MSU Evens Series With LSU

STARKVILLE - In Friday night's series opener, it was LSU getting the clutch hits late against the Mississippi State bullpen to give the Tigers a victory. Less than 24 hours later, it was Mississippi State producing crucial hits late against LSU's bullpen en route to a victory.

Mississippi State used a three-run, seventh inning and solid relief work to even the series with a 5-3 victory Saturday afternoon in front of 3,973 fans at Dudy Noble Field.

Still clinging to Southeastern Conference tourney hopes, Mississippi State moved to 36-19 and 13-15 in the Southeastern Conference.

LSU dropped to 37-18 and 17-12.

"We gave up three runs early but pitched well after that," said Mississippi State head coach Ron Polk. "And if you grade the production off the bat, we win the game big time. We hit a lot of rockets today. But they made so many great plays early in the game."

Mississippi State trailed in the first six innings before clawing back in the bottom of the seventh.

In the inning, the Bulldogs tied the game at 3-3 when pinch-hitter Jeff Butts singled home Brian LaNinfa, who led off with a double. After Jeffrey Rea reached on an error, Ed Easley laid down a sacrifice bunt to put runners at second and third with one out.

Much like Friday's opening game, the Bulldogs managed to collect the hits in clutch situations. Facing LSU reliever Jordan Faircloth, Thomas Berkery and Brad Jones drilled consecutive RBI singles to put Mississippi State in front, 5-3.

Berkery, Jones and LaNinfa each had two hits to lead State's 10-hit attack.

"It seems to take a couple of innings to get our bats alive," said Jones. "That is how it was (Friday) and today. It just worked in our favor today. We try to stay up in the dugout. What really gets us going is when we lead off an inning with a couple of hits. That gets us thinking we are going to do something and gets us pumped up. It's like we wait for a couple of hits to get everybody motivated and going."

Relievers Justin Pigott and Mike Valentine held the lead for the Bulldogs, keeping the Tigers scoreless over the last three innings.

Pigott, 3-1, got the win, tossing two innings with three hits allowed and one strikeout. Valentine took over in the ninth inning and escaped trouble after LSU had the tying runs in scoring position with two outs.

However, Valentine got Nick Stavinoha to ground out and notched his third save of the season.

"This doesn't get us into the SEC Tournament but it gives us a chance and a chance to win at home," said Pigott. "We really didn't worry about what happened Friday night. We have a lot of guys that can throw (in the bullpen) and you have seen it all year. I think it is our strong point. We didn't get the breaks last night and that happens from time to time. It didn't bother us today at all."

Mississippi State starting pitcher Todd Doolittle recovered from a rocky start that saw the senior right-hander give up three earned runs in the first two frames. Over his last four innings, Doolittle allowed just a pair of singles. In six innings of work, Doolittle gave up three earned runs on six hits with four strikeouts and four walks.

"I just settled down and started throwing strikes," said Doolittle of his last home start. "It was a little difficult to get them out with the strikeout. But I was able to last awhile and our hitters came through late. I just did what I had to do to keep us in the game."

Meanwhile, State's bats began to come to life, at least enough to chase LSU starting pitcher Clay Dirks from the game. Berkery and Jones led off the sixth inning with back-to-back singles, forcing LSU head coach Smoke Laval to make a move.

Tiger right-hander Edgar Ramirez entered and quickly got Bulldog rightfielder Brad Corley to ground into a 4-6-3 double play. Amory native Mitch Moreland pinch-hit and flied out to left as Ramirez kept the Tigers in front momentarily at 3-2.

Ramirez, 0-1, took the loss, allowing two hits and three runs (two earned) in one inning of action.

LSU needed but three pitches in the first inning to get on the board. Tiger leadoff batter Bruce Sprowl lifted a 0-2 pitch from Doolittle just over the right-field fence. It was Sprowl's second dinger of the year and his first since homering in the season-opener on Feb. 11.

The Tigers tacked on two more runs next time up. LSU got a RBI groundout from shortstop Derek Hebert and a two-out, run-producing double from first baseman Blake Gill for a 3-0 advantage.

While Doolittle struggled early and often, Dirks was in control. However, the Hernando sophomore received plenty of help from his teammates in the field. Through the first four innings, Dirks surrendered only a one-out double to Corley in the bottom of the second. The Tigers' defensive play was superb early on as well, taking away at least three potential Bulldog hits with diving stops.

"We were hitting the ball hard all game," said Berkery. "Then towards the middle of the game, we got a couple of balls over (Ryan) Patterson's head in left field. We put some good swings together and we had four hits in the seventh. That's what you have to do, put together back-to-back hits. LSU has good pitching but we just happened to get the hits today and get the best of them."

Another Corley two-bagger jumpstarted a Bulldog rally in the fifth. Following Corley's leadoff double, Joseph Hunter was hit by a pitch to put runners at first and second.

After Joseph McCaskill struck out looking, LaNinfa responded with a RBI single, plating Corley and getting Mississippi State on the scoreboard. Rea delivered a RBI single to score Hunter with two outs, cutting the LSU advantage to a run, 3-2.

Dirks lasted five-plus innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits with three strikeouts and no walks issued.

Mississippi State looks to win the series today in the regular-season finale. The Bulldogs will send sophomore right-hander Jon Crosby (5-2, 3.65 ERA) to the hill while LSU will counter with its third left-hander pitcher of the weekend in Greg Smith (9-2, 3.12 ERA).

With a win, the Bulldogs will finish the season as the lone SEC team to win every home series within the league.

"If we make a play (Friday), we are 2-0 in the series right now and not even sweating," said Polk of the race to qualify for the SEC tourney. "But we are not 2-0 so (Sunday) is an important game. We can't control what else is going on across the league. If we win, I think we are a pretty good lock to make the NCAA (Tournament) whether we go to Hoover or not. I would like to go (to the SEC Tournament) instead of waiting around, though."


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