Bulldog Order-Enders Lead Attack on Leatherneck Pitching; Win #1 for Cannizaro

STARKVILLE – He knew sooner or later it would happen. Experiencing both the first start and first hit in the same game? Yeah, Tanner Poole was pumped as he rounded first base.

“That’s the best feeling ever,” the Diamond Dog outfielder said. “Getting that hit and hearing the cowbells ring.”

Poole would hear them ring for him again. And, again. In the lineup for the debut start he tallied three hits, drove in two runs and scored twice himself as Mississippi State took care of Western Illinois 8-2. Victory evened the record at 1-1 two days into the 2017 campaign.

“It feels good to get the win, get that off our backs,” Poole said.

Saturday was much more what new Coach Andy Cannizaro had in mind, compared to Friday’s 5-2 loss to Texas Tech. “A good, clean nine innings of baseball with some quality at-bats for three hours tonight.”

Much, not all of the quality came quickly. Mississippi State’s offense took advantage of Leatherneck lefthander Nate Westfahl for five first-inning runs, using three hits and as many walks in the decisive frame.

“We jumped on a pitcher that’s had a lot of success in his career,” Cannizaro said. “A veteran kind of guy that wanted to change speeds, keep us off-balance. And he threw well, he settled in. but the five runs we put on him early set a tone.”

Westfahl (0-1) would last six complete turns. He just was eating innings after the fast five-spot and finished with eight hits, all eight runs and four walks against no strikeouts. “He wasn’t a big velo guy,” said Poole. “He wants to keep you off-balance. We did good with it.”

Control was an instant issue with a leadoff walk of CF Jake Mangum. 3B Luke Alexander followed with a single, and with one out RF Brent Rooker did the same with a RBI-base hit.

Two-out walks of 1B Cody Brown and DH Cole Gordon loaded all posts, for Westfahl to miss the mitt with a bouncer. Rooker came home for the free run. Brown and Gordon did on LF Tanner Poole’s single punched past the third baseman for that first college safety.

An excited Poole tried stretching it into a double and was out, but the Bulldogs were already up 5-0. “Might as well, both the runs scored!” Poole said. “I just wanted to try it.”

RHP Peyton Plumlee got the day-two start and seized the opportunity. He stranded a first-inning singler, then came back to the mound with that big margin.

“After I saw we were going to produce some runs I knew I could pitch to contact, let my defense work behind me. That led to the success, the hitters had my back.”

Plumlee (1-0) primarily used his fastball, staying low and working either side as served the matchup. Mostly though, “I tried to keep attacking.” Plumlee also worked 6.0 complete, giving up two runs on four hits. He walked nobody and fanned seven.

The only hiccups were isolated runs in the third and fourth. Justin Fitzpatrick was able to hit his way on and score from second as SS Ryan Gridley charged but missed a low bouncer. In the fourth a leadoff Leatherneck double led to the other score as Drue Galassi worked over to second base and came home on a wild Plumlee pitch.

Otherwise, “Plumlee was outstanding,” Cannizaro said. “He attacked the strike zone, pitched with a lot of confidence in his very first start.”

Besides, Mississippi State made back the margin in their half of the fourth. After fouling one way out the park to the left side, DH Cole Gordon pulled another Westfahl offering to the right that was going to leave. Just, would it stay fair? The drive slid inside the right foul pole for the solo homer.

“It started hooking right, I got a little worried Then I guess a nice little breeze blew through there and put it back in fair territory.” It was State’s first homer of the season; and Gordon’s since he was a 2014 high school senior. It surely won’t be the last.

“Majestic power,” Cannizaro called it.

Nor was the inning over. Poole followed with a single and 2B Hunter Stovall walked. Up a third time, Mangum dropped a single through center for the 7-2 lead. It became 8-2 in the sixth as Poole’s two-out triple put him in position to score on a wicked scooter from Stovall that got through the third baseman’s wicket.

RHP Ryan Rigby took over for Plumlee and handled the seventh and eighth, though he had to strand the sacks full in the second turn on a grounder to Gridley. LHP Trysten Barlow got to take the hill for his first time in the ninth and left a Leatherneck on third base with the final pop-out.

Between Gordon, Poole, and Stovall the bottom of Mississippi State’s order accounted for five of the 10 total hits and five RBI. Up at the top both Mangum and Alexander had two-hit evenings.

Galassi was 2-of-3 with the run for Western Illinois.

Opening weekend continues with Mississippi State playing a Sunday pair. The Bulldogs rematch with Western Illinois at noon; then take on #14-ranked Texas Tech in mid-afternoon. RHP Ryan Cyr, a one-game starter in 2016, has drawn the Red Raiders assignment. Cannizaro and staff were talking over who to give the ball first in the noon game, with a social media announcement expected.

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