“We talk about being ready, coming in, attacking the strike zone at the bottom half,” Coach Andy Cannizaro said. “And we didn’t do that tonight.”
No, the Dogs didn’t. Not in giving up and more often than not giving away enough runs for LSU to run away with a 11-5 final. The win clinched the final SEC series of the season and ties the Tigers with Florida for the overall league lead.
Mississippi State (34-21, 17-12) is still third in the West and fifth overall, one place shy of a SEC Tournament bye going into Saturday’s regular-season finale.
Unlike Thursday’s 4-1 final, the Bulldogs were playing from behind all evening. Even when State rallied for a 4-4 tie after five innings LSU didn’t seem seriously threatened. Not with the way Cannizaro’s pitchers were missing. And missing, and missing, and…
By evening’s end State had issued eleven walks along with a couple of plunked Tigers. Six of those put on for free scored including all three of the first-inning runs. So it did not matter how the home team managed more base hits, 10 to 8. Not when batters didn’t have to bat to reach.
“If you’re going to beat LSU with players they have, you have to make them stand in the box and beat you. We didn’t do that,” Cannizaro said. “We walked too many, hit too many, and just didn’t play the type of ball game to beat that opponent.”
For starter RHP Denver McQuary it was practically two games in one. The first, he wanted to forget. The freshman walked his first Tiger, hit the second, walked the third. Greg Deichmann’s ground ball got LSU on the board by plating Kramer Robertson, and a blooper by Nick Coomes fell in no-Dogs’s land for a two-RBI double.
“The very first batter one or two calls kind of frustrated me,” McQuary said. “I kind of pushed myself and that’s now how you need to do it, I sped myself up. The three innings I was focused and if I missed I stepped back and regrouped myself.”
Those three scoreless innings were part of McQuary’s eleven-retired stretch through the fourth. The Bulldog offense had its own first-frame frustrations though, as three consecutive hits to the right side out the outfield netted just one run.
SS Ryan Gridley singled and 1B Brent Rooker also chipped a short double for Dogs on corners. CF Jake Mangum’s liner sank just in front of Deichmann’s glove to score Gridley.
Tiger starter Jared Poche’ found the range on his breaking balls in time to strand the tying runners in scoring positions with consecutive swinging strikeouts. He too went on a three-turn tear without further scoring. In the LSU fifth McQuary lost focus again to issue two walks and get hit by Robertson for a RBI-single.
The Bulldogs’ best chance to change the game was in their half of that fifth as Poche’ also issued a couple of free bases around singles by Gridley and Rooker. The latter hit scored 3B Luke Alexander. DH Hunter Vansau came through with the two-out single that evened up the score.
But two others were left un-scored and that hurt as LSU responded. Almost immediately as Josh Smith drove a shot that caught the top of the rightfield fence and caromed back into the field of play. Review denied the home run LSU believed had been earned, though it ultimately only mattered on the stat sheet.
“Denver had retired a bunch of guys and was going really well,” Cannizaro said. “He got up on Josh Smith with two strikes. We made a mistake, he hit it off the wall. And 45 minutes later they had four runs.”
Because Smith was scored from third base by Michael Papierski’s one-out single ricocheted off the pitching mound. A deep fly out had the top of LSU’s order up a fourth time and State figured it was time for a change.
RHP Trey Jolly promptly gave up a single and walk to load the bases before getting hooked. LHP Trysten Barlow inherited the mess and did little to help by four-pitch walking Antoine Duplantis to force in a run. He went full-count to Deichmann and wild-pitched though it was ball four also.
Cannizaro left him in to throw two more misses before stalking to the mound. RHP Jacob Barton finished walking in the eighth run before a grounder stranded three.
But it was 8-4 and all State had to counter was a free run in their half. Fireballer Caleb Gilbert took over only to have two Dogs reach on a walk and error. With one out Zach Hesse took over, and while he did wild-pitch in RF Elijah MacNamee the rest was easy enough. Hesse went 3.2 turns with six strikeouts against two hits and a walk to retire 11 of the 14 he faced.
State left Barton in for 2.1 innings total and the three other LSU runs, all in the seventh. Papierski hit his seventh homer of the season, Duplantis drove in Zach Watson with a fly ball, and Robertson scored on a wild pitch.
RHP Parker Ford took care of the LSU ninth.
Poche’ (9-3) got the win despite four runs on eight hits with four strikeouts in his 5.0 innings. Hesse picked up the first save of his season. McQuary (2-3) absorbed the loss on six runs, allowing five walks to just four hits and striking out four.
Robertson went 3-of-5 and scored three times at the top of LSU’s order, while Papierski also crossed the plate three times in a 2-of-4 evening.
The first-three in State’s order accounted for seven of the ten hits. Mangum was 3-of-5, and both Gridley and Rooker 2-of-5. Rooker was able to add a RBI to his SEC leading total now at 72, and he also continues to top the batting average (.408) and home runs (20). The double in that first inning was Rooker’s 27th of the season which ties him with Pete Young’s 1989 record.
State will send Cole Gordon (2-1, 4.42) to the mound Saturday to try to salvage something from the series. LSU can counter with freshman star Eric Walker (6-1. 3.77). The weather looks wet for what now appears to be the final game to be played in Polk-DeMent Stadium, due to come down once the Dogs are done at home.
“It’s certainly disappointing. But we have a lot to play for,” said Cannizaro. That includes the chance, with help in the form of losses by Arkansas and Auburn, to grab that first-day Hoover bye. And, to improve NCAA Tournament seeding. Cannizaro has another motive though, much more immediate.
“More than anything we need to show those guys we’re not scared of them, not afraid to battle and do everything we can to win a ball game.”