Bulldog Thursday Hoover Notebook

READY, AND ABLE: Though he entered a good bit earlier than usual for a relief stint, none were surprised Wednesday evening when Mississippi State gave Jacob Lindgren the ball during that third-inning crunch to preserve a 3-0 lead. Which he did, en route to getting the decision himself in relief for a 6-1 record.

What got overlooked by most was how many pitches Lindgren had thrown Tuesday night. None from the game-mound of course; he had been busy in the Bulldog bullpen beginning around the seventh inning when State began setting up stoppers for the end of the Georgia game. "I was protecting Lucas Laster yesterday but he threw a heck of a game," Lindgren said. Righthander Jonathan Holder got the call as it turned out but ran into ninth-inning troubles and Lindgren started re-heating. Fortunately Holder held it at a 4-4 tie and took care of the top-tenth in order so Lindgren wasn't needed.

Still he'd twice warmed and used the arm a good bit, so there was some risk in riding him too long Wednesday. Lindgren solved it the best way: he mowed down all dozen Gamecocks faced without a hit, walk, anyone reaching and struck out half those coming to the plate. Lindgren has had some impressive outings the second half of this junior season but that had to be his best long stint.

"Every hitter I just try to attack with my best stuff, and fastball/slider was working tonight. And Gavin (Collins) was calling a heck of a game, got to give credit to him." Which is a side-story in itself as freshman Collins had some well-publicized issues catching Lindgren earlier in the month and even lost his job some games when the hard-breaking lefty was brought in. But at Alabama and now here in Hoover, the rookie catcher has been flawless with the glove; and increasingly mature in calling pitches.

Lindgren still is a ‘tough catch' because he hammers his sliders so hard they look like true curves sometimes. Last night though the velocity was better than ever as the stadium radar clocked his breaking stuff at 86 to 88 mph. The fastballs? Typically 94 and at least three times 96. Lindren was amused to hear those numbers afterwards.

"The gun was probably a little juiced!" he laughed. The real point was when Gamecocks had to see his real heat, those ensuing sliders had them even more anxious not to get beat. Which they still did as the strikeout count showed. Plus, "They like to swing at that slider in the dirt so I'd just throw it sometimes." Which he and Collins are a whole lot more confident doing these days, too. It might be worth another side-story asking if playing on road-dirt is easier for bouncing balls than the slick plastic installed this year at DNF.

It's also well-known about Lindgren that he is a leading light-heart in the Bulldog dugout. He and fellow lefthander, and equally loose-wrapped in his own way, Ross Mitchell have maintained 2013's Bench Mobb ethos. Though as Mitchell has said, they don't use the name as often this year. Label or not, Lindgren is a fun-lover on and off the field.

On it? A whole ‘nother matter. "As soon as I hit the mound it's like a light switch. I get really serious and have to do my job. So I try to just play Mississippi State baseball."

WORKING UNDER-TIME?: Mississippi State has played a pair of contests this SEC Tournament, and neither have stuck to the standard nine-game formula. The Bulldogs were taken into an extra inning on Tuesday by Georgia before prevailing 5-4 in the tenth. Given that they were 6-0 in the regular season when playing extra frames (all of those games came after April 8), going a little long at Hoover wasn't really surprising. Nor was winning again.

The true surprise came Wednesday when State run-ruled South Carolina 12-0. By scoring eight runs in the top of the seventh, and gaining a double-digits lead, the SEC Tournament's run-rule could be invoked and everyone leave early. Relatively speaking of course as the game ended at 11:05. That was still better than a 11:31 finish Tuesday evening…and infinitely faster than the 2013 opening-night epic of 17 innings with Missouri that went to 12:24am.

This was the first time since the SEC installed a run-rule that Mississippi State was able to end a win early. The 2002 Bulldogs were on the other side of the rule though, in a 12-2 loss to Alabama in the first round.

So 2014 provides yet another first for State's program in SEC Tourney play. And the dozen runs scored, in just the seven innings, were the most by a Bulldog team since 1997 when State got a dozen off South Carolina. Twice MSU has scored 15 runs in a tournament game, including the very first such event back in 1977 and then in 1991. And in 1990, in their very first game ever played at the Hoover Met, that Dog team hung 16 on Auburn.

