A two-RBI Louisiana Tech double tied up Tuesday’s contest, before errant throws on the same ninth-inning play brought home the eventual margin of 3-2 victory. The visiting Bulldogs left 12-1 and with a small measure of revenge, having ended their 2016 season on Dudy Noble Field in the Starkville Regional title game.
Mississippi State slipped to 7-6, and after taking a fourth one-run loss in the last five games.
“Obviously, a really frustrating night,” Coach Andy Cannizaro said. “We just didn’t do enough to win the game. We have to learn as a team how to win these one-run ball games.”
But the home Bulldogs were in position to win after seven innings, and with a 2-0 margin. Solo home runs by outfielders Brant Blaylock (2) and Cody Brown (2) in the third and fifth frames didn’t make a big lead, but as Mississippi State pitching managed to keep Tech off the scoreboard it looked big enough.
Or, it did until Sean Ullrich came up with Marshall Boggs and Jon Washam on bases and two outs in the top of the eighth. RHP Riley Self took over pitching for State and ran into trouble, giving up a trio of hits. The last belonged to Ullrich. His deep drive to the rightfield fence was good for two bases and a tied game.
In the ninth RHP Ryan Rigby was on the hill and getting hit twice himself, with one-out singles by Raphael Gladu and Brent Diaz.
RHP Spencer Price entered for a quick flyout. He then got Washam to miss strike three.
But the pitch was dropped, and freshman C Dustin Skelton forced a throw that drilled Washam in the back and allowed the go-ahead run to score.
Price stranded two but the damage was done, and Tech closer Nate Harris got the Dogs in-order on ten pitches to secure his sixth save. Austin Harrison (1-0) was the unlikely victor having thrown the eighth with a strikeout and nothing else doing.
Rigby (0-1) took the loss on two-thirds of an inning with two hits and of course the last run.
However, it had been a matter of time before the Bulldogs pushed luck too far. Starter RHP Jacob Billingsley had to battle around four hits and four plunkings with two walks in his 5.0 innings, repeatedly stranding Tech runners in scoring positions. Strikeouts, seven total, avoided harm for his stint.
“Jacob attacked the strike zone, threw a slider for strikes, he gave us five shutout innings,” Cannizaro said. “And I thought we were doing a really good job navigating through the game with our bullpen. We got the ball to (LHP Graham) Ashcraft, Self, Price, and Rigby, you feel really good giving those guys a two-run lead.”
RHP Jacob Barton, LHP Trysten Barlow, and Ashcraft combined for the sixth and seventh scoreless innings with four strikeouts and no hits or reachers among them.
Louisiana Tech opened with Casey Sutton, who did some navigating of his own over 7.0 complete innings. He walked none against four hits and struck out three Dogs, and if not for big swings from Brown and Blaylock this would have been a shutout on both sides going to the later innings. Austin Harrison took care of the eighth for Tech.
Tech couldn’t out-slug but did out-hit State decisively, nine safeties to four with Ullrich, Gladu and Washam each collecting two hits. The four Dog hits were isolated, though CF Jake Mangum did extend his hitting streak to 26 games.
There was much about the game for Cannizaro to enjoy. Such as his seven pitchers combining to strike out 15 against just two walks. For that matter the Bulldogs fanned only five times, and no runner was stranded. And yet, Mississippi State somehow again came up a run short as the only errors of the evening were joined in a fatal moment…after a strikeout at that.
“It’s just a sign of a really young team that’s trying to piece all facets of the game together,” Cannizaro said.
The Bulldogs will look for more ways to put their puzzle together this weekend, hosting four games as Columbia and South Alabama come to campus for three days. The home team plays at 6:30 Friday (USA), 1:00 (Columbia) and later (USA) on Saturday, and final the later Sunday game (Columbia).