Billingsley Returns to Earn First Win of Season; State Remains Unbeaten Against Miss. Valley

The game itself was nothing like what they expect to see at tournament time. But that’s what was on Diamond Dog minds as they hosted Mississippi Valley State. “These games are traps sometimes,” as 2B Ryan Gridley said.

“You have to respect that opponent. You don’t want to take a loss on a Tuesday night and have it hurt you at the end of the year.”

The visiting Delta Devils didn’t trap or trip up anyone. Mississippi State ground through a 5-0 final with just a little fuss, improving to 23-12. Mississippi Valley State left 4-22 and with a perfect losing record in the series, now 25-0 in Bulldog favor.

“It was kind of a workman-like effort tonight,” Coach Andy Cannizaro said. “The most important thing is to win the ball game and we were able to do that.”’

The Bulldog offense did just enough, scoring three times in the second inning and not padding that margin until the eighth. This was matched by shutout pitching, even if it wasn’t always dominating. Though Valley only managed four hits, State gave away enough walks that ultimately a dozen Devils were left stranded.

This included leaving all bases loaded in the first, the seventh, and again in the eighth. So Valley had their chances to break up the shutout and maybe do more, only to leave frustrated.

RHP Jacob Billingsley had not pitched for-real since March 13 and only four times all season before an injury. His return was a success with 5.0-plus innings to get his first decision of the year.

“It felt great,” Billingsley said. “I’ve thrown three bullpens leading up today so I felt pretty good, honestly.” Good enough to strike out six against two hits and three walks.  “The fastball and slider were both working, I really felt I got (the slider) back and that was big for me.”

Also big was getting the good lead after two turns. Valley starter Dustin Stewart began by walking DH Hunter Vansau, who scored immediately on CF Tanner Poole’s double. 3B Luke Alexander walked and stole into scoring position ahead of C Dustin Skelton’s single which plated both runners and chased Steward (2-6) after just one-plus inning.

“Having Billingsley back on the mound was really good for us,” Cannizaro said. “He got us half-way through the ball game. His fastball was up to 93 which is the most velocity he’s shown and he threw a slider for called strikes.”

The long layoff meant Billingsley tired in the sixth with a leadoff walk and balk. RHP Peyton Plumlee took over and left the runner on third base. The seventh was more interesting as an error, walk, and single loaded everything up on Plumlee. He escaped on a fly ball to rightfield.

RHP Denver McQuary took over two outs into the eighth with a Devil on third base. He added two more with walks before getting yanked. Closer RHP Spencer Price stranded everyone with a fly ball to center.

“I didn’t want to go to Spencer but they tying run is on first base with two outs in the eighth inning,” Cannizaro said. “The situation warranted bringing our closer in. He did an outstanding job getting some quick swings.”

He also got a better margin to protect in the bottom of that eight. LF Cody Brown walked and worked his way around on passed balls where RF Elijah MacNamee could pick up the sacrifice fly RBI. Poole reached on his second hit of the night, stole consecutive bases, and scored on an Alexander single.

Price picked up his 11th save with the 1.1 innings of unplanned work, striking out one. Vansau and Poole both had a pair of hits, as did 1B Brent Rooker on what for him was a quiet night. Rooker was hitting leadoff as OF Jake Mangum rested a wrist jammed on a Sunday slide.

“We defended it really well, and picked up some timely hits,” said Cannizaro. “And did enough to win the ball game.”

The Bulldogs are back for a practice Wednesday ahead of leaving for South Carolina and the weekend series in Columbia. Cannizaro was to meet with media in the morning to go over pitching plans and update injuries.

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