#5 State Scores Shutout Ahead of Series with #1 Florida

This was why a top-five baseball team schedules an April lightweight.

Mississippi State tuned-up for its showdown series at Florida with a 14-0 rout of visiting Tennessee-Martin. The Bulldogs knew they should be able to handle an opponent on a 11-game losing streak without much midweek fuss.

So, “We’re competing against our own game goals,” CF Jake Mangum said.

According to the coach, Mississippi State (21-8-1) won on that scoreboard as well. “Some really good things happened in this ball game,” John Cohen said. “We got a lot of work done.”

A lot of a lot of things done, really. The Bulldogs battered five Martin pitchers for 18 hits, combining most into a couple of big innings. After a scoreless first State jumped on UTM starter Adam Rimmer (0-1) for four of the hits and as many runs, taking advantage too of three walks. Rimmer didn’t strike out any Dogs, nor did the next two relievers.

Mississippi State made much more use of their bullpen, on purpose. LHP Konnor Pilkington got the start knowing it would be a short one. “I felt great,” he said after retiring three of the four faced with just a walk against him in 16 pitches. “One of my better feelings of the year, actually.”

Pilkington’s stint was scripted at one turn because he is being evaluated as a possible Sunday starter this weekend. That left RHP Ryan Cyr on-record in the second inning as State punched out the first four runs. Cyr (1-0) worked two total turns with a hit, walk, and strikeout to score his first college decision.

The Bulldog offense broke loose in their second chance against Rimmer. With SS Ryan Gridley on the paths, DH Brent Rooker produced what would be the game winning RBI on a double. 2B Hunter Stovall followed with his own two-bagger for two RBI and C Jack Kruger made it 4-0 with a single.

It stayed 4-0 into the fifth when everything fell apart for Sadler Goodwin. He was tagged for eight hits and seven runs, all earned, with a walk before exiting. The big blow came from Kruger, as he slugged a three-run homer to make it 11-0. It was Kruger’s fourth shot of the season.

Kruger would finish 3-of-6 with four RBI and a run. But he wasn’t the hottest Dog at the dish. That was Mangum. The freshman came up six times and reached base every one of them, going an official 4-of-4 with a double and three singles. He also walked twice and scored twice to go with two RBI.

“Jake was fabulous, he just finds ways to get on,” Cohen said.

Gridley, 1B Nathaniel Lowe, and Stovall all had two hits each. “The guys all looked good tonight,” Mangum said. “Everybody laid off bad pitches and got a good pitch to hit and put the bat on it. It was a good night for us.”

Meanwhile UTM mustered just four safeties, half of them charged to RHP Keegan James in his 2.0 innings with no real damage done. James did strand one runner at third base in the third inning; otherwise Martin couldn’t create much threat to avoid shutout.

RHP Noah Hughes, LHP Kale Breaux, RHP Jacob Billingsley, LHP Jared Padgett, and finally RHP Zac Houston all got turns of varied lengths. Padgett’s was the shortest, as he entered in the ninth to get the first out before handing Houston the ball. This, too, was part of the script Cohen and Coach Wes Johnson had.

“I thought Konnor did a pretty good job,” Cohen said. “Ryan, Keegan, Kale came in and did a nice job for us. And Billingsley’s slider was really good, that’s something we need him to do and can be a great role for him on weekends. Getting Jared and Houston in the game is important for us as well.”

Important because all hands, either side, have to be honed ahead of playing #1-ranked Florida. #5 Mississippi State will have a Wednesday practice before leaving very early Thursday for Gainesville. It will be the usual one-two pitching plan of RHP Dakota Hudson and RHP Austin Sexton of course.

Sunday’s slot…will be settled sometime in the coming days. Cohen also hopes to see OF Jacob Robson’s hand heal in time to make the game-one lineup. The usual leadoff batter, Robson hurt the left hand on a slide play during last Friday’s win over Ole Miss. He played all the Saturday game but had to sit down early in Sunday’s contest.

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