Trailing 1-0 in the eighth, the visiting Gamecocks tied the game up on a wild pitch. Then in the ninth a sequence of walk, passed ball, and wild pitch had the go-ahead runner on third base. Griff Gordon came home on a well-done squeeze bunt by Ryan Sebra for what proved the winning margin.
Though official scoring will show two wild pitches and two passed balls, Coach John Cohen counted all the miscues as simple catching errors. Simple, and fatal as it turned out. "It's pretty obvious, we did not catch the baseball well tonight. It just absolutely destroyed us late in the ball game."
More than a midweek game might have been destroyed with this loss, which will put a bigger dent in Mississippi State's RPI and post-season standing. The Bulldogs slipped to 28-18 with a third-straight loss, though only their second non-conference midweek setback in ten chances this season. But it was the first-ever defeat to Jacksonville State (24-19) after 11 wins since the series began in 1996.
In a fast-moving evening the Bulldogs broke up a shutout in the bottom of the seventh as pinch-hitter Alex Detz took Gamecock reliever Michael Mason over rightfield for a one-out home run. It was Detz' third homer of the season, tying for this team's lead, and with good pitching up to then State thought they had things under control.
"On our ball club it feels all we need is one run," Cohen said. The feeling was mistaken.Though, the way LHP Lucas Laster was working up to then there was justification for optimism. The juco came back from last week's start in the win over Ole Miss to throw seven scoreless innings with three hits up to then. He had struck out four against only one walk and most balls put in play were finding gloves. This was after what Laster called a shaky start, even if he suffered no damage.
"Early I couldn't really find my release, I left some balls up. Everybody was staying behind me making good plays and Gavin (Collins) was calling good pitches. I was pretty comfortable, I could trust my defense and all that."
It was a leadoff single by Andre Bishop in the eighth that ended the longest stint by a Bulldog not named Ross Mitchell this season. LHP Jacob Lindgren inherited the runner at first and while JSU didn't get a bunt down they didn't have to. Lindgren's pitch was missed by Collins for a free base. A ground ball put Bishop on third with one out, and Lindgren officially wild-pitched him home for the tie.
Lindgren returned for the ninth with the 1-1 tie and had a strikeout before walking Griff Gordon on full count. Another passed ball not only put the go-ahead runner in scoring position but yanked freshman Collins for C Zack Randolph. The new mitt didn't help as another (official) wild pitch on 3-1 not only moved Gordon to third base but walked another Gamecock on.
RHP Jonathan Holder got the emergency call with runners on corners and one out. He fielded Sabra's 2-1 bunt fine but had no chance for the out at home as Bishop scored. A double-play ended the inning but the harm was done. Travis Stout entered to pick up his 10th save of the season with an in-order Bulldog ninth with two strikeouts.
Graham Officer (2-0) got the win with just an inning's work with a hit and nothing else on his line. The loss went to Lindgren (3-1) on 1.1 turns without a hit at all; just the two walks, two strikeouts, and two official wild pitches that his coach won't hold against him in game review at all.
"Lindgren has power stuff but we've been catching him for a while. I do not know what happened. When the other team executes to beat you that's one thing. But to go first to third on consecutive passed balls that's a whole ‘nother thing."
Casey Antley came in with a 1-3 record and 6.59 ERA, but Bulldog batters made him look like an ace for three innings with just two hits and a walk. Even the Gamecock bullpen kept State from making much happen. The best chance was in the sixth after 3B Matthew Britton reached on an error and SS Seth Heck walked. With one out and Britton on third base Heck was running as 2B Brett Pirtle struck out trying to cover with the pitch well off the plate. Opportunity was wasted, too typically of this season, when Mason took over to strike out Collins and strand a runner at third.
Detz' shot an out into the seventh briefly made up for the failures, but one run wasn't enough. Neither team was big at the bat with four hits apiece. Andre and Michael Bishop, the Gamecock brothers, each accounted for all their team's hits. LF Demarcus Henderson and Heck had the other State safeties.
Perhaps it was the disastrous breakdowns behind the plate that occupied the coach's mind over anything that did or didn't happen at it. Though, "It's hard to get upset at a C.T. Bradford, he smoked three balls in a row and didn't get any hits. It sounds like the same thing over and over again but that's what is happening. Reid Humphreys hits the daylights out of a ball, what happens? It's a double-play ball," Cohen said.
"So we have guys hit balls hard, we didn't get any hits. We defended really well, we pitched really well, and we decided not to catch baseballs for whatever reason late in the ball game."
The words and tone were clear enough alert that Thursday's campus practice before boarding the bus will be intense. If, that is, anything can get more so for a Mississippi State team headed into the final three SEC weekends with their post-season status now not nearly so certain. If the fields were set today the Bulldogs would easily qualify for both the SEC and NCAA tournaments.
They aren't set today, and while State has sufficient opportunities left to improve their positioning in both…they equally can hurt it with some similar performances to this one. The really troublesome point is why a team that began the season with such expectations and ended March tied for first in the SEC now goes into May just trying to catch a pitched baseball.
"And find a way to play well against a good Auburn club and reevaluate and regroup," Cohen said. "I've got to figure out why we can't catch balls in the air and hopefully turn it around for the weekend."