with a pair of outs on three pitches. He had Trey Watkins set up as well and rolled a grounder that SS Jonathan Ogden gloved and dropped before throwing wide of first base. A base hit was ruled but the inning continued and Pollorena threw eight-straight balls to load the bases.

Which gave Mahtook the RBI chance and after two foul balls he hot-hopped a grounder 3B Jarrod Parks could not come up with for the 3-1 lead. That margin stood into the fifth after Gausman struck out DH Trey Johnson to strand a pair of Dogs.

Then the Tigers just teed-off on Pollorena in their fifth, after a single and bunt put a runner on the middle base. Consecutive doubles, both to left-centerfield, by Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz, scored runs. Then Mahtook went the same direction but much farther for a two-run homer and 7-1 margin. He hit a pitch that wasn't supposed to be, Cohen clarified.

"You have an open base, you want six inches on the outer half, if we walk him we walk him. And he just threw it right down the middle of the plate to their best hitter." Pollorena remained in to hit Austin Nola before being excused.

Tim Statz ended that inning but opened the sixth with a single and walk, bringing righthander Devin Jones for a change of look. Not in the results though, because after an out he walked the bases full so Katz could bounce a double inside the third base bag for three runs. The batter took third on the throw-in as well, so when Jones wild-pitched while walking Mahtook he was able to come in for a 11-1 lead. And the next mound-move with Andrew Busby taking over.

A walk, plunking, and two-run Alex Edward double ended his short stint. Rookie righty Daryl Norris entered and was tagged for a RBI-double, then a line-shot home run from Jacoby Jones making it 17-1 before the second out of the inning.

From there the only questions were would the Bulldogs score anything else, and would Gausman make the distance. The answers were no, though not entirely equally. 1B Ryan Collins singled two outs into the eighth which pushed LSU's bullpen button for Jimmy Dykstra to take care of the last four outs. Substitute 2B Sam Frost did lead off the ninth with a base hit and Johnson was plunked with two outs, before a merciful ground-out ending at the stroke of 9:00.

Mahtook, a .411 batter in SEC play, owned MSU. He was 3-of-4 officially with four RBI and three runs, and walked once. Katz drove in four runs on two hits and scored twice. Five different Dogs had a single and that was it for MSU offense.

Afterwards Cohen wondered if the team was somewhat flat after a vigorous workout following Tuesday's night win in Memphis. Though, he added, the Tigers had played on the road as well that evening and driven in from New Orleans. State's essential downfall was much more about what pitcher was hitting the spots, and who got drives to drop. Basic baseball, in other words.

Thigpen fended off fears of deflation after a lopsided loss. They'd had half-a-game to make their peace with the outcome anyway, so… "We'll get in, get some good rest, and come out ready to compete. We'll use this to make us angry and come out with a chip on our shoulder and prove we're a far better team than the way we played tonight."

"We're going to have amnesia on this one and start right back tomorrow, and do what we've done for the last, really, ten games," said Cohen. "Which is play well, shove it in the strike zone, and have better at-bats."

State will send a second lefthander, Nick Routt (2-2, 3.86 era) out against the right-side swinging Tigers, who list rookie righthander Kurt McCune (7-3, 3.30) for the Friday game. While the SEC scenarios are just as complex as ever after Thursday's scores, the Bulldog task can be simplified somewhat.

"Nick Routt has to come out and throw strike-one," Cohen said. "I think our kids understand tonight was an anomaly—I've got to use that Mississippi State English education!—and I really think our kids will come back and fight and scratch."

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