Bulldog Bullpen Seals 5-1 Win In Rubber Game

Wes Rea wasn't complaining, exactly. But after a long Saturday of facing and fielding ground balls, the first baseman and fellow defenders were ready to see some strikeouts. The Mississippi State staff was happy to oblige in a 5-1 victory to clinch their SEC series with Arkansas.

A trio of Diamond Dog moundsmen combined to strike out 14 Arkansas batters and air-out seven more, as Mississippi State took Sunday's rubber game. With their third SEC series success in as many weekends the Bulldogs (20-10, 6-3) stayed in a four-way tie at the front of the conference standings. This is the first season since 2007 that a State squad has gone three weekends-in with a winning league record. Arkansas left Dudy Noble Field 17-10, 4-5.

They also left frustrated after so many outright fannings or routine fly- and pop-outs. Bulldog defenders left happy. And fresher, said Rea. "Because we're kind of worn-out from all the ground balls. We get to watch a little bit so it's fun."

What they watched was a steady start by RHP Trevor Fitts, and 5.2 dominating innings of relief from the left/right combination of Jacob Lindgren and Jonathan Holder. The two only allowed a hit apiece and no runs at all, with eleven strikeouts between them.

"It's kind of like cruise control in the car," said Lindgren who had eight of the Ks—six consecutive in an overpowering stretch—and got the winning decision to boot. "You're cruising and don't even think about it."

Lindgren (3-0) didn't have to think much if any. Entering in the fourth after Arkansas had scored their one run, and with both tying and go-ahead runners still on base with one out, there wasn't a lot of thinking involved. Just making pitches and plays, which all Dogs did. Lindgren got a bit of a break with a failed squeeze-bunt for one out; then notched the first of his strikeouts to keep Mississippi State ahead.

From there…well, let DH Alex Detz describe Lindgren. "He's filthy. That's just what he does, it's rare when people actually hit him hard. That's a credit to how good his stuff is."

The stuff was entirely on. Lindgren worked in a pretty narrow velocity range, 88-to-91 with the occasional pace-changer. Mostly though, "I really had my stuff today. Any time you can spot-up with all your pitches it's a plus for sure." His total line was for 4.0 innings with the one hit, eight strikeouts and no walks.

Nor did Holder give away any outs or bases, with one hit against three strikeouts in his 1.2 turns to record a fourth save on the season. That both prime relievers were available for game-three reflected how State had gotten through the Saturday twinbill using only three pitchers, period. "It's a great luxury to go into Sunday and have those two guys fresh and ready to go," Coach John Cohen said.

It surely helped Lindgren because he had a developing mess on his (left) hand in the fourth frame. Trailing 2-0, the Razorbacks finally wore-down Fitts. Joe Serrano led off with a double down the left-line and Brian Anderson broke the shutout with his RBI single to center. A one-out grounder past the diving Rea had Arkansans poised on opposing corners.

State didn't delay calling in lefthander Lindgren for a matchup with lefty Clark Eagan. It looked like an obvious squeezing situation and on 1-1 Eagan did try to put one down. Instead he popped it up and Collins made the key catch. It was the second such attempt of the game by Arkansas and both were snagged by the backstop.

"Hooo, man they were pretty big!" said Lindgren, who had been alerted to his squeeze-potential. "I thought about it, Coach Cohen and Coach (Butch) Thompson talked to me about it. And we were in a similar situation last week so I was ready for it."

Arkansas clearly wasn't ready for Lindgren. He got a swinging strikeout of Bobby Wernes to finish that crucial fourth, then rolled a couple of grounders in the fifth—one fielded by Rea who chose to dive for the bag and tag instead of flip to his pitcher, and paid a price. "The guy kicked me in the head," Rea reported later. Fortunately the first sacker was able to watch two very fast innings as Lindgren struck out the side in the sixth on ten pitches, then did it again in the seventh on 15.

Those two turns came after some crucial lead-expanding by the Bulldogs in their fifth. Up to then, a two-run homer by Detz in the first inning had looked strong enough. After Arkansas cut the deficit in-half a response was needed. UA starter Chris Oliver was able to strand Dogs in the third and fourth innings, the latter coming on a double-play with two speedsters on bases and one out.

