The visiting Aggies shrugged-off both an early deficit and a later-game challenge to take a 10-6 victory at Dudy Noble Field. With their win Texas A&M (28-7, 9-5) moved into sole possession of first in the Western Division.
Mississippi State (24-11-1, 8-6) had held that status for a week. They are now tied with LSU after the Tigers have already clinched their series at Missouri in two games. And if Ole Miss takes their game-two at Alabama it will be a three-way deadlock in second place.
Taking their first series-loss of the season was tough enough on the Bulldogs. Doing so before the second-largest NCAA campus crowd ever (15,078) added to frustrations.
“The crowd was great and we appreciate everyone that came out,” LF Reid Humphreys said. “I hate that you can’t win when you’ve got a crowd that big.”
“Obviously our kids are disappointed,” Coach John Cohen said. “We just didn’t play our best baseball.”
Initially though it seemed Mississippi State had bounced back from Friday’s 10-3 loss. After RHP Austin Sexton stranded a pair of Aggies in the top of the first, Humphreys made a statement in the bottom. With 1B Nate Lowe on first base via his two-out single, Humphreys got ahold of Jace Vines’ offering and drove it beyond leftfield. It was his fourth homer of the season.
It also wasn’t enough lead to last. Having hit State ace RHP Dakota Hudson hard on Friday evening, the Aggies hit the softer-throwing Sexton even harder. Or at least more often as the junior righty tried to offset aggressive swings. He stranded a trio of Aggies through two and was an out into the third inning when everything caved-in.
Three-straight singles combined with a double-steal and a throwing error by C Elih Marrero on that play, plated A&M’s first run. Ryne Birk’s fly ball evened the score at 2-2 as Boomer White tagged and touched home. Then things went really wrong.
Another base hit had two on for designated hitter Joel Davis to drive both in for the lead with a triple. So he was on third as Nick Choruby bounced down the first base line. Lowe had to field back of the bag and Sexton tried to get over and cover. In the process he pulled a hamstring and was beaten to base for a single and 5-2 deficit.
“When those things are happening to you in one inning, you absolutely know it’s not going to be your day,” Cohen said.
This gave Vines margin to work with. The A&M righthander had absorbed Humphreys’ two-run shot and then stranded two more Dogs in scoring positions with a called strikeout of RF Cody Brown. Vines left a walked Lowe on first in the third inning as well and returned with that lead.
It grew to 7-2 in the Aggie fourth as freshman LHP Kale Breaux replaced Sexton, and against the top of A&M’s order at that. Breaux gave up two hits for the two runs with a walk and no strikeouts and was himself replaced.
LHP Daniel Brown was the right answer as it turned out. He left two on bases in that fourth frame to open a string of 10-straight outings. “I just wanted to fill it up, try to get quick outs, get our offense back in and get going.”
Brown certainly did his part. The offense couldn’t do much though. Vines did set up a big fourth inning with a plunking and bunt single, and 2B John Hollands’ fly ball with one out scored 3B Gavin Collins. That was all as C.Brown was left on third base.
State finally mounted a real rally in the sixth, against a new arm as Turner Larkins took over. Collins singled, Brown walked, and Larkins left for Andrew Vinson. He only walked the sacks full with still no outs. Holland got his second RBI with a single to rightfield before order-topper CF Jake Mangum bounced a base hit under the Aggie second baseman.
Brown and SS Ryan Gridley came in making it 7-6 with still no outs and a tying Dog on second base. He got no further. Mark Ecker entered and his mid-90s stuff was the right response. C Elih Marrero struck out looking, Lowe flew to left, and hot-hitting Humphreys was startled to see a fastball off the outer corner called strike three.
D.Brown ran out of steam an out into the eighth giving a single to Nick Banks. “I thought I got a fastball in pretty good but he did a good piece of hitting to get it back up the middle.” White didn’t chase a close ball and walked. Coach Wes Johnson went with RHP Zac Houston for the situation with a big swinger at the plate.
But Hunter Melton changed his stroke and singled to rightfield for one RBI. Birk dropped a base hit in center for a second and when Mangum let it bounce through him a third Aggie scored.
“We felt we had a really good matchup with Zac who threw so well at Florida,” Cohen said. “It just didn’t happen today.”
Ecker went the last 4.0-plus with no runs or hits and four strikeouts to collect his second save. Vines (6-0) got the win with the first 5.0 innings charged with three runs on six hits and a walk, and four strikeouts as well.
Sexton fell to 3-2 with the loss, allowing five runs on nine hits with a couple of Ks. After a 13-hit Friday, the Aggies jumped on the six State pitchers for 17 safeties this day. All nine starters had at least one base hit with White, Melton, and Davis each collecting three.
The nine Bulldog hits were shared by seven as Humphreys was 2-of-5 with the two RBI and run. Collins was 2-for-3 and scored twice.
After four successful SEC series, and a non-conference sweep before that, losing a weekend was strange to State. The injury to Sexton—Cohen could not immediately provide a clear status—did not help attitudes either. And now it will be freshman RHP Konnor Pilkington (1-0, 0.89) told to salvage the series in only his second SEC start.
Texas A&M will have righthander Kyle Simonds (6-1, 3.35) on the hill Sunday.
“I’m not worried at all,” Humphreys said. “We’ve got a lot of guys capable of coming out tomorrow and getting the job done like they’ve done all year. We know how to do that.”