MSU Wins; Plays LSU in Nightcap

14th ranked Mississippi State and Ole Miss faced off for the sixth time this season and second time in the SEC Tournament on a perfect day for baseball. For the fifth time this season and the second straight time in the tournament, MSU defeated Ole Miss.

Ole Miss started true freshman Mark Holliman on the mound while Mississippi State started junior Jeff Lacher.

Holliman, who was 1-2 with a 3.06 ERA in his last three outings, suffered a 2-0 loss to the Bulldogs in a start in Oxford on March 28 (8.0 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 4 SO).

Lacher, who was 1-0 with a 1.84 ERA in his two SEC starts since moving from midweek starting duty to the SEC Sunday starter, was facing the Rebels for the first time in his career.

Mississippi State dented the scoreboard in the bottom of the second after loading the bases on two walks and a catcher's interference. Thomas Berkery, on a 3-2 count, Holliman's third full count of the inning, grounded into a 6-4-3 double play which scored the runner from third, giving MSU a 1-0 lead.

In the top of the third, Ole Miss' first batter grounded out to second. On a 1-2 pitch, Jonathan Swearingen hit a shot off Lacher's leg for an infield single. Lacher, who, up to that point, had exhibited great control, walked the next batter on 4 pitches. With men on first and second and out out, Seth Smith, on a 1-2 count, struck out swinging on a ball in the dirt that was ruled a passed ball. Stephen Head, now with men on first and third and two outs, hit an easy fly to right field for the third out of the inning on a 1-2 count.

"At first, it hurt real bad," said Lacher of the ricochet off his leg. "I threw four straight balls to the next batter. I wasn't mentally in it at that point."

MSU increased its lead in the bottom of the fourth. Brad Corley led off the bottom of the 4th with a double to left center. Jeff Butts hit a shot to the third baseman that bounced off his leg for an infield hit. Berkery, with base runners on first and third and no outs, singled to left field knocking in Corley and advancing Butts to second. Holliman, who seemed to get in a groove after the base hit by Berkery, struck out the next three batters to end the threat.

"At first, it took me awhile to get in the groove, but when I finally found it, I felt like I could throw the ball in the zone," said Holliman of the stretch where he struck out six of seven batters in the middle innings.

Ole Miss finally got on the scoreboard in the top of the 5th. Tolbert legged out an infield hit. The next batter, Swearingen, hit a ball up the middle that was just out of the reach of second baseman Berkery. After Waite hit a fly out to center field, Smith hit another ball up the middle that was just out ot the reach of Berkery, knocking in Tolbert. Polk replaced Lacher with Jamie Gant. The first batter to face Gant, Stephen Head, lined to left field for the final out of the inning.

"He wasn't giving up any good, quality hits. Jeff was up to about 85 pitches, so we wanted to get a fresh arm in," said Polk of his decision to replace Jeff.

Gant, who won the game against Ole Miss Thursday night, continued his dominance of Ole Miss by retiring the first nine batters that he faced.

"Jamie was tremendous," said Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco. "He threw his breaking ball for strikes and threw his fastball to get ahead of the hitters. I don't know what his longest outing of the year is, but I thought there was a chance when he came in that, maybe, he would tire but he kept getting tougher and tougher."

While Gant was shutting down the Ole Miss hitters, Holliman who struck out five straight and six of seven batters since the Berkery hit, ran into trouble in the bottom of the sixth. Jeff Butts, on a 2-2 count, singled. Berkery followed with another hit. Bianco replaced Holliman with Nick Bradshaw. After Bradshaw retired Maniscalco, Mungle hit a wicked one-hop bouncer that got by Head at first base for a two-run error

Ole Miss mounted a threat in the 9th, putting men on first and second with two outs, before Gant got a groundout to end the threat and give MSU its 40th victory of the season.

"After I got the first two outs, I felt real good," said Gant. "I was relaxed. I wanted to strike out the last guy because the fans were up cheering, then I walked him. That really made me mad. On the next batter, I put my fastball too much on the plate and he put it in play. After that, I took a breath and said I had to get this guy because we didn't want the bases loaded. I got him out on a slider."

Freshmen Corley, Butts and Berkery led MSU at the plate with 2 hits apiece.

Gant, who earned his second victory of the tournament, both against Ole Miss, went 4.1 innings, allowing no runs on 2 hits and 1 walk. He struck out 3. Lacher allowed 1 run on 7 hits and 1 walk, while striking out 1 in 4.2 innings.

Ole Miss also had three hitters with 2 hits apiece, Swearingen, Brian Pettway and Matt Tolbert.

Ole Miss' Holliman allowed 4 runs, 1 earned, on 6 hits and 1 walk and 5 strikeouts.

Ole Miss heads back to Oxford to await news of where they will go in the NCAA Tournament, while MSU faces LSU after the conclusion of the Auburn-Alabama game today.


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 swindoll@genespage.com.

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