“Trey Jolly did awesome today,” Jake Mangum said. “That was the story of the game.”
Jolly was a story within Sunday’s story, as Mississippi State rallied from an early three-run deficit to take this SEC rubber game. With their eighth league win in the last nine contests the Bulldogs (22-12, 8-4) find themselves in a four-way tie atop the overall SEC standings. They are also even with Arkansas in the Western Division.
Kentucky (22-11, 8-4) came to Dudy Noble Field leading the league and are still in that quartet. But after taking Friday’s opener the Wildcats couldn’t be happy heading home after consecutive losses with ten runs allowed in each.
That is the other series story. Whichever bullpen could minimize damage was going to win the weekend. Mississippi State’s relief staff did and Jolly was the happy Sunday hero. He was given the ball with a 4-1 deficit.
By the time the junior righthander had worked his 5.1 innings the Bulldogs led 10-4. Jolly sat a dozen Wildcats in a dominating stretch giving his offense more than enough chances to change the game.
“I started off with a leadoff hit and knew I had to get in some rhythm, start throwing strikes and down,” Jolly said. “I did that and it worked out for me.”
Jolly (1-1) finished with just one run, in the eighth, charged on three hits , a walk and a strikeout. Though he didn’t blow Wildcats away he was able to entirely disrupt their early momentum. “If you make mistakes they’ll take advantage,” he said.
There weren’t many miscues. Luke Heyer greeted him in the Kentucky third with a single only to be erased on an inning-ending double play as Jolly got rolling. He moved the fastball in and out and used sliders to keep batters off-balance and rolling grounders.
“The first inning I was like alright, I think I can do it. The second inning I was feeling pretty good, and the third inning I got in rhythm and on a roll and kept going.”
Kentucky’s league-leading offense had it going first, getting to Mangum for four runs on seven hits in his two innings. The lefthander’s fastballs didn’t move much and the speed barely varied. “He didn’t have his best stuff,” Coach Andy Cannizaro said. “But it was still a ball game. And Trey comes in and he’s amazing.”
Bulldog batters didn’t let UK starter Justin Lewis have his way though. State tied it 1-1 in the first as 1B Brent Rooker and SS Ryan Gridley both doubled, before LF Cody Brown legged-out an infield single to score Rooker. In the Bulldog third Brown was back up and lining a clean double also scoring Rooker for a 4-2 margin.
State kept coming after sophomore righthander Lewis, too. The fourth inning was crucial as RF Elijah MacNamee led off with another of the four Bulldog doubles on the day. 2B Hunter Stovall scored him from third base and came home himself as Mangum’s single was errored in leftfield for the 4-4 tie after four.
While Jolly got stronger, Lewis faded in the sixth. Again the bottom of MSU’s order got things going as MacNamee singled and was bunted over. Kentucky went to their bullpen for Zach Pop. His first pitch caught the handle of Stovall’s bat and apparently enough hand to hurt and get a free base.
Former MSU assistant Nick Mingione wasn’t happy with that call. He was less so when with Dogs on corners Mangum waited for Pop’s offering to the last possible instant. “He came in the other night and threw a bunch of sliders so we didn’t know what to expect,” Mangum said. “But just flick your hands at it and something good happened.”
What happened was an other-way liner inside third base and on to the corner where struggling defender Deks misplayed it. The two runners ahead scored as Mangum slid into third, then popped up as the throw-in went wild to complete a round-trip. Officially, a triple-and-error and a 7-4 lead.
Lefthander Logan Salow had to strand two more Dogs in the sixth. Lefty Brad Schaenzer took over for the seventh and suffered with a one-out error and two-out single putting a pair on for Mangum.
Or, for Harrison Bragg. Mangum had jammed a wrist on his slide and in the circle told Cannizaro he couldn’t grip the bat. Bragg had not hit a SEC pitch in weeks, but on short notice was ready to swing when Schaezner tried to slide a first-pitch breaking ball by.
It landed beyond left field. “Get in the box, homer!” Cannizaro said of Bragg’s first college longball.
After sitting 12-straight Jolly was tagged for a one-out single in the eighth. LHP Trysten Barlow entered only to serve up Kentucky’s longball of the day, a two-run shot by pinch-hitter Luke Becker (3). RHP Jacob Barton had his coaxed grounder errored for two on and top of the order up.
RHP Spencer Price came in to throw three strikes by Evan White. A one-out single in the ninth did no harm as Price went 1.1 innings with three strikeouts earning his 10th save.
Lewis (4-2) took the loss on five runs off eight hits, a walk and four strikeouts. Each team called on five pitchers in the near-four hour afternoon. Wildcat rightfielder Tristen Pompey ended a brilliant batting weekend going 4-of-5 in the defeat as Kentucky notched 13 more hits to their total.
The Bulldogs though had 14 hits with five multi-safety swingers. MacNamee, back in the outfield lineup with Mangum pitching this game, was 3-of-5 and scored every time he reached. Stovall also scored three times hitting ninth in the order. Coming off his record-tying Saturday with three home runs and four hits Rooker had a quiet Sunday; 1-of-2, walked twice intentionally, and scoring twice.
“It was a total team effort all weekend long,” Cannizaro said. Just like the previous two weekends, in fact. Since being swept at Arkansas to begin SEC season Mississippi State has flipped the standings almost entirely.
There’s no down-time ahead though. The Bulldogs host annual SWAC guest Mississippi Valley State at 6:30 Tuesday. Then it’s back on the SEC road for a series at South Carolina to wrap-up the first half of this league schedule.