Better, just not good enough on opening day to handle visiting and #14-ranked Texas Tech in a 5-2 loss. The Red Raiders finished their first day of the season 2-0 having shelled Western Illinois in the afternoon game.
Mississippi State walked off the home field with a loss. So did first-time head coach Cannizaro, though that was not in his mind at all. “I thought we got into a really good ball game.”
Really good in the sense the Raiders are exactly that, with most of the lineup and arms from their 2016 Omaha trip back together for another run. They stung State’s lone true veteran starter, LHP Konnor Pilkington, for all five runs in a 3.1-inning stint with half of their base hits going for extras.
Still a rebuilt Bulldog lineup held it at 5-1 after four frames and made some late charges off Tech’s relief staff.
“I think it says a lot about our team we kept fighting and had a chance to tie the ball game up in the eighth and ninth innings,” said Cannizaro.
Those threats came only as Raider lefthander Steven Gingery tired and was replaced. The sophomore did last 7.0 full frames with one run on four hits, walking a pair of Dogs and striking out eight. The only damage done to his line came in the Bulldog third when 3B Luke Alexander doubled-in CF Jake Mangum to temporarily tie things up 1-1.
“He was pretty good,” 2B Hunter Stovall said. “He spotted-up pretty good. He controlled his off-speed really well.”
Gingery also had some unintended assistance from over-excited Bulldog batters, Cannizaro thought. “The first three or four innings you could see a lot of young swings, just jumping at the ball, working underneath the ball. We probably hit more pop-ups and fly balls than in three weeks.”
The Texas Tech offense was more of an all-or-nothing approach. Pilkington was able to strike out seven in his shorter stint, with just one walk. But when the Raiders made contact, the ball was driven with three doubles and a triple.
Tech’s first scratch was in their second as catchers interference put Hunter Hargrove on. With two outs Michael Berglund punched a grounder inside the first base bag for the RBI-double.
Pilkington got to the fourth with the 1-1 tie. “Early in the game he was having success,” Cannizaro said. “His fastball was up to 94, he had seven strikeouts in 3.1 innings. So he had really good stuff. Texas Tech did a tremendous job extending his pitch count, fouling some pitches off. It was just a taxing 3.1 innings so that was enough for him.”
Pilkington was greeted in the fourth with a single and Hargrove off-the-fence double. With one out Josh Jung doubled to the rightfield track for the 3-1 lead. A walk later RHP Jacob Barton took over, but after a strikeout he was tagged by nine-hole hitter Orlando Garcia for a stretch-triple and two more RBI.
State’s first hit only came when Stovall reached on an infield single in the third. He was forced that time, and stranded in the fifth after a bunt-single. It took a change of moundsmen for the Bulldogs to make the next threats. John Gonzales walked Stovall and Mangum immediately, and Alexander singled behind them.
The leftfield came up with the ball quickly but Stovall turned for home and was out by a length. “It was kind of dumb on my part. Because we were down four runs, I ran with my head down. He was holding me up, I just didn’t see him.”
“That kind of like kills a rally a little bit,” Cannizaro said. “But our guys kept attacking.” With two Dogs still on lefthander Parker Mushinski took over, only to have SS Ryan Gridley flare a single into rightfield loading everything.
DH Elih Marrero watched a 3-1 fastball miss high to force in Mangum. Pinch-hitter Harrison Bragg replaced three-strikeout victim 1B Cole Gordon, only to do the same on full-count and leave the sacks stuffed.
A one-out walk of new C Dustin Skelton brought righthander Jose Quezada in. He got the only out of Stovall before Mangum, now hitting left-handed, singled. A walk of Alexander loaded the bases for Gridley to go down swinging.
RHP Riley Self threw the top of the ninth with two strikeouts and a hit. Barton had gone 4.2 turns in relief with three hits, a walk and four strikeouts. In all the Raiders fanned 13 times against eight hits.
“Jacob came in and did an outstanding job for us, attacked the strike zone, threw two pitches for strikes,” Cannizaro said. “Riley Self was outstanding in the top of the ninth.”
“The first inning I had a little shaky leg, but when I zoned-in it was just like pitching again,” Barton said. “It was a blast. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I got here in August.”
The Bulldogs are back on their field again at 4:00 Saturday, after the Red Raiders and Leathernecks rematch. This time it will be Western Illinois in the other dugout. Sophomore transfer RHP Peyton Plumlee will throw his first varsity pitch for State.