Mississippi State salvages a split on the weekend after today's 15-5 mercy killing of South Dakota State

Bulldog junior hurler Zac Houston got his first career start on the bump and did his best to help Mississippi State even their season record at 2-2. Houston went just one out short of four complete innings. Had the Poplarville, Mississippi native been a little stronger while two were out, his line would have been much better.

"We didn't get to see the real Zac Houston today," Coach John Cohen said during post game. "Two days ago, he threw probably the best bullpen of his career. "We know he's better than that and he knows he's better than that. He have a lot of confidence in Zac and we know he's going to be better than that down the road."

Houston was greeted rather rudely by South Dakota State lead off hitter Paul Jacobson who doubled off of the center field wall to open the game. Jacobson was retired on a fielder's choice after Houston snagged a come backer and caught the Jackrabbit right fielder in no man's land. South Dakota still managed to jump out to an early lead as clean up hitter Matt Johnson chased home Anthony Schneider on a one out sacrifice fly to center.

In the Bulldogs' opening frame, center fielder Jacob Robson laced a stinging liner to center and then took second on the following pitch for his second stolen base on the young season.

After a walk to Jack Kruger, Nathaniel Lowe roped a double to deep center chasing home Robson to tie the score at one. Sophomore right fielder Brent Rooker, grounded out to first sending Kruger to the plate giving the Bulldogs a 2-1 lead. Gavin Collins followed suit with an RBI ground out. Following Reid Humpheys' fourth double of the season, the Bulldogs grinded through the bottom third of the order pushing home Humphreys bringing the score to 4-1 after just one.

Staked to a three-run lead, Houston pitched around a little trepidation in the second, but posted a zero in the visitor's half of the box score. In the home half, Jack Kruger and Brent Rooker both doubled, the second safety plating Kruger for his team leading fifth run scored. Following a two out walk in the top of the third inning, Bulldog third baseman Gavin Collins booted a ball, while ranging to his left to allow a runner to score. A swing from Cody Sharrow's bat later and the game was tied at five.

All four Jackrabbit runs were scored, while two were out. The big blow came on Sharrow's blast over the left field fence.

The Bulldog offense opened the comeback with another double from Reid Humpreys and the day was done for South Dakota starting pitcher Eldon Evans who allowed five runs on eight Bulldog hits. Bulldog second baseman Ryan Gridley pushed a bunt passed the Jackrabbit reliever putting Diamond Dawgs on the corners with no outs. Luke Alexander worked the count for a walk, loading the sacks for number nine hitter, Elih Marrero providing the Bulldogs with a serious threat.

The Bulldog back stop popped up on the infield for the first out. Ethan Kenkel walked Jacob Robson forcing in a run and giving the Bulldogs a 6-5 lead. Bulldog two hole hitter Jack Kruger added to Kenkel's misery with a two RBI single through the six hole, which allowed the Bulldogs to race ahead by three once again, 8-5. Another free pass issued by Kenkel loaded the bases again for Brent Rooker who also found a base on balls driving in another Bulldog run swelling the lead to four. The strike zone remained elusive for Kenkel who walked Gavin Collins ending the day for the junior right hander who closed out his day's work with three straight walks and a 10-5 Mississippi State lead.

The Jackrabbits' bad fortune continued when two outfielders collided dropping a Reid Humphrey's fly ball allowing another Bulldog run. The carnage ended with six Bullies touching home and a Bulldog 11-5 advantage. After shutting out the Jackrabbits in the fourth, Mississippi State opened the frame with an infield single from Luke Alexander, who took second after a great jump from first and then scored on an Elih Marrero single, his first as a Bulldog.

The Bulldogs added another run on a solo home run by Jack Kruger who is off to a tremendous start to his career in Starkville. With four complete in the books, the Bulldogs enjoyed a 13-5 lead. Despite seeing the Jackrabbits load the bases in the top of the fifth, Bulldog junior reliever Blake Smith picked up a big backwards K to end the frame preventing any damage. A Brent Rooker walk and a Gavin Collins double had the Bulldog offensive back in business as Reid Humphreys strolled to the plate with two Dogs in scoring position with no men out.

A fielder's choice plated another run bringing the lead to 14-5 as Bulldog skipper John Cohen began emptying the bench with pinch runners. After Marrero forced him another run, the mercy rule was now in play at 15-5 if the Bulldog relievers held the margin in double digits. On the defensive side of the ledger, Blake Smith , Ryan Rigby, Paul Young and Ryan Cyr combined to post four straight goose eggs as the Bulldog bullpen stood tall in the final frames.

"We got Blake Smith out there, who is somebody we feel like is going to be really good out of our bullpen," Cohen said. "We didn't have the right match-up or the right time to bring him in over the course of the first three games. "Ryan Rigby is someone who had the ball come out of his hand really well. "Before the ball hit him in the arm there, Paul Young pitched really well. I think Paul is going to be just fine."

The Bulldogs will be back in action on Tuesday as they host Memphis. Cohen reports that the coaching staff will making some decisions about pitching responsibilities on Monday. "There is a very good chance that we go an inning with eight or nine guys in a row just to get some guys out there," Cohen said.

"We will make that decision either tonight or tomorrow." Mississippi State ends the weekend with a 2-2 mark after the opening weekend with both losses coming at the expense of South Dakota State (0-4) and both losses coming against Florida Atlantic (4-0).


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