Bulldogs Come Up One-Run Short

After being down 7-0 after the top of the second, the 24th ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs (19-8, 5-5 SEC) battled the 16th ranked Auburn Tigers (22-12, 6-5) tooth and nail, coming up one-run shy, 8-7, before 10,758 fans at Dudy Noble Field on the Saturday portion of Super Bulldog Weekend.

It didn't start out so super for the Bulldogs, especially Bulldog starting pitcher Todd Doolittle. Doolittle gave up three home runs in the first inning, two of which were two-run shots. And the three home runs were hit by a team not known for hitting home runs.

"The storyline is Auburn came into the game with 17 home runs in 33 games and hits three in the first inning," said MSU head coach Ron Polk. "They aren't a home run hitting ballclub, but they just happened to get a couple of pitches up and hit them in the jet stream."

After the power exhibition in the first, the Tigers jumped on Doolittle again in the second, using more "small ball" than power. After Columbus, Mississippi native Bruce Edwards walked and advanced to second and third on a groundout and a wild pitch, a throwing error scored him for the first run of the inning. Josh Bell knocked in Karl Amonite - who had reached on the error - for the second run of the inning.

Despite being down by seven, the Bulldogs weren't about to play dead, not by a longshot. "We made a couple of errors at the beginning of the game which caused us to be down early," said freshman catcher Ed Easley. "We just had to fight our way back and get a couple of runs at a time."

And the 'Dogs did that, scoring two runs in the bottom of the second. And all after two were out. After a single by Joseph Hunter and Brian LaNinfa and Bunky Kateon walked to load the bases with two outs, Easley knocked in two runs with a single to right center, putting the score at 7-2.

With a change in pitchers - Josh Johnson replaced Doolittle in the second - Auburn was held at bay for the next couple of innings.

Meanwhile, the Bulldog hitters continued to peck away at the Auburn lead. In the bottom of the fourth, MSU once again jumped on Tiger starter Josh Sullivan for two runs. LaNinfa walked to open the inning. After the next two batters lined out and struck out, Easley, who wound up going 2-for-4 with 3 RBI on the day, singled through the right side. A wild pitch advanced both he and LaNinfa to second and third, then Jeff Butts walked to load the bases. Brad Corley followed Butts with a two-out, two-run single through the right side to make the score 7-4.

Auburn, however, came back in the top of the fifth inning to score another run to go up by four, 8-4. After Johnson walked the first batter in the inning, Mississippi State replaced him with Justin Pigott, a lefty who doesn't throw very hard, but hasd good location and a good changeup. Although Pigott allowed the inherited runner to score, he completely shut down the Auburn batting order the remainder of the game.

Being a pitcher who doesn't throw hard and has good off-speed stuff was the exact reason Polk felt Pigott was the right man for that situation.

"He is a lefthander who doesn't throw hard, but is a strike-thrower," said Polk, who hadn't thrown Pigott since the Arizona series. "Todd Doolittle is a hard thrower and they had pretty good success off of that, so it was kind of a tempo-changer. I thought that Justin Pigott did great and gave us a chance to win."

Pigott also felt good about his performance. "My changeup was definitely working. We were trying to keep them off-balance because they were jumping on fastballs, as you saw in the first inning. I tried to keep the ball down, trying to get ground balls.

"My job was to keep us in the game. That was what I did the last time when I came in against Arizona. That is, basically, kind of my role."

While Auburn was being held scoreless, the Bulldog hitters once again put up some runs. And they did it against what may be the best bullpen in the Southeastern Conference.

In the bottom half of the seventh, Auburn, replaced reliever Jared Shore (2.52 ERA, 1 S) with one of its ace closers, John Madden. Madden, who came into the game with a miniscule 0.62 ERA and 5 saves, didn't fare so well against the Bulldog hitters, allowing 3 runs - 2 earned - on 3 hits and 1 walk in just two-thirds of an inning. Auburn finished the inning with their other ace closer Michael Nix, who was 4-1 with 6 saves and an ERA of 2.17. Nix got Rea to ground out to third for the final out of the inning.

The change in pitchers worked, as the Bulldog hitters went down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eight inning.

The ninth inning seemed like it was going to be the same after the first two batters went down swinging and LaNinfa hit what appeared to be a game-ending ground ball to short. But the shortstop short-hopped the ball to first, allowing LaNinfa to reach safety on an error to keep MSU's hopes alive. Then, the play of the game happened. Kateon hit a single to right field. After Ryan Fesmire, who had come in to pinch run for LaNinfa, rounded second and headed to third on the single, the Auburn right fielder threw to the cutoff man who bobbled the ball before throwing it on to third. With the throw to third, Kateon, aggressively headed to second. The third baseman then quickly threw to the bag well ahead of the sliding Kateon, who was tagged out to end the game.

"Bunky wanted to get to second base because he was the winning run," said Polk, explaining why Kateon decided to take a chance. He also commented on Fesmire taking the extra base, something that was a surprise to Polk. "(Ryan) Fesmire ran through a stop sign. I didn't want him to come to third. You don't want to make the final out at third. If it had been a good throw to third, he could have been thrown out."

Although Polk was surprised, he understood why both did what they did. "Both kids were trying to win the ballgame by running as hard as they could. Kids are going to make mistakes. That's part of the game from the big leagues to our level. You can't yell and scream at them."

Pigott agreed with Polk that what happened in the ninth is part of the game. "That kind of stuff happens. You hate to see it end like that where you are thrown out at second base and taking the bat out of the hands of the next hitter, but that is just the way it goes sometimes. Bunky was being aggressive and made a mistake. You lose a game as a team and you win as a team."

And winning is exactly what the Bulldogs want to do as a team Sunday afternoon when they face the Tigers at 1:30 in the final game of the three-game series. Mississippi State is expected to start Jon Crosby (4-1, 3.38 ERA), while Auburn's starting pitcher will be announced prior to Sunday's game.

AUBURN 8, MISSISSIPPI STATE 7

AUB 520 010 000 --- 8-10-4
MSU 020 200 300 --- 7-11-3

WP - Josh Sullivan (6-2). LP - Todd Doolittle (3-3). SV - Michael Nix (7). HR - Clete Thomas (4), Josh Bell (6), Jeff Boutwell (1). T - 3:06 . ATT - 10,758 (10,958 paid).


Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing swindoll@genespage.com.


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