Which Gridley’s gang could not do. Instead it was Louisiana State celebrating on Dudy Noble Field after taking Thursday’s series opener 3-1.
The visiting Tigers (37-17, 19-9 SEC) kept pace in the overall league standings, and a lead in the West Division. For Mississippi State (34-20, 17-11) defeat ended dreams of defending their 2016 SEC Championship. The West can still be won but only by taking the next two in this series and with Arkansas losses.
“What an incredible college baseball game,” MSU Coach Andy Cannizaro said. “I thought it was two outstanding baseball teams that played really hard.”
While both played hard it was LSU playing a bit better. Down 1-0 after three innings, the Tigers scored twice in their fourth to take the lead and padded their margin with eighth inning insurance.
Meanwhile all Mississippi State had to show on their scoreboard was the one run produced by one Gridley swing. His leadoff home run (6) in the bottom of the first was Bulldog offense. And, the only big blemish on Alex Lange’s account.
LSU’s ace was the trump card for his 7.0 complete innings. Lange (7-5) shook off Gridley’s shot and battled around five other Bulldogs hits as well as five walks. Most were negated on strikeouts as Lange fanned eleven of the 33 he officially faced.
“He was really good,” SS Gridley said. “Every single pitch was dotted exactly where he wanted it. He had two really good pitches going to righthanded hitters that was effective to us.” Though, junior Lange was effective enough against lefthanders as well.
“LSU played their A-game, and they had their ace on the mound,” Cannizaro said. “He did exactly what he’s made out of, a competitor who never battles and makes you beat him. Tonight we weren’t able to step up to the plate and pick up a big hit with runners in scoring position.”
The Bulldogs did have their chances with all the stranded runners. Seven of them were in scoring positions no less and four of those were on second or third bases with one out. The most frustrating frames were the sixth and seventh.
Each time Mississippi State loaded all bases. Neither time did anyone reach home plate. “We did a great job getting in scoring position against Alex,” said Cannizaro, who coached Lange for a couple of years in Baton Rouge. “We had a couple of chances earlier and in the middle, and just weren’t able to pick up the big hit.”
Mississippi State starter LHP Konnor Pilkington had no reason for shame about his 6.0 inning stint. The sophomore had to scuffle around six hits and four walks. Pilkington (6-5) did have one problem, as the strikeout pitch wasn’t finding corners and he finished by fanning just one of the 27 faced.
LSU also did a good job taking balls and fouling away strikes which inflated Pilkington’s pitch count after just three innings. The fatal fourth resulted. A leadoff walk of rightfielder Greg Deichmann and single from Nick Coomes were followed by a full-count fastball apparently missing ump Marcus Pattillo’s zone.
With bases loaded Josh Smith tied it up on a fly ball to center. With two outs #9 batter Zach Watson punched the RBI single up the middle on full-count as well for the 2-1 lead.
Good Dog defense and some gritty pitching kept the deficit there until Pilkington reached 107 pitches and was done. RHP Peyton Plumlee was able to work around a pair of seventh inning walks and was an out into the eighth when Smith and Michael Papierski each singled.
Smith ran hard to third base so he could score on another sacrifice-fly, this by Watson. Those were all the hits Plumlee allowed in 3.0 innings with two strikeouts.
“Peyton did a really job, he was throwing his fastball for strikes and his curveball over the plate as well,” Cannizaro said. “He continued to give us a chance to win the game. We just couldn’t pick up that big hit.”
The opportunities arose in State’s sixth and seventh innings. A single and two Lange walks loaded the bags with one out. Struggling RF Tanner Poole had already struck out twice and was given the chance with his speed to put something on the ground and outrun any double-play.
Poole struck out a third time, swinging on this one. 2B Hunter Stovall had already been denied hits twice on well-driven balls. Deichmann did it again running down a shot to the gap to strand everyone.
Next inning a single and two two-out walks filled everything. C Josh Lovelady was out on a strike catching that invisible corner denied Pilkington.
Zach Hess and Hunter Newman each took care of hitless innings as Newman picked up his ninth save.
Antoine Duplantis had two of LSU’s eight base hits, all singles. Gridley had the game’s only extra-base safety by taking a Lange fastball over left-centerfield for one of his two hits. Rooker was 2-of-4 with a walk and maintained his lead in all three SEC triple crown categories. His competitor in the slugging stats, Deichmann, had to settle for four walks though just one was completely intentional.
“We defended really well, we threw enough strikes, we kept them off the scoreboard,” Cannizaro said. “We pitched around some guys, made other guys beat us.”
Other Tigers did and now the Bulldogs are in a hole. Squaring the series won’t be easy either as LSU puts old (left) hand Jared Poche’ (8-3, 3.16) on the Friday hill. “I’ve seen him for two years, he’s a fantastic pitcher,” Gridley said. “He’ll dot his pitches just like Lange but he has a different repertoire.”
Mississippi State by contrast is putting a freshman out there with RHP Denver McQuary (2-2, 3.89) making his fourth SEC start.