Two Tiger Shots Spoil State's SEC Opener

He'd gone out once before, to warn a pitcher about serving Mason Katz something to turn on. The advice was unheeded resulting in a two-run homer in the sixth inning. So in the top of the tenth, with a Tiger on base in a 4-4 game, Coach John Cohen decided not to make a visit. The result was the same though as Katz unloaded again for LSU's 6-4 margin victory.

The Tigers took Friday's SEC opener and improved to 16-2 on the season, while Mississippi State is 18-3.

Katz' second two-run shot ended up in just about the same spot as the first, both dead-pulled balls to leftfield. It came with no outs in the extra inning and RHP Will Cox on the mound. The sophomore had entered for just that frame after a lengthy loosening-up period, and walked hitless Tiger Rafe Rhymes on full count to open.

He did get a strike ahead of Katz, only to leave the next offering in the wheelhouse. It became Katz' league-leading eighth longball of the season.

"It's my fault, I should have made a trip there," Cohen said. "I guess it's because I made a trip earlier in the game, in the same exact situation and that didn't help. So I'm going to wear that one personally."

More pragmatically, no MSU moundsmen should have needed any such warnings about the risks of hanging drivable pitches to this batter. Or the whole order in general. And since the first shot had come off starting pitcher Jacob Lindgren, targeting Cox—in only his second-ever SEC appearance—didn't ring true to staff-mates.

"I've been there," said RHP Ben Bracewell, who had gotten the game into the tenth with some intense relief work of his own. "It happens to everybody, it's not like that one thing lost us a game. There's a lot of stuff we could have done throughout the game offensively and defensively to capitalize on some situations."

There was a lot of such stuff. Mississippi State out-hit the visitors 10 to seven, and had a two-run homer of their own in the opening inning from RF Hunter Renfroe. A 4-1 lead through five innings had the Dogs in promising position though even then there was concern about not maximizing all those baserunners. At game's end 11 had been un-scored and LSU rolled four double-plays. Three were off the bat of snakebit LF Demarcus Henderson, who'd made the big plays in a SEC Tournament win over the Tigers last May.

"Most of the doubled plays were hit really hard," Renfroe said. "That's all you can ask for. I got one."

Cox (2-1) took the decision on the one-hit, two-run tenth inning with two walks and a strikeout. LSU's third pitcher of the evening, Joey Bourgeois (2-0) was the winner on 1.1 hitless innings with two strikeouts. Chris Cotton got his sixth save with a two-strikeout tenth.

Both starters didn't have strong boxscores but showed lively arms. LSU's Aaron Nola was hit nine times for all four Bulldog runs with a walk and four strikeouts. "I thought we hit the ball really well against Nola," Renfroe said. "He threw a lot of fastballs and a sweeping slider. I thought we had a good approach against him. We were barreling-balls up all night." And if not for a couple hammered right into gloves State could have taken charge early.

Instead Renfroe's one-out shot to center-leftfield with CF C.T. Bradford on second base was all the home scoring through the first four frames. "He hung a slider and I hit it pretty good." The Tigers took longer to make much contact with LHP Jacob Lindgren with three scoreless innings to begin. Bouncing-back from the liner off his left knee a week ago, the sophomore was sharp.

"He was unbelievable, he was pumping 91, 93 with his fastball and sinking it well, throwing the slider well and getting a lot of early outs," Bracewell said. "That's the Jacob we know."

A fourth-inning leadoff hit by LSU did produce a problem, though Lindgren did get a pair of outs first. On the steal Katz over-slid the bag and the Dogs thought they had a tag, the umpire not agreeing and State not protesting. Christian Ibarra made it sting with his base hit through shortstop for the RBI and extra base on the throw. Lindgren had to leave the tying scorer in position with a swinging strikeout of Jacoby Jones, then in-ordered LSU in the top of the fifth.

By the sixth he had more margin to pitch with. Nola got the last two in State's order easily enough, only to have SS Adam Frazier reach on a tough-play single to the left side. Bradford hit cleanly to left for Dogs on corners with Renfroe getting another chance to swing. He made it count with a hot one-hopper towards third base.

Twice before Ibarra had saved runs with right place/right time stops. Renfroe's rocket was too hot to pick, caroming off the glove; Ibarra caught it out of the air but forced a throw that sailed first base. Frazier scored and Bradford made third base where he came home on 1B Alex Detz's single up the middle.

Those runs looked even bigger as LSU answered. Lindgren had two outs and a Tiger on second base, meaning a bag was open and which produced Cohen's first trip to the hill. "I said I don't care if we walk this guy on four pitches he is not going to hurt us. And he hits a home run." RHP Myles Gentry left the tying Tiger on base in the sixth.

Nola exited in the bottom of the frame with pinch-runner Luis Pollorena on second base. Brent Bonvillain walked Frazier before rolling Bradford out to first base.

The game truly changed in LSU's seventh though, as a leadoff walk on full-count was followed by a grounder. 3B Sam Frost fielded fine; the throw was low and dropped for two on with nobody out and the top of LSU's order up. LHP Chad Girodo entered and promptly wild-pitched both runners into scoring positions…then on full count bounced another dirtball past the mitt bringing Ty Ross across for the 4-4 tie.

Girodo did get a called strikeout of Mark Laird, and with a row of righthanders ahead Bracewell took over. Pirtle saved a run with a going-away grab of a blooper, then Rhymes grounded into a force to preserve the deadlock at the stretch. A two-on, one-out opportunity in State's seventh ended on a double-play.

But the greater missed chance was with bases loaded in the eighth and two outs. Bourgeois was sent to face Renfroe and on 2-2 threw a bender that looked above the letters. "The umpire's zone got higher and higher so we had to try to foul balls off," Renfroe said. "(Bourgeois) was challenging and got me and some other guys."

Renfroe was 2-of-5 with three RBI and a run scored, and has knocked a ball out in three-straight games. Detz hit safely three times, and the top-four in State's order accounted for eight of the ten hits. Three Tigers had a pair of hits, with Katz's being the biggies. Neither should have happened per Cohen, who was doubling as pitching coach as Coach Butch Thompson was in Birmingham after the passing of his father-in-law.

"Butch put together a really good pitching plan for our staff," Cohen said, still berating himself for not giving Cox a short time-out. "I made an assumption we were really locked-in, and we were not. We served up their best hitter two mast-high pitches, right down the middle of the plate, and that's the difference in the ball game. And we really didn't put together a whole lot offensively."

"Bounce back and go get ‘em the next time," said Bracewell. "It's going to hurt for a little while tonight."

Game-two is a later start than usual, 6:00, for Comcast telecast. State will have RHP Evan Mitchell (0-0, 2.30) starting against LSU righty Ryan Eades (3-0, 1.80).

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