Lindgren Shuts Gamecocks Down And Out

HOOVER – None seeing the final score will believe it. But Mississippi State's 12-0, run-ruled romp over South Carolina was not settled by swinging. It turned on pitching. Specifically, when the Bulldogs called on Jacob Lindgren to keep their second-round SEC Tournament contest under control.

With a 3-0 lead suddenly threatened in the bottom of the third inning, it was the lefthanded reliever summoned to keep his team ahead. Perhaps even strand the pair of Gamecocks in scoring positions with one out and the best batters in their order ahead. Lindgren was ready, willing, and able.

"When they need me, they put me in," he shrugged about such an early call.

It was the correct call, too. All Lindgren did against consecutive lefthanded hitters Kyle Martin and Grayson Griener was produce swinging strikeouts to preserve the margin. It would grow, a lot, as the rest of the evening played out. Still the shutout rout had hinged on Lindgren's slamming a door before it ever got opened.

"I'm just thinking don't let them score!" Lindgren said of his situation. "That's the main thing! If I happened to get a strikeout, I'll take it."

He took a lot more from South Carolina than that, going 4.0-full frames in relief with no hits or walks and striking out six. Though he had inherited a lead Lindgren (6-1) still earned the decision. As to calling in his best left-side stopper with so many innings ahead, Coach John Cohen was clear.

"The game was still in question." And really it remained so even with a 4-0 margin through six complete innings. Fortunately the Bulldogs were able to sit Lindgren down by blowing everything open with eight scores in the top of the sixth, and producing the program's first run-rule victory ever in a SEC Tournament.

"Lingo came out and gave us a chance to keep rolling," said 2B Brett Pirtle. "He was phenomenal, as well as the whole lineup tonight."

The order, too. Mississippi State has had its share of offensive issues this season, but for one big evening the bats broke loose. They rattled five of the six South Carolina pitchers for 14 base hits, only two of which went for extra bases. But in the case of Pirtle's seventh inning swing, it went for all four bases. He made the night's key cut with a three-run homer for a 7-0 lead…at the time. If Pirtle paid for his second shot of the season with a plunking the next time he came up, it was well-worth the pain.

"That at-bat I was just trying to get something going, my team needed me right there." Pirtle scored twice as he reached on a walk as well as the HBP. The batting lead was set at the top two slots as SS Seth Heck went 3-of-5 with two runs and a RBI; and CF C.T. Bradford followed with 3-of-4 batting, two scores and a ribbie as well and a walk.

The largest part of Dog damage was done to S.C. starter Jordan Montgomery (7-5), a lefthander and workhorse of their rotation with career successes against State. This start ended poorly. Montgomery labored through 3.2 innings with four runs charged on six hits and a very unusual four walks. This by veteran moundsman with a career rate of four fannings for every free pass issued. The Bulldogs just had his number this time.

"We just were progressive, went deep in counts, that's what helped us win," Pirtle said. "I'm pretty sure we got a lot of walks and went real deep in the counts and got his pitch count up. We grinded out the at-bats."

Montgomery was unscathed other than a leadoff Heck single in his first. In the second 1B Wes Rea barely checked a full-count swing to walk, and was bunted along to second base. It wasn't quite scoring position as DH Reid Humphreys singled through shortstop leaving runners on opposite corners. LF Derrick Armstrong took care of the RBI anyway, chopping his grounder sharply enough that the high carom cleared the third baseman and Rea scored.

Rea was back up in the third, this time with bases loaded in front of him. One out into the inning Bradford legged-out an infield single, and Pirtle fouled off enough strikes to earn a full-count walk. C Gavin Collins followed with a walk as well to fill all corners ahead of Rea. His hard-hit grounder was stopped at shortstop but required diving to do so; meaning the only out was a throw to second as Rea got in to first base safely and Bradford scored.

RF Demarcus Henderson swung at his first chance and singled it to plate Pirtle for the 3-0 lead.

Bulldog starter RHP Trevor Fitts began well enough, and though he was touched by Greiner for a leadoff double in the second that was erased by the runner himself trying to take third on a grounder. He stranded two others that turn.

