Six Tigers collected two or more base hits and the full lineup knocked Mississippi State moundsmen around for 17 total safeties. All the offense added up to a 11-4 victory that sealed the weekend series at Dudy Noble Field.
“We needed to really pitch today,” Bulldog Coach John Cohen said. “And we didn’t.”
With the win LSU is 40-7 and 16-6 SEC, keeping their pace with Vanderbilt for the league title though the Commodores only began their series at Kentucky—successfully—on Friday. Tiger teams have also won the last nine series, dating back to 2007, at Mississippi State expense.
The 23-24 Bulldogs are not only under .500 for the first time this season. Having dropped the seventh of eight series now they are assured of a losing SEC record at 7-16 with seven league games left at most. They will go into Saturday last in the league standings and two spots out of the SEC Tournament picture.
The strains of a lost season have been showing for weeks. But after this defeat Cohen was, if not relaxed then sounding somewhat resigned to the reality of things.
“That’s where we are as a team right now. We show moments we have some kids that are competitive and can win. But you don’t need glimpses, you need the full-time gig and we don’t have that right now.”
State certainly didn’t have anyone to match-up with Tiger starter Alex Lange. The freshman righthander came in unbeaten and stayed that way, improving to 8-0. He worked a rather routine 6.0 innings with all four Bulldog runs on six hits, two walks and two strikeouts.
“He had a good changeup, a good fastball,” said LF Reid Humphreys. “That guy was a good pitcher. I felt we went out there and competed with him and we put really good swings on him.”
Lange wasn’t overpowering and didn’t have to be, with all the offensive support provided. Five Bulldogs took turns on the mound and all took beatings to various degrees. Starter RHP Preston Brown (5-6) ate the loss on just 2.2 innings, his second-shortest stint of the season. Yet Brown was charged with just the first two Tiger runs on six hits, a walk and two strikeouts.
It was LHP Vance Tatum hit hardest. In only 1.0 official inning Tatum, who threw 40 pitches Tuesday evening in relief, was hit five times for four runs with a couple of walks and no strikeouts. It was his turn that saw LSU truly take charge.
Much like Thursday, the Bulldogs did draw first blood by scoring a run in the opening inning. Lange gave a leadoff walk to RF Jake Vickerson with DH Luke Reynolds moving him to third on a base hit. 1B Wes Rea’s grounder was turned into two outs as Vickerson scored, a swap LSU was willing to make. Humphreys did make a bid that inning with his high drive caught a step from the rightfield fence.
Lange settled into a groove with two in-order innings, and his offense came alive in the top of the third. Jared Foster singled up the middle, and was running as order-topper Jake Fraley swung. His grounder was deep enough to shortstop for an infield single and two on. Mark Laird didn’t get two bunt tries down, but Brown worked back to a full count before walking the bases full with no outs.
Alex Bregman’s grounder became a force at second base that tied things up as Foster scored. A pitchout play did get the trailing runner but Fraley was still on third base for Conner Hale to plate with a single. Tatum entered to leave the bases loaded but was only delaying things.
Because in the fourth after an out Tatum gave up a walk to the bottom of the LSU order. Another out later the Tigers went on a tear with six-straight base hits, four of them consecutive RBI-producers. Tatum finally was hooked for RHP Levi Mintz who did give up the sixth hit but without anyone scoring, because Vickerson’s throw from rightfield beat Kade Scivicque home to mercifully end the inning.
The Bulldogs nearly matched that output in their half of the fourth though. Rea and CF Jacob Robson singled their way on before Humphreys drilled a shot that got through the left-gap for a double. Rea had no trouble scoring from second and Robson’s speed let him come all the way around. Humphreys took third on one grounder and scored on the next, a SS Ryan Gridley bouncer to the right side.
That was all State’s scoring for the evening. Lange got a comebacker from new C Gavin Collins to end this rally, retired the fifth-inning side, and stranded two more in the sixth to complete the outing. Hunter Newman took care of the other three frames with a couple of hits and walks and three strikeouts.
LSU did get a run back in their half of the sixth as Hale grounded-in Laird. This was off RHP Dakota Hudson and charged to Mintz. Hudson was able to last into the ninth was relative ease before falling apart. Chris Sciambra doubled to score Beau Jordan, a Jared Foster grounder got under SS Matt Brittan’s glove to plate Chris Chinea, and Hudson was replaced.
LHP Daniel Brown’s first pitch was wild to bring Sciambra across. His fourth pitch was a ball too for a walk, which brought Cohen running from the dugout for a conversation. One-sided, of course. Brown did get a strikeout before Bregman added the icing with a RBI single for the final margin.
Bregman was 3-of-5 with three RBI and a run, while Thursday hero hitter Hale drove in three as well with two hits and a run. The top-four in LSU’s order combined to score six times, though the bottom-third was nearly as productive with five hits and four runs.
State’s eight hits were concentrated. Humphreys was 2-of-3 with two RBI and a run, while both Robson and Reynolds had a pair of hits.
The loss came on the day eight MSU upperclassmen were recognized. “I’m disappointed for our seniors,” Cohen said. Those seniors do have a chance though to exit Dudy Noble Field with one more win.
Saturday’s finale is at 3:00 for ESPN2 telecast. State will put RHP Austin Sexton (4-4, 3.77) on the hill, while righty Austin Bain (1-2, 2.83) will be the second Tiger rookie to start in the series.
With 7-14 Georgia and 7-15 Tennessee still having two games to play this weekend, winning Saturday would do more than salvage a series split for State. It would revive hope of making the SEC Tournament field after all.