Maybe so. Because when Tennessee took a fast 1-0 lead the Bulldog offense responded. Really responded. Or as RF Elijah MacNamee said, “We didn’t want to look like we were just going to give them a win.”
The Dogs didn’t. They gave as good as they got and better, scoring four times in their first response and expanding enough later to take a 7-4 final. With the Sunday victory Mississippi State (15-10, 3-3 SEC) completed a sweep of the visiting Volunteers (13-8, 0-6).
“It feels great,” said MacNamee. “I knew in early work we were going to come out ready.”
Bulldog batters clearly were ready to resume what they’d done before. With 33 hits in the previous wins, State added another 13 to the weekend tally. The top-half of the order did their part again, with P/DH Jake Mangum (4-of-5) and MacNamee (3-of-5) setting the pace.
But the rest of the order contributed as well. So did a series of Bulldog pitchers who handled their short stints and situations sufficiently.
“A tremendous team win for our guys,” Coach Andy Cannizaro said. “Getting back to that .500 mark in conference with a young team is really good.”
Finishing out the sweep was more challenging than seemed, as far as how Mississippi State meant to pitch it. His first SEC start, at Arkansas, didn’t go long or well for southpaw centerfielder Mangum. He was a bit better for the experience this second time around, going 2.2 turns against Tennessee’s attack.
Despite absorbing three runs on four Vol hits, with a walk and strikeout, Mangum did what Cannizaro wanted. For as long as he’d wanted. “I’m not asking him to give us five,” the coach said. The Bulldog bullpen was in solid shape after the first two wins.
So Mangum was able to hand the ball over to Jacob Barton in the third, beginning a relay-team of sorts with Trysten Barlow, Riley Self, and finally Spencer Price closing out proceedings. Self (3-0) got the decision based on his 2.2 innings with the other Volunteer run allowed on a hit and two strikeouts. Price picked up a sixth save with a one-walk shift.
“Riley was outstanding in the back-end and Spencer did his thing in the ninth,” Cannizaro said.
Mangum did have to scuffle initially. Three Tennessee hits, the last by Andre Lipcius, produced the 1-0 lead. In the second inning Dom Thornton led off with his second homer of the series and season. The third inning saw Justin Ammons walked by Mangum and steal. He eventually scored as Lipcius got his second RBI with a single off reliever Barton.
This only got the visitors within 4-3 though. If State’s starter battled in the first, lefthander Zach Warren was battered. Or, batted-around-on. Mangum got it going with a first pitch bunt-single, and 1B Brent Rooker took his second pitch over leftfield on a string for his eighth homer and a 2-1 lead.
SS Ryan Gridley followed with a triple, scoring on a following single from MacNamee. Two more hits loaded the bases for C Josh Lovelady. He dropped a one-out bunt in front of the plate Warren couldn’t handle as MacNamee crossed. A double-play bouncer by the ninth Bulldog batter ended the 29-minute turn with a 4-1 lead.
The offense made work easier on the bullpen with a pair of fourth-inning scores. LF Brant Blaylock singled, so did Mangum, and Rooker was walked to load everything up. Gridley grounded-in Blaylock, then on full-count MacNamee just stuck the bat out for contact.
The ball blooped behind shortstop for a single and 6-3 margin as Mangum scored.
Cannizaro’s hook was quick as lefty Barlow replaced Barton in the fifth on 3-0 count. New 3B Cody Brown saved a run by leaping for a bouncer headed down the line, allowing Barlow to strike out Pete Derkay looking and roll a double-play.
State expanded just a little more in their sixth as Blaylock tripled in leadoff, and Mangum doubled him in. Kyle Serrano kept it 7-3 as did fourth Vol hurler Garrett Stallings with the last 1.2 turns.
The Bulldog relief staff couldn’t coast the rest of the way, with some self-induced damage. Ammons singled his way on in the Vol seventh and was given two free bases as Self’s pickoff move was wild. Jeff Moberg scored Ammons on a fly ball to center.
But Self went in-order in the eighth. Price had more of a ninth-inning challenge with a dropped strike three putting Max Bartlett, then a walk of the nine-batter. This did have the top of Tennessee’s order back up in the form of the tying runner. Price rolled Ammons into a double-play to end everything.
Warren (2-2) took the loss on 4.0 innings with six of the runs and 11 hits, a walk and strikeout. Four of the 13 Bulldogs hits went for extra bases, as State slugged the ball at a .604 rate on the series.
“We brought it to the table this weekend,” MacNamee said.
The weekend has to be forgotten quickly. State will play four more games in a five-day stretch, beginning Tuesday evening at Memphis. The Dogs won’t come home, instead they will go to Oxford for the SEC series which opens Thursday evening.