“That’s kind of how we envisioned it,” Mississippi State’s skipper said as four moundsmen performed their plans in a 5-4 victory over Tennessee. The Bulldogs (13-10, 1-3) snapped a four-loss skid with the first SEC victory of the young season. And, of first-year head coach Cannizaro’s career, too.
“This was a big-time win on a Friday night in the SEC,” Cannizaro said. “We did so many things really well, in a team concept.”
What the Bulldogs did that had been missing, was get winning work from the bullpen. On an evening ace starter LHP Konnor Pilkington could just get to the sixth inning, Mississippi State’s relief team had his back.
“When the game’s on the line we have guys that really can come in and do something good,” RHP Jacob Barton said.
It was Barton who did the most. Entering in the sixth with a 4-2 deficit and Volunteer on second base, he shot down the eighth- and ninth-hole batters. The seventh was more stressful on Barton as Tennessee loaded up the bases with a couple of hits and a more-or-less intentional walk.
A swinging strikeout of Benito Santiago kept the two-run difference.
“It was really fun,” Barton said. “That’s a good club so I was happy to get out of it and give our team some momentum.”
Barton was happier still to watch the Bulldog offense take a lead in the bottom of the seventh and put the junior on-record for his first decision of the season. A winning one as it turned out with Barton going 1.2 crucial turns with a couple of hits, a walk, four strikeouts and no damage done
“A lot of fastballs and sinkers,” he said. “A couple of sliders here and there but mostly attacking with the fastball.” Which, Barton added, he’d seen Pilkington utilize earlier.
It wasn’t quite the same sort of series-starting stint from soph southpaw Pilkington. He did last 5.1 innings and struck out seven, including the whole first-inning side. From there his control lost a little and the Vols hit him eight times with a couple of walks.
“Pilkington battled, got us half-way through the ball game,” Cannizaro. He even had a 2-0 lead initially as State RF Elijah MacNamee homered with SS Ryan Gridley on base in the first inning.
State’s ace could have gone longer without some rough second-inning luck. A dropped strikeout put the leadoff Vol on; a fielding error at second the next. Justin Ammon’s drive to left-center just missed LF Tanner Poole’s glove for a RBI double.
A baserunning mistake and tag at the plate stopped that inning at one run. Not for long, though, as Santiago doubled in Pete Derkay for the 2-2 tie. Dom Thornton crushed his first career homer for the 4-2 lead.
Tennessee starter Hunter Martin rode it into the sixth inning as well. A one out Gridley single brought in hard-throwing righthander Kyle Serrano to hold it there, briefly. He was an out into the Bulldog seventh when DH Hunter Vansau took a pitch off the arm, and C Josh Lovelady scratched out an infield single.
Poole took Serrano’s 2-2 offering up the middle for a RBI-single as Vansau came home unchallenged. A called strikeout and 2-2 count to 1B Brent Rooker nearly had Serrano back in with a smaller lead.
But Rooker isn’t the SEC’s batting leader for nothing as he faced Serrano for the first time. “He’d been throwing a bunch of fastballs so I was staying on fastball.” The tall Vol cooperated, just a little off the plate but close enough for Rooker to barrel it towards centerfielder Brodie Leftridge.
“I think he was playing pretty deep, the wind was blowing,” Rooker said. “I initially thought he was going to catch it. I was pretty excited when I saw it fall.” Fall off a sliding Leftridge’s glove for a double, two runs and the 5-4 lead.
“At some point one was going to find a hole,” Rooker said. UT’s Garrett Stallings entered to run out the rest of the evening around a couple of hits.
Still late-game leads haven’t been a State strong point. This was different as righthanders Riley Self and Spencer Price each took an inning. Self did have a pair reach on singles but Thornton erased himself trying to steal and Max Bartlett was stranded.
Price got the ninth inning in order with a couple of strikeouts for his fifth save. In all Bulldog pitching fanned 14 Vols with just three walks, against an even dozen hits.
“All three guys who threw out of the bullpen were phenomenal,” Rooker said. “Jacob obviously did a great job coming in after Pilk gave us a chance to win.”
Serrano (0-1) took the loss with the three runs on three hits and three strikeouts. State finished with ten hits as Gridley, MacNamee, and Brown each had two safeties batting consecutively.
“We picked up some really big hits,” Cannizaro said. “Elijah got us off to a great start and we hit some balls hard. Then in the eighth we came up with some guys getting on and battling and not giving in, a couple of two-strike hits.”
Cannizaro didn’t name his pitchers for either games two or three, and as of late Friday was still unsure who would get the ball Saturday. He was able to say the game was moving, from a scheduled 2:00 to 6:30 to allow the wet weather to get through. Both Self and Price are available for the second game after just 27 combined pitches in late relief.
Tennessee plans to toss freshman righty Zach Linginfelter (0-1, 3.74) Saturday.