Owls Take Second Meeting with State of Weekend

All that afternoon offense in game-one? Mississippi State must have emptied the bat rack, as Florida Atlantic threw a shutout at the Bulldogs in the nightcap.

After crushing South Dakota State 17-4 on 17 base hits, including seven doubles, host Mississippi State was held to four safeties and no runs in a 4-0 defeat. The loss left the Bulldogs 1-2, while the Owls took their third win of the weekend and second at MSU’s expense.

Unlike the first meeting though, where the Bulldogs out-hit the winners by a wide margin losing 10-6, they went much more meekly in the rematch. “We just didn’t compete offensively the way we should have,” Coach John Cohen said.

At all. Mississippi State managed just eight baserunners, none getting past second base much less coming on home. Only in the eighth inning did as many as a pair reach. That one-out opportunity went wasted as well.

By contrast the Owls had hotter sticks, with 13 total hits and four doubles. Nor did Florida Atlantic get much help. The pair of Bulldog pitchers only walked three, hit nobody…and struck out six apiece. That stat alone had Cohen staring at the box score.

“We only had four punch-outs, and they had 12. That means every single ball they hit finds grass somewhere. So they’re either very fortunate or have a good plan for offense that I’m not aware of.”

Actually the Owls did have an apparent plan, the one State tries to apply too. They kept their contacts closer to the ground. They had only a couple of routine fly-ball outs, isolated in the second and seventh innings. Everything else either made the Dog defense make a play, or got through into the clear.

Meanwhile Cohen counted 11 ‘average’ fly balls for his order. “The difference in this ball game.”

Another difference was starting pitching. Bulldog RHP Austin Sexton wasn’t really bad, despite nine hits and all four runs charged to him in 4.2 innings. He walked just a pair and struck out six.

It was more a matter of how well FAU starter Marc Stewart worked, two-hitting the Dogs in his six complete turns. “I thought it was a combination of things,” said DH Jack Kruger. “Give him credit, he did a good job. He was throwing a cutter, he was keeping it down, and he was ‘tunneling’ pitches well.”

And, digging Dogs into holes. Stewart got around a first inning walk and leadoff single by 1B Nate Lowe in the second. In the third he left CF Jacob Robson stranded on second after another walk and stolen base. RF Brent Rooker tagged him for a double in the sixth and went no further as Stewart grounded-out C Gavin Collins to finish his stint.

“I think we also didn’t do well in advantage counts, I don’t think we got our best swings off and we had too many fly balls,” said Kruger. “So part of it was him and part of it was us.”

Sexton (0-1) got through two innings with no damage. Then Owl catcher Gunnar Lambert lined a drive off the base of the rightfield fence for a double. Sexton got swinging strikeouts of a pair, before Billy Endriss pushed a base hit through the right side. Lambert got home ahead of Rooker’s throw for the run, though Endriss tried stretching it to second base. Collins recovered the ball and threw there in time.

In the fourth Sexton was touched for three-straight singles. Nothing came of this threat because LF Reid Humphreys got to the ball off Brett Lashley’s hit and fired a strike home to Collins ahead of Esteban Puerta.

That just delayed the downfall to the fifth. Sexton began by striking out a pair, then was hit for a single. Endriss watched a close one go by on 2-2; with full count he swung, the drive carrying past Robson in centerfield for a RBI-double. CJ Chatham singled through the right side for a 3-0 lead.

Sexton issued two more walks to load everything before LHP Vance Tatum was summoned. He began by walking in a fourth run, and was most fortunate Lashley’s lash was ruled foul at third base. Lashley went the other way with his next grounder and 2B John Holland ran it down for the out keeping it 4-0.

But the Bulldogs could not scratch. FAU Lefty Devon Carr took over for the seventh and worked around a leadoff walk. In the eighth things were more intense as singles by 3B Luke Alexander and Robson had a pair on with one out. Kruger missed on a 2-2 changeup, which brought another mound move. Righthander Cameron Ragsdale needed just one pitch for a fly ball to strand everyone. Ragsdale took care of the ninth with a hitless, walk-less stint.

Tatum worked 4.1 innings with no runs on four hits, a walk and his six strikeouts.

“I thought Austin got off to a great start, but obviously didn’t pitch the way we think he can pitch,” Cohen said. “He hit a little bit of a wall there in the third inning. Vance came in and did a great job for us.”

The Bulldogs can even their weekend Sunday, with a 3:30 finale against South Dakota State. FAU plays the Jackrabbits at 11:00 before heading back home. Sunday weather looks iffy by late afternoon so the field was tarped. Cohen expects to start RHP Zac Houston but also intends to get some young arms innings as events allow.

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