Mississippi State did step into a trap Tuesday. Visiting Florida International sprung it, taking an 8-3 victory at Dudy Noble Field. The Golden Panthers (17-11) scored another win for their conference over State (19-11), and in the process snapped a seven-win streak for the home team.
Andy Cannizaro is not an old Dog nor old coach. After Mississippi State’s energetic sweep of Ole Miss, though, he had his own midweek concerns.
“I thought coming in tonight was going to be a really good test for our young team. We’d played so well, I wondered how we’d respond against a really good FIU team.”
The initial signs looked good on the scoreboard. Rooker put State up in the bottom of the first with a two-run homer in fact, his tenth shot of what has been a fabulous first-half season.
The rest of the evening only produced one more run though. That too came on a longball as 3B Luke Alexander lined a shot out in the sixth inning. It was his third of the campaign. Other than these big blows the Bulldogs managed just four base hits off a pair of Panther pitchers.
Rooker’s shot notwithstanding, “FIU came out and established the tone really early,” Cannizaro said. “Their pitcher was outstanding.” That was righthander Robert Garcia (2-4) who belied his record with 6.0 innings and only the three runs on two homers against him. Garcia walked none and struck out nine.
“He threw a slider, a curveball and a changeup for strikes all night and did a great job keeping us off-balance,” Cannizaro said.
Mississippi State started with RHP Graham Ashcraft. How long he would have stayed in wasn’t certain. That he had to come out in the fourth frame became certain as Ashcraft came up lame with a groin injury.
“It certainly didn’t look good in the dugout so he’ll start treatment tonight,” said the coach.
Ashcraft scuffed anyway, giving up two runs on a huge second-inning homer by Nick Day (4) to tie things up. The starter totaled the two runs on three hits with three walks and four strikeouts and left with a tie.
RHP Trey Jolly (0-1) had to take the loss, on his 1.2 innings. Florida International went ahead with a run in the fifth, and expanded in the sixth by another aided by a Bulldog fielding mistake. So Alexander’s solo shot only pulled the Dogs within 4-3.
The Panthers answered immediately with a back-breaking four runs in their half of the seventh. Kenny Meimerstorf hit his third homer of the spring out with one down, then FIU’s middle-order rattled out four hits around a walk by RHP Peyton Plumlee. Two of the singles netted runs, as did a sacrifice bunt by Kobe Lopez at the bottom of the order for what proved the final margin.
Plumlee was throwing because he only lasted 0.1 inning in Friday’s start at Ole Miss. He went 2.1 turns this time but allowed five runs on as many hits with a walk and three strikeouts. LHP Andrew Mahoney took care of the eighth and two outs in the ninth before RHP Parker Ford got the final out.
Florida International correctly called on lefty Dominic LoBrutto in the seventh. He outed eight of the nine Dogs he faced and the other, sub-LF Hunter Vansau, outed himself after an infield single by getting picked off first base. LoBrutto earned a second save with the lone hit and three strikeouts.
“Once the game got started I just felt there was a lack of energy,” Cannizaro said. “And I think it had a lot to do with the previous weekend.”
Which makes no excuse. The teams complete their midweek set with another 6:30 start Wednesday. As Rooker said, “Tomorrow is a big day for us.” His coach agreed.
“We have another opportunity tomorrow to play the same team. And I expect us to show up and play much better and make amends for our performance tonight.”
Cannizaro wasn’t able to immediately name Wednesday’s starter, since the Bulldogs have to look ahead to their Kentucky series.