Duck pitching walked in four Bulldogs and plunked-across another for five fast runs, as Mississippi State took a 9-3 victory at Dudy Noble Field. Saturday’s win followed a 10-4 triumph Friday and clinched the non-conference series for State (11-3-1).
Oregon is 8-4 with their first losing weekend of the season. The defeat came in the most unexpected way imaginable, too. Pitching is the club’s unquestioned strength, but in wet weekend conditions the Ducks were flustered for throwing strikes and getting outs. Just one turn into the contest, Mississippi State was in control…because Oregon didn’t have control.
“There’s no better feeling than putting up a big first inning,” said CF Jacob Robson.
Or a worse feeling for a pitcher like Oregon lefty Matt Krook (0-1). Bulldog starter RHP Austin Sexton could sympathize with his counterpart’s problems. “You feel for him because we’ve all been there before. But that’s another credit to our hitters. We only had two hits but were patient enough to not chase.”
They didn’t have to chase. Waiting worked well enough.
Robson didn’t walk his first time up. He swung and chopped a grounder, then out-legged Krook to first base for a leadoff single. Krook did get an out before DH Jack Kruger singled, which must have shaken up the moundsman.
Because after a wild pitch advanced both Dogs, and a out-two strikeout, Krook walked Reid Humphreys to load the bases. What followed were 11 more misses of the strike zone without a Bulldog swing. Walks of 1B Nate Lowe and 2B Ryan Gridley pushed teammates home, then Krook hit SS Luke Alexander in the leg to force in a third run.
Krook walked C Hunter Stovall for another RBI, and was two balls to Robson before being yanked. The Bulldog outfielder had faced Krook in summer ball, interestingly enough, and knew the talent. Even this day, “He had really good stuff. But he did struggle with his command. We took advantage of that.”
Reliever Isaiah Carranza finished walking Robson for the 5-0 lead after a single inning. It was all Sexton would need, though he’d set an instant tone himself by striking out the first-inning side.
Before Sexton (2-1) was finished he’d have a career-best 12 strikeouts over 6.0 innings. Oregon touched him for four hits and he did walk four others. The closest any Duck came to scoring on State’s starter was in the fifth as Phil Craig-St.Louis worked around to third base, the other sacks occupied as well, before Sexton got a fly ball caught by LF Reid Humphreys.
“I was able to get a good read on them today,” Sexton said. “Stovall did too. We mixed pitches and were unpredictable. I got a little wild here and there but Stovall did a good job bringing me back in the zone.”
Robson had a good view of the pitching proceedings from centerfield. “His changeup was gross and he threw his curveball whenever they expected changeup. And he would sneak fastballs by those guys.”
Carranza had better luck throwing stuff in the zone for Oregon, at least into the fourth. Robson was back up and greeted him with a triple off the rightfield fence. DH Brent Rooker’s grounder was booted at shortstop though Robson would have scored anyway. Pinch-runner Mike Smith got to second on a grounder before Collins dropped a single in front of the leftfielder for the 7-0 lead.
Sexton was running out of gas by the sixth but stranded a pair in scoring positions to keep his shutout. First reliever Ethan Small only allowed an infield single in the top of the seventh, and came back with a bigger lead. Collins was plunked, and run-for by IF John Holland. Pinch-hitter Jake Mangum chopped one the third baseman couldn’t come up with.
Lowe went other-way with a drive dropped into left field, and fielder Balta slipped on the turf to turn it into a RBI-double as Holland scored. With two down Stovall lined a hit over third base for Lowe to come home on the double. Alexander rounded third too far and was run down to end the inning but not before the Dogs had expanded their advantage to 9-0.
But for whatever reason Small wasn’t sharp on return, with a single and walk to open the Oregon eighth. RHP Jacob Billingsley inherited the pair and advanced them with a ground ball. A strikeout later Billingsley missed inside, ending the shutout as Susnara scored. Bennett got to swing and singled past shortstop for an honest RBI, and a pitching change as RHP Paul Young entered. After walking the pesky #9 batter, he got a check-swing strikeout on appeal of Austin Grebeck.
Young’s ninth wasn’t as efficient as consecutive singles and a walk loaded the paths. LHP Kale Breaux inherited everyone and forced Daniel Patzlaff across by hitting Matt Kroon on the leg. Breaux settled down and ended the afternoon with a strikeout and two airballs.
Leadoff Dog Robson was 2-of-4 with two runs and a RBI, while in the eight-slot Gridley was 2-of-3 with a run and RBI. Substitute Cody Brown stayed hot off the bench as well with two hits in as many chances, as the Bulldogs had 11 base hits. Only two of the hits were off Krook but he had the four walks against two strikeouts. Oregon was more productive at the plate than the first game with nine hits but all were singles by eight different Ducks.
Coach John Cohen was satisfied with the win, as well as clinching the series. “I think the biggest story is the fact we actually played,” he said, as his team tarped the infield behind him ahead of more evening rain. “But I’m really proud how our kids competed.”
The weather is expected to clear by Sunday morning, and game-three is set for a 10:30am start since Oregon has a flight to catch in the afternoon. Another Duck lefthander, David Peterson (2-0, 0.45) is scheduled to throw. Cohen and Coach Wes Johnson were picking their starter after reviewing the first two games. The first three weekends LHP Daniel Brown (1-0, 3.95) has begun game-threes, but Oregon is a left-heavy batting order and State’s two wins began with righthanded pitching. On that side, RHP Zac Houston (1-0, 1.80) would seem to have the edge though he threw part of a Friday inning in relief.