"I don't think we're stressed," said RHP Evan Mitchell. "We know we're a good ball club."
Mitchell is correct. By most measures Mississippi State (18-4, 0-2) has shown itself a quality club so far in 2013. Only LSU (18-1, 2-0) has been better in taking the first two wins of opening SEC weekend, which the respective rankings would indicate. This hasn't kept Coach John Cohen and club from showing frustration, forget rankings.
"Obviously I'm disappointed," Cohen said. "I'm disappointed in the way we played, I'm disappointed in the way we defended." And despite the Bulldogs matching LSU at ten base hits apiece, he was just as disappointed in an offense which didn't sustain swinging enough to push people across. State left nine runners un-scored, after doing so to eleven more on Friday. Also just as in game-one, the Dogs made impressive contact again with not much to show beyond statistics.
"We got ten hits," said DH Trey Porter. "It's just more about the clutch hits. There were a couple of times (LSU) got the hit when they needed it and that's where we need to go."
Porter was the best example as he accounted for three Bulldog base hits, two of them doubles with a later single. Each time he hit nobody was on base ahead of him, and only once did Porter get to touch the plate. That was in the sixth inning as LF Jacob Robson's grounder scored him from third base.
The other Bulldog tallies came in more impressive fashion, off a two-run homer by 2B Brett Pirtle in the bottom of the tenth inning. The drive over leftfield came with C Nick Ammirati on base, and off Tiger closer Chris Cotton. But it only narrowed the final margin because LSU already had knocked two balls out of the yard for four runs, including the back-breaker by shortstop Alex Bregman in the top of the ninth for a 7-1 lead.
LSU's other homer came from, naturally, first baseman Mason Katz as he hit a solo shot to open their second inning. It was his third longball of the weekend and ninth of the season. More damaging was the two-run double in the top of the fifth by Jacoby Jones for a 3-0 lead at half-way point which dug the Dogs into a real hole.
The fact was LSU achieved more with their ten hits than did the Dogs, with eight batters getting at least one safety. "They've got their best hitter obviously in the five-hole, they've got guys surrounding him getting on base," Mitchell said. "And they've got their contact guys. So they have guys through their whole lineup no matter who it is."
Starting State pitcher Mitchell (0-1) took the loss on his 4.0 innings, allowing the first three runs but off just one base hit. His walked three, only one who scored, and struck out four. Porter thought Mitchell had done his job for the most part. "He just set the tempo. And we struggled to get runs across for him."
Tiger righthander Ryan Eades (4-0) made sure of that. He was able to scatter six hits in 7.0 full innings, walking two Dogs and fanning eight with a well-placed slider that only Porter seemed able to handle. "I was seeing it pretty good. I've had pretty good luck against Eades, he's a great pitcher no doubt and a guy that likes to pound the zone a lot. I just sat fastball, he got me on sliders a couple of times but I stayed back enough to put a couple in play."
Besides that solo shot in the second, on a 3-1 count, Mitchell was able to avoid big trouble through four and strand three while rolling a double-play off Jones. But a leadoff walk in the fifth was followed by a short bunt 3B Alex Detz mishandled. In his first college start on third, the junior couldn't come up with the bare-hand try.
On 2-0 count to Jones, Mitchell was replaced by lefthander Ross Mitchell. He threw a couple of strikes to even the count before Jones hit a right-center gapper. Lead runner Ty Ross scored ahead of the throw; trailer Andrew Stevenson came home after it got past the catcher.
Eades kept it a 3-1 margin after Porter scored in the MSU sixth with a strikeout, one of eleven issued to Bulldog batters. In the LSU eighth, a leadoff single finished Ross Mitchell for RHP Myles Gentry. He produced two easy fly-outs only to walk a pinch-batter. And it cost dearly as Ross singled through the right side for the RBI. The runner from first was caught rounding second too far but damage had been done.
Though to Cohen's mind the backbreaker was Bregman's loft. Number-nine batter Andrew Stevenson singled, and Jones lined a double off the left-center fence with the lead runner holding at third base. LHP Chad Girodo got a comebacker for one out, his only one as RHP Preston Brown entered to face a row of righties. The first one sufficed to make everything else irrelevant as Alex Bregman took Brown over, of course, leftfield for the three-run homer.
"We've got a freshman out there throwing a curveball, he hasn't thrown a curveball since he's been at Mississippi State," Cohen said. "Butch (Thompson ) goes to the mound and says we're going to pitch around the guy, we've got first base open, work outside the zone, sink it, move it; do not throw a breaking ball. And he throws a curveball. I think that's pretty much the story of the night."
Jones and Raph Rhymes had two hits apiece for LSU, while Frazier and Bradford also hit safely twice. The top half of State's order had eight of the ten hits, while going into the ninth the bottom three slots were a combined 0-of-20 in the two games. Ammirati ended that with his single before Pirtle took Cotton out for his second homer this season.
But as Porter reminded, total hits were not the issue again, just like Friday when the Dogs had more hits. LSU hit it better when it matter. For that matter, and for all the other good contact, "The thing you're most disappointed in is eleven strikeouts, that's the part you just can't have at this level," Cohen said. "You have to put balls in play and make clubs make plays. We didn't do that."
Now the Bulldogs are playing to salvage a split of the opening weekend. It is up to RHP Kendall Graveman (1-1, 2.61) to give the same sort of start he did in Baton Rouge in 2012, when he went the nine-inning distance to prevent a road sweep. "Kendall pitched very well against them last year," Cohen said. "We need him to get a ton of ground balls and hopefully that's what he's going to do."