Harrison Bragg (Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page)

Tigers Explode to Complete Series Sweep; Cannizaro Prepares for Draft Days Watch

BATON ROUGE – The Bulldogs achieved the goal, sort of. They did extend NCAA play into Monday.

Unfortunately this was because Louisiana State’s 14-4 victory required five full hours to complete. A delayed start, extended innings, plentiful pitching changes and two more rain interruptions meant the host Tigers had to wait for 1:36am to celebrate punching their College World Series ticket.

Mississippi State’s season ended at 40-27, dropping both games of the super regional round. It was the second-straight year a Bulldog team fell two contests short of Omaha, and the first with Andy Cannizaro as coach.

“Our season is over and it is certainly a sad day,” Cannizaro said. “But in terms of the big picture, what this team accomplished, I can’t speak highly enough of them.”

Overshadowed by the blowout final margin was how the Dogs did make a realistic run at forcing a rubber game. Down 3-0 after just two turns after the Tigers jumped on the first two pitchers used, State crammed all their offense into the bottom of the third inning to grab a 4-3 lead.

That margin even held up into the fifth, when inevitably LSU’s attack broke it open. Big. The Tigers scored six times in their top of the frame for more than enough margin. The padding came in the last turn with five runs off a series of overmatched relief arms.

The Sunday surprise was their own bullpen taking charge, in the righthanded person of Caleb Gilbert. When the Bulldogs rattled starter and record-holding senior Jared Poche’ in that single outburst it was Gilbert seizing control.

Entering an out into the State third he wasn’t instantly effective. Gilbert was tagged for a couple of hits plating runners who’d reached on Poche’. He did limit the damage to only the four scores though, then retired 15-straight Dogs into the eighth inning. Gilbert (6-1) worked a total 5.2 turns with just the two hits and a walk against him, striking out six and more than earning the winning decision.

Yet initially lefty Poche’ seemed in no need of assistance. He faced one over the minimum in his first two innings with just a leadoff single in the second by 3B Cody Brown, and striking out four. He also was working with a lead before toeing the rubber.

State starter RHP Jacob Billingsley, hero of the Hattiesburg Regional with a complete-game win, couldn’t get an inning seven days later. He did not record an out in fact, as the first four Tigers faced all reached on three hits and a walk. Antoine Duplantis and Greg Deichmann both singled in runs before RHP Trey Jolly was rushed into relief to strand two.

Jolly himself was lifted in the LSU second as a leadoff walk of the #8 batter ultimately meant a 3-0 deficit after a balked-in run. LHP Trysten Barlow went the next 1.1 without any added scoring.

Poche’ might have made a standard stint if not for a single big swing in that third. A leadoff walk of C Josh Lovelady brought up DH Harrison Bragg to work the count full before unloading. His dead-pull cleared leftfield and slashed the deficit to 3-2. Poche’ had to be rattled as he proceeded to walk the bases full with one out.

A first-pitch ball to CF Jake Mangum meant a move to righty Gilbert. So Mangum switched sides of the plate to bounce one that shortstop Kramer Robertson could stop but not flip in time. 1B Brent Rooker came in for the tied tally, which was broken on LF Elijah MacNamee’s single.

However, only SS Ryan Gridley scored as Brown stumbled rounding third and returned. It mattered because Gilbert left him and others stranded for just the 4-3 deficit. Or maybe it mattered only on the stat sheet.

Because while Gilbert was shutting Dogs down the rest of the way, LSU was looking for the big inning. It came after State made another mound move.

“We take a 4-3 lead into the fourth inning, and it couldn’t have worked out any better,” Cannizaro said. “We send our Sunday starter to the mound.” That was RHP Denver McQuary, a sure signal State was holding nothing back in game-two.

The freshman got through a two-out error-reach and walk in the fourth. Leading off the fifth with a walk of Deichmann was another matter. On 1-1 count Michael Papierski yanked a liner that got over Rooker’s leap and landed on the line for a two-run double and regained lead. And, the next mound move with RHP Cole Gordon summoned to keep the remaining runners on bases.

He couldn’t. A single and double earned more Tiger RBI, while Gordon wild-pitched in one more run and a second error by 2B Hunter Stovall made it 9-4.

Ironically a rain delay, after Gordon got a leadoff strikeout in the Tiger sixth, did more to blunt LSU batting than anything. Gordon went on a run of his own with ten-straight outs including a stretch of four strikeouts in a row. This gave Gordon, the other starting option for any Monday game, the longest State stint at 3.2 innings with the four runs on two hits, two walks and five fannings.

Those walks came in the ninth and brought in RHP Peyton Plumlee. He loaded the bases up with one out for RHP Spencer Price to get the second out before plunking Robertson for a painful free RBI. Cole Freeman doubled down the line for two more RBI and one last mound move as RHP Parker Ford entered, threw one ball, then had to wait 28 minutes before tossing another. Duplantis added two RBI to his total with a single for the final margin.

Gilbert easily could have finished it off but LSU gave veteran Hunter Newman the ninth, with only a two-out single by Bragg extending the last chance. Bragg was the lone Dog with two hits, his third homer of the season included. The other three State safeties came from the 4-5-6 batters.

Rooker, who will still finish as the SEC’s batting leader, saw his average fall to .387 as he went hitless in the two games. McQuary (3-4) took the loss on 1.1 innings with the four runs, on just one hit but with the three fatal walks.

“We did everything possible,” Cannizaro said. “You can see the number of guys we threw tonight.” That was eight in total and six of them were charged runs. Of course other than the one big inning there wasn’t a lot of support provided to any moundsman. State was also up against an opponent that takes a 16-win streak to Omaha.

“We came here this weekend to win,” two-year Tiger assistant Cannizaro said as his first season at head coach ended. “I really believe LSU is the best team in the country right now and I expect them to win a national championship.”

For their part coach and club return to Starkville for final meetings, then for summer ball players to head their ways. A few underclassmen will delay any such plans until learning if and when they are taken in the Major League Draft beginning the same evening of the day their 2017 season ended. Junior Rooker could hear his name in the very first round and by consensus no later than the second. Junior Gridley and sophomore Mangum are the question marks Cannizaro will be watching for in the following two days.


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