Also, the Bulldogs helped make some SEC history Wednesday in conjunction with three conference peers. As LSU beat Vanderbilt 12-2 early in the morning, this was only the second time at a SEC Tournament there have been two run-rule games on the same day. 2006 was the other and State wasn't involved that time, they were not even at the tournament.

BOMBS AWAY: There were ‘bigger' hits in the sense of setting the game's tone in Mississippi State's favor. From a stat-standpoint though the biggest was the only home run by either team. And a shot it was, as 2B Brett Pirtle crushed a seventh-inning fastball into the South Carolina bullpen. It went for a three-run shot and put the Dogs up 7-0…and visibly deflated the Gamecocks for the rest of the frame and evening.

"My team needed me right there so I wanted to get it done. So I'm happy about that." Happy for his second homer of the season (the other was at Missouri) and fourth career. The senior second-sacker is obviously an established hitter with a team-leading .344 average. For perspective, last season Hunter Renfroe batted .345; and Adam Frazier led the team at .352.

Still going long has been neither the forte or the goal for Pirtle. Jacking one out is an event of note. Doing so at the Hoover Met is big news indeed. Though as Pirtle said, he's been well-prepared for such parks by playing at Dudy Noble Field where high and long drives go to die, mostly short of the warning track.

In fact he credits the home field for making the entire team better batters in big post-season parks. "It always helps. It helps here, it helps at Ameritrade, because we don't over-do it. We don't try to swing for the fences or anything like that. We know we can, but more than likely we don't. So it's an advantage for us."

And if Pirtle's shot loomed largest on the line score, there were 13 other Bulldog safeties tallied; a dozen of them singles. Sure, Pirtle said, batting practice went well Wednesday and they thought they would score off South Carolina. But, "I mean 12-0? I don't know about that. But we had a good feeling that we were going to win this game. Winning like this, that's just a confidence-booster for us. Hopefully it's going to roll over into the next game."

That being against a Kentucky team that thrives on hitting, running, and scoring.

BIG IN MANY WAYS: He did not have any of the team's 14 base hits registered in seven innings. In fact Wes Rea was the only Bulldog starter to go hit-less in a huge offensive evening. But this is baseball and Rea's contributions at the plate were entirely obvious to teammates.

It was the big first baseman who accounted for the first Bulldog run, having led off the top of the second with a walk. A very close walk too as he went full-count before barely checking his swing on a hard inside pitch. South Carolina was convinced he'd swung and missed anyway; Bulldog folk were impressed Rea didn't hack away on the sort of pitch that has gotten him so often this season.

Having reached, he was bunted (!) over to second and would score after consecutive singles by Reid Humphreys and Derrick Armstrong. Then in the third it was Rea's turn to drive in a teammate, as three other Dogs reached base with no outs. Rea crunched a grounder to the left side that only a great diving stop by the shortstop kept from getting through. But his dive took him away from second base and by the time a force was made there Rea had run hard, very hard to beat any relay to first and keep the inning going…and let C.T. Bradford score. It also meant Demarcus Henderson could make it 3-0 with his two-out single.

So while he had an official line of 0-for-4 Rea had scored one and driven in another, about as good as any base hit. One of his ground-outs went hard to the right side, too, something also lacking much of this season from a guy who won acclaim in 2013 for being able to go other-way in RBI situations. In fact there are increasing comments from team and coach that the May Rea looks a lot more like the star of last season.

Cohen saw it in a great if unproductive at-bat last Saturday at Alabama. "He's starting t put some really good swings on balls," the coach said last night. "I think he's starting to get in rhythm."

"We always need him," Pirtle said. "He's a guy that gets us RBI, and gets us going. He's our captain so it's good to see him being comfortable at the plate. And in the field. I mean he makes diving plays." Rea did that in a big way, lunging to his glove-side in the sixth inning to rob a Gamecock of a likely double…another flashback to 2013 and even before.

"I've said this a million times in the last three years, but you just don't see the guys that big that can move like he does on plays like that," said Cohen. And for all the acknowledged offensive struggles this season, Rea has stayed steady in one vital clubhouse aspect.

"He's a fun guy," Pirtle reminded.


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