A crowd of 6,241, the third-largest in the young history of Trustmark Park, watched as the Bulldogs not only got their season back on track but took out their frustrations from the night before. Tuesday evening State had allowed a miraculous comeback to Louisiana Tech in Ruston, giving away a 12-7 lead with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to lose 13-12. It was the first blemish on the non-conference slate.
And, a rude jolt to State's system that the Bulldogs brought to this friendlier ballpark. "We just wanted to get back out and kind of flush that, because it definitely left a bad taste in our mouths," leftfielder Jeff Butts said.
MSU-mission accomplished. The Dogs piled up 27 hits in over seven hours of vigorous swinging to score the lopsided wins. "It probably was a little built-up frustration," agreed Butts, who had three safeties and scored four times in the sweep. And that frustrated feelings didn't stem only from last night's loss, either.
"We felt like we were slumping at Alabama," said shortstop Thomas Berkery. "So we wanted to come back and put good swings on the ball and let it happen." Berkery more than did his part, going 5-of-9 for the day with four runs and an RBI. In the process the senior extended his current hitting streak to 25 games, two shy of the program's single-season record. And no, he was not superstitious on the subject.
"I'm trying to get a hit every game anyway," he said of his streak and the record. "I'll give it a shot!"
While Bulldog hitters were batter-ing Indian midweek pitching, State's own staff took care of their own assignments. Righthander Trent Hill made the most of his first career start in the opening game, going four full frames and limiting ULM to a couple of runs on six hits. But that paled in comparison to the show Matt Lea put on in the nightcap. The true freshman went seven scoreless innings, giving up just two hits with five strikeouts and two walks.
"I felt the best I've felt all year," Lea (5-0) said. "I was really comfortable and the defense was making the plays for the most part." The Dog defense wasn't without fault, being charged with four errors in the 18 innings. But they were not seriously pressured either and made more than enough routine plays with a sprinkling of sparklers along the way.
Still it was at the bat where the Bulldogs made the real noise. "It probably was a little built-up frustration," Butts said. "We wanted to make a point, yesterday we thought we had it, but it's the crazy game of baseball and anything can happen. We found that out."
The opener, as planned, was a ‘staff' game with four Bulldog hurlers getting work. Hill put in a respectable four-full, striking out a pair and walking none, and he ended three of his innings on double-plays. But the starter didn't get the win.
Righthander Aaron Weatherford was designated for the decision, and did his part impressively. The freshman, consistently throwing 93 and 94 m.p.h. fastballs with an effective changeup turned in two flawless frames. Weatherford (3-0) retired all six he faced, two on strikeouts.
With things entirely under control, Polk was able to give infielder Brooks Tinsley his first college action on the mound. The righthander took care of the seventh inning, giving up a run on two hits with two strikeouts and a walk. Lefthander Jesse Carver finished out the evening with one unearned run on three hits, three walks and two strikeouts.
The first game started on time but was soon running way behind schedule, as the first inning took 32 minutes to complete. And it wasn't the Indian offense slowing things down as Hill rolled a double-play to face the minimum. It was State batting—or more often, walking—around in the first turn. ULM starter Daniel Roberts came in 0-4 with a 9.15 ERA. Both numbers got much worse, soon.
The Indian righthander opened with a walk of second baseman Jeffrey Rea, who made second on a ground-out by catcher Edward Easley. Berkery chipped a very short single over second base, so Rea had to hold in case of a catch. A walk of rightfielder Mitch Moreland loaded the sacks, and on 2-2 centerfielder Joseph Hunter took a pitch off the shoulder to force in the first RBI…or RWI, rather.
That ended Roberts' stint very early, but righthander Kyle Smith didn't do much better as he walked DH Joseph McCaskill and third baseman Michael Rutledge to force in two more runs. With the bases still stacked number-nine batter Butts lined a single into centerfield that scored Hunter and McCaskill and gave the Dogs a 5-0 lead after that one long inning.
The onslaught continued in the MSU second as Easley and Berkery singled and Moreland walked to fill the paths again. ULM also went back to the bullpen for another righthander, Bucky Chandler, who promptly walked Hunter for another free score. A fly ball to leftfield by McCaskill scored Berkery for a 7-0 score after two.
