CF Jake Mangum’s two-out single scored SS Gridley from third base to give the Diamond Dogs a 1-0 victory over Louisiana-Monroe. The game was played in Biloxi’s MGM Park, the first appearance by a SEC program in the two-year-old facility.
It seemed the third birthday was approaching when Gridley touched the plate for the evening’s only run. The game actually lasted ‘only’ 4:47. Had it gone much longer though both squads would have been scrambling for pinch-hitters, -runners and maybe even thinking about using weekend arms to throw.
“It’s not exactly the way we planned it,” Coach John Cohen agreed.
Actually it might have worked out even better, at least as far as Bulldog pitching is concerned. “We used a bunch of arms that really needed some work!” Cohen quipped.
No less than nine Mississippi State moundsmen got work. The last, RHP Keegan James (3-0) got the win with his in-order 14th inning against the middle of Louisiana-Monroe’s order.
The loss fell to ULM”s next-to-last arm, Tyler Schwaner. He did his job in the 13th to strand pinch-batter Luke Alexander after a two-out single. But in the 14th with one down Gridley dropped a drive in leftfield.
It was State’s sixth base hit of the evening and the first extra-base knock which was good enough. But leftfielder Nathan Reynolds got greedy and tried to get Gridley at second base. His throw sailed, Gridley took third base, and State had the winning run 90 feet away.
The opportunity was nearly wasted. The Warhawks pulled the infield tight and pitched-out on 2B John Holland too. The left-handed batter reached way across the plate to rap a grounder. Had Gridley gone on contact he might have made home; instead he stayed put as Holland was thrown out.
But ULM tricked themselves again. Replacing Schwaner with lefthander Ethan Daily, they walked nine-hole batter 2B/RF/LF Hunter Stovall to set up a force, which only gave Mangum his chance to swing. That is, a .433 batter who was 0-of-5 on the evening with a plunking-reach…meaning Mangum was due.
He duly delivered.
An appreciative crowd of 4,472 turned out for this Diamond Dog debut on the Gulf Coast. A tithe of that total stayed through the first 13 scoreless frames, too.
Cohen and Coach Wes Johnson both meant to use several pitchers. Just not nine of them. Some later pinch-situations on offense contributed to the busy bullpen. “We lost our designated hitter so we had to keep taking pitchers out of the four-hole.”
RHP Zac Houston got the start and went 2.0 innings with a hit and two strikeouts, tuning-up for the weekend. From there RHP Blake Smith, LHP Kale Breaux, and RHP Ryan Cyr combined for 5.1 frames of shutout with a couple of hits.
But ULM starter Keegan Curtis, who entered with a 10.61 ERA, looked like an ace for his 4.0 innings with just two hits and a walk and two strikeouts. The Bulldogs helped with routine fly balls in a AA-size ballpark, and with a Gulf breeze blowing in most of the evening too. Then their bullpen door began spinning too. In fact twice Warhawk position starters moved to the mound, notably second baseman Anthony Herrera who threw 10th-through-12th with only one hit among 11 Dogs faced.
“I thought they pitched it really well,” Cohen said of ULM’s patched-together pitching.
The Warhawks also had their chances to grab extra-inning leads. In the 11th a leadoff double and bunt had Cade Stone on third base with one out. LHP Ethan Small took over and for consecutive fly balls, the first short enough and foul to the right side where starting second baseman Stovall had moved. He held the runner at third before Small stranded him.
In the 13th a leadoff single, bunt, and two out walk had a pair on. RHP Paul Young came in for the matchup and shot down Tyler Cox with a swinging strikeout.
Before then it was work by LHP Daniel Brown with 3.0 innings and 2.0 turns by RHP Jacob Billingsley to keep the Hawks scoreless. State would rather not have used Brown, the leading long-relief lefthander on the weekend staff and sometimes a SEC starter. But he was needed in the moment and came through with two hits against three strikeouts. And Billingsley got State out of another jam, shaking off a tough outing against Texas A&M.
Again, Cohen said, there was no notion of a 14-inning marathon on a Wednesday evening ahead of a SEC series. “But we got a lot of guys who needed it some work, and they were in some pressure situations.” Cyr had the longest stint, with 49 pitches in his 3.0 innings while Brown threw 31.
Gridley was the only Dog with multiple hits, 2-of-5. The top-two Warhawks, Cade Stone and Herrera, each had two of their team’s six hits.
In the first meeting of the programs since 2009, the Bulldogs left MGM Park 25-12-1 while ULM is 15-22. The game saw a return to action of OF Jacob Robson, who’d missed eight games with a left hand injury. He pinch-ran in the 11th for LF Reid Humphreys after a one-out plunking and stole second base before stranding.
Mississippi State enjoyed the first trip to Biloxi for baseball, but the late finish meant a hasty postgame so the Dogs could board the bus and head west on I-10. They begin the second half of SEC season Friday with a 7:00 matchup at LSU. The Tigers are currently second in the Western Division at 9-6 while Mississippi State is tied for third with Alabama a game back at 8-7. Texas A&M, which swept State last weekend, leads the West at 10-5.
Cohen had no update on the condition of rotation game-two starter RHP Austin Sexton, who pulled a hamstring last Saturday. He said as of now they expect to decide if Sexton stays in that slot sometime Friday.