Offense Doesn't Deliver In 3-1 Loss

Coach John Cohen is convinced things will come around with Bulldog bats. “We’ll be better than this offensively,” he said after Wednesday’s loss to Western Kentucky. “But this was not a very good offensive night for us.”

Not at all. Mississippi State pushed just one run across in nine innings to drop a 3-1 decision to the Hilltoppers. The loss leaves the Bulldogs 15-4 and sends them into SEC season with four defeats in their last six decisions. One of those wins came Tuesday to assure at least a split with Western Kentucky (7-8).

The script was just too similar to other losses. Despite a very short start on the mound this time the Mississippi State staff limited lots of free-swinging ‘Toppers to nine hits. And, none of WKU’s three scores came on a base hit…or even good contact.

The visitors’ offense consisted of a ground ball RBI in the first inning; a sacrifice-fly in the sixth to regain the lead; and for insurance a errored-in run in the eighth. No big innings, no big hits for that matter.

“I thought we pitched good enough to win this game,” Cohen said. “We just did not have very good offensive production. That goes without saying.”

Except it was said, again. The Bulldogs mustered just seven hits, six of them singles with SS Seth Heck’s double in the first at-bat of the evening the only extra-base contact. That leadoff two-bagger came to naught. Because Heck was the first of seven runners left un-scored at either second or third base, with four more stranded on first.

The opportunities were created, and wasted. If not for 1B Wes Rea’s RBI-single in the third inning the Bulldogs could quite easily have been shut-out on the home field.

For a Wednesday game both teams made liberal use of bullpens, with six pitchers working for each side. Western Kentucky’s Cody Coll (2-1) got the winning decision as much on timing as effectiveness, working, still being on record when the ‘Toppers broke a 1-1 tie in the sixth. Coll went 2.2 middle innings with two hits and a strikeout.

The Bulldogs gave freshman RHP Paxton Stover his second appearance of the season and first start, having previously worked in relief back on February 15. That was a rough outing of six runs on four hits in two-thirds of an inning.

This time he began a game but didn’t last as long. Three batters to be exact, with a pair of walks around a single. RHP Myles Gentry had run to the bullpen after the first walk and was called in with the bases loaded. Gentry did well to ground slugger Danny Hudzina into a fielders choice that scored Cody Wofford.

With a 1-2 count LHP Ross Mitchell took over and after re-loading the bases rolled a close double-play grounder. Considering the situation State was extremely fortunate to allow one score.

The Dogs were much less fortunate needing 5.0 innings out of Mitchell, the long-relief stalwart on weekends. He had to stay though because the offense could not catch-up until the third, and never gain a lead. In the second inning 2B John Holland (catchers interference) and CF Jacob Robson (single) were left in scoring positions by starter Logan Weins.

Even the third inning run was disappointing. It should have been more, after RF Cody Brown reached on an infield single and C Gavin Collins was plunked by Connor McHugh. Rea showed bunt and didn’t as both runners stole their way into scoring spots.

Rea tied the game on a soft drive that fell fair in rightfield, which a defender was close enough to that only Brown could score. Collins stopped at third and stayed there when LF Reid Humphreys struck out in a sacrifice-fly opportunity, and 3B Ryan Gridley grounded into a double-play.

Mitchell worked well overall, twice erasing runners by letting them take off from first too early and into a rundown. He began the fifth fielding a comebacker for one out. The next batter also bounced it at Mitchell, who this time only deflected the ball for an infield hit. Two more clean base hits through the left side loaded all posts with one out.

Mitchell stayed in to get a 0-2 count on foul balls before RHP Zac Houston took over. His first pitch was hit by Kaleb Duckworth for a sacrifice fly, something State had failed to do, and Hudzina gave his team the 2-1 lead.

Otherwise, “After the first inning we felt we did a really good job of pitching,” Cohen said. “I thought between Myles and Ross we did a nice job covering ourselves, just giving up one run.”

The downfall was failing to answer that one run, or the wild-pitch run in the seventh thrown by RHP Trevor Fitts. That a runner was even in position to score was due to an error on a fine line-drive snag by Gridley. He tried to throw in behind a runner getting back to first and threw it wildly to put Hudzina on second base.

Even after a wild pitch Fitts should still have been out of the inning with runners on third and first as he rolled a grounder that Heck simply mishandled, allowing Hudzina to cross un-earned.

Three runs was more than enough by then. State put two in scoring spots in the fifth and left them on a strikeout of Humphreys by Coll. Runners on first and second were left there in the MSU sixth with a strikeout of Heck by John Harman. The Bulldogs only went down in-order twice, and in the ninth had a leadoff walk of Robson to keep some hope alive.

John Bartley left him there with a line-out to right by Brown, with the rightfielder playing deeper than usual; and a grounder. Bartley picked up his first save of the season on the two outs. Mitchell (3-2) took the loss with a run on seven hits and a walk.

Rea was the lone Bulldog with a pair of hits and the RBI. There were enough other chances to bat teammates home though that Cohen could discount a bad start and the two errors.

“Until we start taking better swings with runner in scoring position, we’re going to keep going through this.”

Mississippi State has seen a 13-0 start dissipate into the current struggles. There isn’t much time to fix things either, as weather permitting SEC season opens Friday when Alabama (9-6) comes to town. Cohen said as of now the plan is to stay with the rotation of the past two weekends. So RHP Preston Brown will get the ball first, then RHP Austin Sexton for game-two and LHP Vance Tatum on Sunday.

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