But when Fitts walked both the #9 and #1 batters in the third with one out, State couldn't wait and Lindgren got the quick call. He had warmed up extensively Tuesday evening when Georgia had forced extra innings without actually pitching. Lindgren didn't feel any worse for the wear.

"My arm was OK coming back, I'm used to throwing back-to-back days, so I told Coach (Butch) Thompson I was ready." South Carolina gave him an out with a bunt to advance the runners into scoring positions. Or stranding positions as Lindgren shot down a pair. He returned with a larger margin, as 3B Matt Britton walked with an out in the Bulldog fourth.

Heck was not bunting but a grounder worked like one and avoided a double-play. Bradford hacked the first pitch through the right side to bring Britton around for the 4-0 lead and a pitching change as righthander Taylor Widener ended that inning. He went in-order in the next two turns as well, twice aided by splendid glovework from second baseman DC Arendas.

But Lindgren was storming through the Gamecocks, sitting all twelve batters he faced. No hits, no runners, and no errors by a defense that was enjoying the show. "Me and Heck were getting bored," Pirtle reported. Rea wasn't, as he made a brilliant lunging stop in the sixth to rob a double from Max Schrock. As Lindgren rolled along the stadium readout reached 96 repeatedly on his best fastballs, which made the 88s and 86s look glacial and had batters way ahead in their swings.

How much longer State would have stuck with Lindgren can't be guessed. But throwing up a eight-spot in the seventh made any decisions simple. Widener was up against the top of State's order and got beaten. Heck used one of those high-hops to single his way on, and Bradford's scorcher got under the Gamecock first baseman's glove for a base hit and runners on corners. Pirtle made their trips home easy, crushing a drive into the rightfield bullpen for the 7-0 margin.

"I knew it was out," he said of his second homer this season and fourth career.

And more offense was to come. Collins and Henderson singled around an out and pitching change with righty Reed Scott taking over. DH Reid Humphreys grounded to third base. Joey Pankake fielded and stepped on his bag for one out and had a double-play shot to first. Except his throw sailed wide, and rattled around in foul ground long enough for Henderson to score all the way from first base. Armstrong made it 9-0 with his base hit, scoring Humphreys, and South Carolina changed arms again.

With no better results. Britton reached on an infield single so the top of the order could come up again in the inning. Heck lifted a high fly that tailed into shallow rightfield for a base hit, while Britton just kept running. The throw went wild, Britton scored and Heck made third base. After a walk of Bradford it was Pirtle's turn, and he surely expected the first-pitch plunking that came even at the cost of loading all bases.

RIghthander Hunter Privette took over only to walk pinch-batter Jake Vickerson to force in Heck. He was able to leave the sacks stuffed, meaning the game could end as soon as RHP Myles Gentry took care of the S.C. seventh. He did on two strikeouts and a grounder.

"That's good to see our bats get going like that," Pirtle said. "It's always addicting when you get one run and more runs after that." The dozen Dog runs were the most in SEC Tournament play since the 1993 event with 13 against Auburn. It was also State's first shutout win in a conference meet since a 3-0 blanking of Vanderbilt in the 2012 finals.

The seven-inning stoppage also helped match some SEC history, as LSU had begun Wednesday by run-ruling Vanderbilt. The only other Tournament to have two run-ruled games on the same day was in 2006.

The shortened win sends Mississippi State (37-20) on to one more late-evening game, as they will face Kentucky in the fourth Thursday contest at Hoover Met. South Carolina (42-15) will face Florida in an elimination game.

What Cohen was stressing to his squad was that Thursday will still begin 0-0 and no runs were banked. "This is one win, it doesn't mean anything except it allows you to advance. We're going to play a great Kentucky team who can really score runs. So we've got to be ready for them."

Against a Wildcat club that not only can hit, but runs the bases with abandon, picking a pitcher is tricky. Cohen and Thompson would discuss it both for the best available matchup, and yet with an eye towards next weekend and NCAA Regional play. Normally LHP Ross Mitchell would expect the ball by now, but such decisions won't be finalized until sometime early afternoon.


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