Jake Mangum (Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page)

State Aces Final Non-Conference Test Ahead of LSU Series

It was profoundly surprising to learn…Jake Mangum has yet to see Top Gun. Clearly MSU’s marketing team didn’t know so either as the centerfielder’s face was dubbed onto a fighter jock’s outfit straight from the movie poster to promote this final non-conference home game.

Whatever he’s missed cinematically, Mangum was clearly top gun as Mississippi State rallied to shoot down Troy 10-8. This, after trailing 8-3 mid-way of the third inning and in seeming serious trouble.

Not to Mangum and Mississippi State. The trouble was ahead for the Trojans. “That’s what, the 22nd come-from-behind win?” Mangum said. “Some teams in college don’t have that many wins, total. We fight. It’s a grind-type team.”

Grinding is easier with an ace like Mangum at the stick. Mangum’s sixth-inning single completed the comeback by driving in 1B Brent Rooker for a tied tally.

In the eighth Mangum’s missile produced the go-ahead RBI as SS Ryan Gridley came home. Mangum himself accounted for the margin of MSU’s victory by scoring on LF Cody Brown’s base hit.

The evening’s other surprise was where Mangum swung. In all 50 previous games played he topped the Bulldog order. Tuesday found him batting third, which he hadn’t done since high school. A change, yes, he said.

“But you only lead off once so it’s not that much of a difference at all.”

That three-hole became the danger zone for Troy pitching. Unintentionally it brought Mangum up in those clutch RBI opportunities, as well as in the bottom of the third when he drove in 2B Hunter Stovall. For the night Mangum was 3-of-5 with the three RBI and ice(man)ing run.

“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for a couple of weeks now,” Coach Andy Cannizaro said of the lineup shakeup. “It was just waiting for Jake to get healthy again.”

Adjusting the order still had the same four-Dog flight at the start, and the quartet winged its way to a combined nine out of State’s dozen base hits. Rooker only got to swing twice with a pair of walks but made good on both, albeit with unusual fly-ball hits.

In the third inning his fly ball down the right line stayed just fair and was over-run by Trojan Mason Rogers for a bases-loading single. That set up Mangum’s first RBI and Brown followed with a ground-ball RBI of his own. Rooker also sacrificed-in Alexander in the fourth inning as State chipped away at its greatest deficit.

Rooker’s really big hit came in the decisive six which began with the Bulldogs down 8-5. With two outs and the bottom-two in State’s order on bases Rooker faced reliever Cory Gill. The Trojan outfield was playing very deep all around, so a blooping drive to centerfield fell just ahead of Steven Whitaker’s glove for a double (#26) and two runs scored. This set up Mangum’s tying base knock.

Rooker and Brown joined Mangum in the 3-RBI squadron. The last three in the order all had a single hit apiece but three combined walks as well, and each scored twice.

The Bulldogs did lead first, as Brown singled-in Rooker in the opening inning. That advantage evaporated in the third Troy turn with five runs hung on two pitchers. RHP Jacob Billingsley got the start and negated two reaches the first two innings.

But in the third consecutive one-out walks to opposite ends of the order brought in RHP Jacob Barton. He finished loading the bases with a plunking. Justin Friend’s fly ball to center tied it up and advanced the other runners to score on Trevor Davis’ single. A wild pitch had reliever racing for the Bulldog bullpen but nobody could heat up before Barton walked the bases full again.

RHP Parker Ford was handed the jam and was ahead of Jackson Cofer before a protect-contact got through for a 5-1 Dog deficit. An inning later a leadoff single and errored play at third base set Troy up to rebuild a margin. Brandon Lockridge singled for one run, and with two outs Davis doubled into the leftfield corner for the 8-3 lead that didn’t last.

Nor did it grow as Ford managed to hold the deficit at five into the sixth. A two-out single brought in RHP Trey Jolly who saw his inning end on a caught-stealing. Jolly himself took care of the next two in-order innings without a hit or walk and striking out three.

“Trey did a tremendous job coming in and throwing strikes, throwing his breaking ball for strikes, working ahead in the count,” Cannizaro said. “The fastball was down in the zone, it was great to see him pitch like that.”

Jolly (3-1) picked up the win on 2.1 turns as RHP Riley Self sat the ninth-inning side with two strikeouts for his fourth save. Troy’s Marc Skinner, last of the five to pitch, took the loss on just 1.0 inning with the three hits and a walk setting up State’s final scores.

Troy, who already had wins over SEC members Alabama and Auburn, left 30-22 with a five-win streak ended. The Bulldogs are 34-19 going into the early-starting conference series with LSU.

Coming off a weekend of frustrations at Georgia, “We needed it. We had to turn it around,” said Mangum. “Tough conditions, a tough way to win.”

Then again nobody said being an ace was easy. Mangum also promised that as a self-proclaimed movie buff, Top Gun is now on his targeting radar.

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