The Diamond Dogs took care of game-three business Saturday, grinding out a 3-1 victory over Missouri to complete their first SEC sweep of the season. ‘Out’ being the operative word for Coach John Cohen.
“The third day has all been about us throwing enough strikes. That’s what we did a great job of today.”
Mississippi State pitchers did throw strikes. True, they already had in the 8-2 and 4-3 wins that set up the sweep, with just one walk in 18 innings.
Day-threes had been a different deal for two months. This time, a trio of Bulldogs sealed that deal. LHP Konno Pilkington and LHP Daniel Brown combined to one-run the Tigers for eight innings. Then it was RHP Reid Humphreys entering to throw nothing but strikes, fanning all three he faced for the closing act.
“Man, it was awesome,” 3B Gavin Collins said. “Our pitching, that was unbelievable today.”
It was certainly more than Missouri could handle. Particularly when Bulldog defenders backed-up their moundsmen with plays routine and not. Eleven Tigers did reach base, but only one scored. Six were left un-scored, and two got erased on the paths.
“We came out and pounded the strike zone,” Cohen said. “It started with Konnor. He got us going.”
Cohen and pitching Coach Wes Johnson still won’t name freshman Pilkington their day-three guy officially. But with a left-side swinging Tiger order it was an easy call to give him the ball. Pilkington put in 4.0-plus innings before leaving with a shutout, though two Tigers were on bases.
Up to then the rookie had stranded four, either on ground-ball outs or with swinging strikeouts of down-the-order batters. Pilkington finished with five hits, the one walk of the afternoon, and four fannings.
“I thought Konnor was excellent,” Cohen said. “In the fourth he had a couple of misses to the arm-side. And (in the fifth) we felt we needed get Daniel in the ball game.”
Brown walked in with a 1-0 lead, but with tying and leading runners on and nobody out. He also entered in a sacrifice situation, with UM’s Johnny Balsamo laying it down. Brown had time to go to third base if he hadn’t dropped the ball changing hands.
It didn’t rattle this Dog. Brown got a grounder to drawn-in 1B Nate Lowe for a force at home, and a line-out to shortstop. He ought have escaped any damage by bouncing the ball to 2B John Holland with an easy force in reach. Holland bobbled it though, allowing tying runner Kirby McGuire to score. And a skipped throw to first couldn’t be picked by Lowe.
Fortunately for Brown and State, Balsamo rounded third base too far and was ultimately run-down short of the plate. For such a bad play, it turned into a big play. A bigger one was ahead. State had regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth as DH Brent Rooker singled-in Lowe.
That margin was endangered as with a runner on first Tiger Shane Benes rifled a shot that, going from light to shadow, Collins couldn’t snag. As the ball rattled down into the corner Brett Bond came around and headed home. Trouble was, Humphreys had the ball in his right hand.
The leftfielder threw a strike to SS Ryan Gridley, who relayed home just ahead of Bond. C Jack Kruger sold the tag perfectly.
“I was looking for a punch-out against the lefty, the defense did a great job getting me out of that,” Brown said. “I was right behind home plate so I saw it all the way. I was like oh, we’ve got him!” Brown stranded Benes in scoring position, and no more Tigers would reach the rest of the way.
Brown (3-2) got the decision on 4.0 innings with three hits and no runs charged to him. He gave no free bases and struck out three. Though Brown only threw three pitches to close out Friday’s win, Cohen figured the veteran lefty was a good counter for Missouri’s south-oriented order.
“He’s been on a little bit of a roll, he’s been able to locate his breaking ball. And they had so many lefthanders in their lineup we felt it would be a great matchup.”
The Bulldog offense had given Pilkington a quick 1-0 lead. Collins had the last of three first-inning singles and drove in Kruger. But there wasn’t any more expanding as starter Cole Bartlett stranded four more in his two innings, aided by a Bulldog baserunning mistake. Lefty Michael Passmeyer was even stronger going 4.2 turns with six hits and six strikeouts. Though, he would be charged with the other two runs.
State’s insurance score was in the seventh as with runners on corners and two outs righthander Nolan Gromacki was called in to match-up with right-side hitter Humphreys. The Bulldog won, lining a single to center and scoring Lowe a second time.
A two-run margin was more than enough as Brown sat seven straight. He might have finished but Humphreys, who could not throw last weekend at Alabama, came to Cohen mid-game and said the arm felt good. A short bullpen warm-up proved it, and Humphreys struck-out all three he saw in the ninth on 14 pitches. It was his sixth save of the season.
After four chances to complete a sweep, the Bulldogs made this fifth opportunity pay off.
Passmeyer (4-5) took the loss in relief. State could have made it easier on their pitchers by scoring a few more of the reaching runners. In all a dozen Dogs were stranded. Collins was 3-of-4 with a RBI, Kruger was 3-of-5, and Lowe capped a 9-of-13 series by hitting twice in four turns and scoring twice.
With the win and sweep, State (33-14-1, 15-9 SEC) is still a half-game up on Ole Miss (who plays Sunday at Georgia) for second in the Western Division. More meaningfully, the Dogs will go into the last two weekends either tied for or alone in fourth place overall; and thus positioned to earn one of the four byes at Hoover.
That’s was completing a sweep does for a squad here in stretch-run season. “It means a lot,” said Brown. “Just keep building on momentum each week going into the post-season. It finally felt good to get all three.”