Mississippi State can swing at a sweep thanks to Saturday’s 7-5 victory over South Carolina. The win, along with Friday’s 13-2 rout, has clinched a SEC weekend at last for the Bulldogs (21-12, 5-6). The Gamecocks are 20-11, 5-6 SEC as well after a third lost series.
Friday was a much more competitive contest than the opener. In fact South Carolina ‘won’ more innings in the scoring sense. What Mississippi State did was seize upon one great big chance in the second inning, and build enough cushion to outlast the game Gamecocks.
“I thought the story of the game was we pitched to contact, we made plays defensively,” Coach John Cohen said. “And we’re a lot more aggressive at the plate.”
A whole lot more. The Bulldogs came after USC starter Jack Wynkoop immediately and while it didn’t always pay off on the scoreboard the aggressiveness ultimately produced.
“You look at how many guys had great days for us,” Cohen said. That would be RF Jake Vickerson (3-of-4, 2 RBI, 1 run), C Gavin Collins (3-of-4, 1 run) hitting behind him; and 1B Wes Rea (3-of-5, 1 run). The offense came all through the order, with 8-9 Bulldog batters 2B John Holland and 3B Seth Heck combining for three hits and three runs scored themselves.
All damage was at the expense of Wynkoop (4-3) as he allowed the 14 Bulldog hits and seven scores. He only walked one against four strikeouts, so in this case State got nothing free and not a lot cheap. Except, for what proved the game’s decisive juncture.
That came after a 53-minute rain delay between the top of the second and the bottom. Wynkoop had warmed-up for the frame despite showers beginning almost as soon as he was given a 1-0 lead. USC’s Elliot Caldwell began the second with a drive off the fence for a triple, and scored on a grounder by Alex Destino.
Having to re-warm seemed to impact the pitcher. That or the Bulldogs had time to re-scout his stuff. Either way, an out into the second Wynkoop was tagged by Rea for a double. It looked as if he would be left stranded even after a two-out walk of Holland, when Heck fell behind 0-2.
Heck put the ball in play to his counterpart and somehow Gene Gore let an easy flip to second base go high and wide and rattling around rightfield. Rea and Holland scored, Heck made third base and was brought home on LF Cody Brown’s double.
“He was fastball/slider, mostly,” Vickerson said. “He did some changeups to some righties but I didn’t see one. He had good stuff, we just were able to rally together some hits and get it going.” Beginning with his own single to center scoring Brown, and bobbled by rightfielder Elliot Caldwell to boot. DH Reid Humphreys dropped a single in leftfield to make it 6-1.
“They opened the door, but we took advantage of it,” Cohen said. “We kept sticking our head in there and hitting balls hard and wouldn’t let loose.”
Wynkoop remained on the mound even after giving up a fourth inning run. Heck reached on an infield single and C.Brown, maybe the hottest stick on the squad, bunted him along. It was a good move as Vickerson’s single up the box got State’s last RBI.
Meanwhile RHP Preston Brown was taking care of business. Even the rain delay after allowing the second-inning run played to his favor. “I think it turned out pretty well for us!” Brown grinned. “I kind of went to the bullpen to do a simulated third inning and get in rhythm. Then we scored a bunch of runs and it got pretty easy after that.”
South Carolina did cut a run off their deficit in the third after a two-out double from Max Schrock. State saw something because two relievers ran to the bullpen by the time Brown gave up a RBI-single to Kyle Martin. Brown was able to strand that second runner, then do it again in the fourth to keep a 6-2 cushion.
“They scored the first two runs off off-speed. So I pounded it with fastballs after that and I thought it went pretty well. I ran out of gas towards the end, I was just trying to fill it up.”
South Carolina added a leadoff home run by DC Arendas in their seventh. In the eighth Caldwell dropped a double down the leftfield line scoring Gore and leaving two more Gamecocks in scoring position. With a 7-4 lead and two left-side swingers coming up RHP Trevor Fitts got the call.
Fitts bounced-out Destino to swap a run for the out; then lined-out Arendas. The ninth had no drama.
The Bulldogs could have made life even easier for Brown. A bases-loaded opportunity was wasted in the seventh and again in the eighth as Gamecock relievers held the line. Brown (4-3) went 7.1 innings with the five runs on ten hits, five strikeouts and just one walk.
“Preston did a great job for us,” Cohen said. “He gives up ten hits but a lot of those is the fact he’s trying to ram it in the strike zone and not walk anybody.” Fitts picked up his fifth save with 1.2 hitless, scoreless innings and a strikeout.
“I’m really proud of Trevor,” said Cohen. “He came in and wanted the ball and did a really good job for us.” Four Gamecocks had two hits apiece, three of them bunched in the 3-4-5 slots in fact.
But the biggest Bulldog ‘hit’ was the thrown-away grounder in the second. “That was for sure a rally starter,” Vickerson said. “Seth hit that ball hard and I’m glad it went our way this time. We were able to string together some hits after that so it was definitely huge.”
Getting a sweep and evening the SEC record after the struggling start would be huge-r. Cohen was still deciding how to pitch game-three. Saturday would keep RHP Austin Sexton on schedule and he has had good success against lefthanders. But after how lefty Lucas Laster dominated in a complete-game Thursday win, the temptation is naturally to come back with LHP Vance Tatum who tossed last Sunday.
Whoever toes the rubber, Bulldog batters smell opportunity of their own to swing the broom. “And we’re going to come out and get it tomorrow,” C.Brown said.