State Starts Fast Again To Beat Samford 8-2

John Cohen wasn’t being redundant. He was right on target. “The story of the day was our starting pitching really getting us off to a great start,” the coach said after Mississippi State followed their 6-2 win over Arizona by beating Samford 8-2.

Diamond Dog starters did dominate the day at Dudy Noble Field, with some bullpen help of course. In the morning opener, Austin Sexton set up Ross Mitchell to finish and even get the decision against the Pac-12 Wildcats (see story filed previously). That set the stage for game-two, with Lucas Laster working six-plus quality innings of his own for the victory.

The consecutive successes kept Mississippi State (12-0) unbeaten, and matched the 1985, 2006, and 2013 teams with a dozen-straight victories to open a schedule. They are also the only NCAA team to finish February with twelve wins and no losses. Samford is 3-6 going into two Sunday games.

“Obviously I thought our starting pitching did a great job today,” Cohen said. “We played two really good clubs today and I thought we played well. We executed for the most part offensively when we needed to.”

Not that Bulldog batters had to execute a lot, with the sticks anyway. A rash of first-inning walks by Samford starter Jared Brasher set up five fast runs with just one hit all frame. From there Mississippi State only had to keep the other Bulldogs in check for eight more innings.

Laster (2-0) did his part. “I thought Lucas was fantastic,” C Cody walker said. “He did a great job early of mixing his pitches, then driving with the fastball.”

Laster lasted 6.1 innings despite eleven base hits from free-swinging Samford. The lefthander only gave up two runs, those in his final frame, because A) his defense made plays to strand runners and B) Laster gave almost nothing for free. He did hit a Samford Bulldog, in the second inning. But Laster walked nobody. In this he followed suit of Sexton, who issued no walks either with ten strikeouts.

Lefty Laster couldn’t match that with seven strikeouts, but it didn’t matter. “We wanted the shutout but got a little mindless in that seventh inning,” Walker said. “Other than that he was phenomenal.”

Righties Levi Mintz (0.2) and Dakota Hudson (2.0) handled the rest of the outs with just a hit and two walks between them and four strikeouts by Hudson.

Brasher (0-1) didn’t last that long. Not even a full inning. The Bulldogs barely had to un-shoulder their bats because Brasher gave them little to swing at. He plunked SS Seth Heck in leadoff, who got bunted over. State could have saved the sacrifice though.

Because in order Brasher walked 3B Ryan Gridley, CF Jacob Robson, and on full-count 1B Wes Rea for the first run of the day. DH Luke Reynolds also worked the count full before ball four for the free RBI. Brasher wild-pitched to plate Robson. It took a swing by Walker to garner State’s first base hit, a single over third base for two RBI and the 5-0 lead.

“That first inning we did a good job laying off everything he was throwing,” Walker said. “He was very wild and when he threw something in the zone we did a good hanging in there.” Brasher stayed in to walk #9 batter 2B John Holland before exiting. Righthander Tristan Widra took over the two runners on base and left them there.

It wasn’t entirely smooth sailing for Laster. He loaded up the bases in his second inning with a couple of hits and the plunking, but stranded everyone with a comebacker by the #9 batter. A base hit and error in the third resulted in two Samford Dogs in scoring positions with two outs. Laster kept them put with a bouncer to shortstop.

Mississippi State was able to expand the lead after two outs in their third as LF Cody Brown extended the inning with his single. Walker’s line-fly surprised leftfielder Jared Wilson, getting over him and to the fence for a double and RBI as Brown raced first-to-home. Holland followed with a single to center scoring Walker.

With the 7-0 lead Laster jumped high off the hill to snag a hopper and leave two more Samford runners stranded. He returned with a larger lead as Vickerson led off State’s sixth with a career-first triple. Robson’s fly ball made it a 8-0 score.

The shutout ran out in the seventh as after a strikeout he was tagged for a single. Swilling skipped a one-hop shot past third base for a double putting two in scoring positions. When Heath Quinn doubled them both in Laster was allowed to retire.

Mintz didn’t settle things immediately, walking the bases full before grounding-out Richard Greene to keep the 8-2 margin. That was all MSU asked from Mintz, as Hudson threw the last two turns.

Widra had the longest Samford stint, 5.1 innings with three runs on seven of State’s nine base hits. Vickerson and Brown both were 2-of-4 with a run scored, while Walker drove in three runs with a 2-of-3 line and a run.

In their three wins so far this weekend, State starting pitching has combined for 24 strikeouts and just three walks, all by RHP Preston Brown in Friday’s win over Arizona. So there’s some sense of pressure now on LHP Vance Tatum, who will get the ball Sunday against Samford. Game time has been moved to 3:00.

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