In the fifth it appeared LF Jake Vickerson would also go un-plated, and at third base. Vickerson had walked on full-count to open the inning and stole second cleanly. He should have been outed on a dead-to-rights pickoff by Oliver except the rundown was botched and Vickerson spun around a tag try by third baseman Wernes that the Razorbacks didn't agree with. Regardless, he was still 90 feet away with two outs and a 0-2 count on Rea.

Who admitted he'd come to the plate "I was actually a little dizzy after that play at first. But I guess that helped my swing get a little simpler and shorter." Rea just reached out for the two-strike offering that was off the plate and singled it to rightfield for a crucial RBI.

Cohen called it "The biggest offensive play" of the game. "The fact that Wes gets a 0-2 fastball away and he just flicks his hands at it and hits a rocket in the four hole. That was a huge momentum changer and Wes came through for us."

Oliver remained on the mound into the seventh with the 3-1 scoreboard. Collins led off with a single and was bunted-over by 3B Matt Britton. With the top of MSU's order up again lefthander Colin Porche took over, only to bounce his first pitch past the mitt. With Collins now on third Vickerson was more-or-less intentionally put on first base for a better defensive opportunity.

It didn't work. On 2-2 Vickerson was running as Detz tapped Poche's pitch to the left side. There was no chance at second base so Arkansas took the out at first while Collins scored. "We have a runner in motion to avoid the double-play that can get them out of the inning," said Cohen. "That was a great job." Righthander Jacob Stone took over to strand a couple with a strikeout.

The 4-1 lead still meant it was a save situation, and Holder was well-warmed by the time he was called. Lindgren retired his 12th Razorback in a row before hitting the nine-hole batter in the eighth, then giving up a single. "I knew Jonathan had my back so I wasn't too mad. I was just happy to pitch today."

And get a win. Against the best of Arkansas' order Holder got one fly ball, then a bouncer to shortstop that would have ended the inning…if not for a weird skip in front of SS Seth Heck. Somehow he blocked it with the right shoulder and even if bases were loaded nobody had come home.

"The play of the game to me," Cohen said. "If that ball get by him there's one run scored, maybe two and it changes the whole complexion." Instead Holder got ahead 0-2 to Eric Fisher and after a foul-off struck him out swinging to strand everyone. "The first guy Jonathan went and hugged in that dugout was Seth for staying in front of that," Cohen reported.

Another insurance run wouldn't change the save-opportunity so Holder welcomed it in the bottom of the eighth. 2B Brett Pirtle walked, took second on an errant pickoff try by Stone, and was bunted over by Heck. CF Derrick Armstrong continued to burn the visitors with a sacrifice fly for the final margin, and other than a strikeout/wild pitch for a one-out runner in the ninth Holder wasn't challenged in finishing out the victory.

Practically forgotten by then was Fitts' 3.1 innings of starting work with a run on four hits and three strikeouts. And, the two-run shot by Detz which had the home team in control. Vickerson took Oliver's third pitch to centerfield for a single, and on 3-0 Oliver got a called strike to Detz…which he soon wished had been a ball.

"I was just looking to stay middle and the ball came inside," Detz said. "I was able to keep my hands in just enough." Fortunately for Detz and Dogs, that hard left-to-right Saturday wind was a lot lighter Sunday and the drive stayed inside the right foul pole. It was State's first home run since March 5, that one also provided by Detz.

Oliver (2-3) took the loss on 6.1 innings with four runs on seven hits, a walk and three strikeouts. Not only did Bulldog pitching pile up the Ks, but the three hurlers walked none of the 38 batters faced.

"Trevor put is in position to get there, and Jonathan coming in for a save," said Lindgren. And, in the bigger picture, to take a series. It was the first time since 2008 in fact a Bulldog team won a weekend against the Razorbacks, who had shut State down 4-0 in Saturday's opener before a 5-1 answer in the nightcap.

"Arkansas is a good club," Cohen said. "They're going to win their share of games in this league and I think he'll have them rolling at the right time."

Now these Dogs are holding position atop the conference standings into April. Their first-place tie goes on the line, and the road as well, next weekend with a trip to arch-Western Division rival Louisiana State, which just suffered an unexpected sweeping at Florida. State has no midweek game.


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