Fortunately conditions improved enough for Tatum to not only start but darned nearly finish another victory. He threw eight full innings and one more Samford batter in the ninth to lead Mississippi State past the visiting Bulldogs 6-2. With their win the home Bulldogs completed a third unblemished weekend and are off to a 13-0 start this season.
Samford left Dudy Noble Field 3-8, having dropped both ends of their Sunday twinbill and gone winless on the weekend. Arizona split their four games with two losses to State.
All weekend Mississippi State received stout starting pitching. As it turned out the best came last. Lefthander Tatum put on a sterling Sunday showing, mowing through the Samford order with twelve strikeouts in his 8.0-plus turns. The dozen Ks, swinging or looking, were the most by a State pitcher since Jacob Lindgren two years ago.
And it was triple the most strikeouts sophomore Tatum had tallied as a Diamond Dog. He really wanted the chance to follow up a winning start two weeks ago against Cincinnati, and a relief stint last weekend, hence concerns with the light Sunday rainfall.
Once the game got green-lighted, though… “I just went in with the right mindset, (like) the whole squad. And I had (Josh) Lovelady behind the dish doing everything he does. So that’s all I needed.”
Tatum (2-0) was just about all State needed to establish control. Of his first 17 pitches only one was a ball, and if not for a wild pitch on a strikeout to open his second inning Tatum would have officially shot down the first five faced. As it was he erased that runner on a grounder and double-play, then struck out the next four faced.
In all nine of the ten Samford swingers Tatum began with were struck out. “I really had a good feel at the beginning of the game.” The other Bulldogs did get to him somewhat in the fourth, as Tatum issued consecutive two-out walks before Damon Waller punched a base hit up the middle to end the shutout.
All Tatum did in response was retire the next 13 batters up. Only three went down on strikeouts but that reflected adjustments on both sides.
“I was really fastball/slider at the beginning of the game,” Tatum said. “Then they started sitting a little on both so I introduced the changeup a little more to them. That’s just what was working today.” Tatum’s final line read two runs on two hits, just two walks and those dozen fannings.
Tatum also had to be good because Mississippi State’s offense wasn’t getting a lot done. Samford starter Eric Wright (0-2) battled into the fourth inning with just a first-inning run against him to then. In State’s first turn SS Seth Heck led off with a single to left compounded by a fielding error into two bases. Bunted-over by 2B Ryan Gridley, Heck was scored when 1B Wes Rea singled to leftfield.
It looked briefly as if the Bulldogs weren’t going to support the starter’s great game. After Samford tied it up, Tatum needed a fine charging grab and throw by 3B Matt Spruill just to keep the 1-1 tie and strand a pair.
Wright’s luck ran out in the MSU half of the fourth though. CF Jacob Robson bunted his way on base in leadoff and was pushed over by Lovelady’s bunt for sacrifice. With two outs Robson was running for third. Catcher Jared Watson pumped once, then unwisely forced a throw anyway. He was low of third baseman Anthony Gonzalez’ glove and Robson made home.
State didn’t stop there. Wright extended the inning by plunking LF Jake Vickerson, who was running on a 1-1 count as Spruill swung. He did more than cover the runner; Spruill’s drive got down deep in the right-center gap for a triple and 3-1 score.
Righthander Michael Belcher had to leave the sacks stuffed, which only delayed things. In the fifth inning new DH Luke Reynolds walked and Robson was bunting again. He popped it up in front of the plate where Watson just couldn’t quite get a mitt underneath in time to prevent an infield ‘single’ and two runners on.
State substituted to put left-hander RF Cody Brown up against Belcher. All Brown had to do was watch a dirtball bounce through for Reynolds to score. Then with two outs Belcher again missed the mitt, bringing Robson home for the 5-1 margin.
This was more than enough with Tatum in control, getting ground-outs and fly-outs with no drama. He didn’t mind waiting a little longer in the dugout as State did put up an eighth-inning run. Brown singled and two outs later was scored by Heck’s clean double, off fourth SU reliever Andres Garcia.
Tatum told Coach Butch Thompson it was his game so the starter got to take the hill for the ninth. Watson spoiled chances of a full-route with his leadoff double, so RHP Trevor Fitts took over as Tatum took his bow. Fitts was hit with two outs by Waller for the last RBI before ending the affair with a fly ball.
Robson snapped out of a slow weekend with a 2-of-4 day at the dish and two runs, while Heck had two hits with a RBI and run scored. Waller had both Samford RBI and two of their four hits.
”The star of the show tonight was Tatum,” Cohen said. “He did so many things, he did a great job. And I thought Josh was right there with him.”
Tatum’s outing capped an impressive weekend where the four State starters combined for 36 strikeouts against five walks, in a little over 26 innings.
Now off to the fourth-best start in program history, the Bulldogs don’t get to rest. They are right back on Dudy Noble Field Tuesday to continue this month-long homestand, hosting Arkansas-Pine Bluff at 6:30.