Hill ended his second turn on another twin-killing, but in the third with one out he was tagged for a single by Andy Jones. Ben Soigner followed with a drive that cleared leftfield bullpen with plenty space to spare. It was his fourth home run in three games and cut State's lead to 7-2, and Hill gave up another base hit before ending the inning. He rolled his third double-play to end the fourth and complete his stint. And by the time Weatherford could take the hill the MSU margin had expanded by five more runs.
Chandler was one out into the MSU fourth when he walked Moreland on. Hunter, who had walked twice already, was swinging this time and drilled a shot to the left-centerfield fence that became a RBI-triple. McCaskill followed by ripping a single through the third baseman to score Hunter for a 9-2 lead. First baseman Brad Jones promptly made it 11-2 as he crushed a blast into the restaurant tables behind rightfield, his third homer of the season.
And State still wasn't through with the frame. Rutledge dropped a double down the rightfield line and scored on a two-out single from Rea. Easley singled through shortstop and Berkery reached on a booted hopper at third base that loaded the sacks. It took a strikeout of Moreland to leave it at 12-2 after just four innings.
The Bulldogs went down in order in their fifth, perhaps just for the novelty. But with one out in the sixth Rea singled, then came all the way around to score on a double left-of-centerfield by Easley. The catcher took third base on the throw-in and was able to score on a fly ball from Berkery making the lead 14-2.
UL-Monroe was able to chip one run off the deficit after State changed pitchers. Tinsley came out for the seventh and had a pair on base with two down. James Bennett was able to drop a single into rightfield, scoring Joel Ramsey from second base. Tinsley got a called strikeout to strand a pair. And as if it mattered, MSU got that run back in the bottom of the inning. Leadoff batter Hunter reached on a two-base error at shortstop and with two down substitute catcher Wyn Diggs drove a gap-double to left-centerfield for the RBI.
Carver replaced Tinsley for the last two innings. He needed a pop-up to shortstop to leave the bases full of Indians in the eighth, then had a pair on to begin the ninth via a single and walk. Carver struck out two swinging before Travis Drader was able to drop a base hit in rightfield for ULM's last run. A fly ball to the same field ended the opener. The Bulldogs had 14 hits in the rout, but also benefited from 11 walks issued by Indian pitching. In fact the 15 runs were not all that efficient as State left a full dozen runners on bases. So did ULM, which had 11 hits but were given only four free bases. Easley and Berkery were both 3-of-5 at the plate for State and Rea had a pair of base hits.
Though the teams stayed in their same dugouts, ULM was the ‘home' team for the nightcap. This meant State got to swing first, and the Dogs wasted no time getting on the scoreboard at the expense of A.J. Ford (0-4). Rea legged out an infield single with the throw sailing high of first anyway. On full count, with Rea running, Easley lined a single to the leftfielder…who tried to snare the one-hopper at his side. It skipped by his glove and got to the fence as Rea raced home with the first tally of the evening, on what was ruled a double and RBI.
The ULM shortstop fielded a Berkery grounder but pulled his first baseman off with the throw for an official error. Hunter's grounder to the middle was fielded and turned for a double-play and the first outs of the inning, which meant Easley was able to come home for the score and 2-0 lead before ULM had a chance to face Lea.
And the righthander was more than ready. "It felt good to get out there again, and I had all my pitches. Fastballs, breaking balls, and my changeup, we used them all. We established the fastball to set them up and get them out."
He sat down the side in the first inning, and by the time he returned for a second his cushion had doubled to 4-0. Jones led off with a single off the Indian first baseman, stole second on his own and took third on a wild pitch. Diggs, starting this game as DH, walked for Dogs on corners. Rutledge grounded into a fielder's choice with Diggs forced at second base, as the ball was bobbled long enough to prevent a double-play. Jones would have scored regardless on the play but this meant Rutledge was on first base where he could come all the way home as Butts went the other way and rattled a RBI-double into the leftfield corner.
Ford's evening came to an end in the third as he loaded the bases by walking Berkery and Moreland and then hitting Hunter on a two-strike pitch. He was able to strike out Jones on a full count, but Diggs chipped a little single behind shortstop that was mishandled by the centerfielder. Berkery and Moreland scored for a 6-0 while the error left two more Dogs in scoring positions. A walk of Rutledge re-loaded the basepaths and finally produced the pitching change.
Lefthander Jared Jennings had better luck with the umpire's zone, getting Butts on a called strikeout for two down. Rea still was able to whip a grounder the opposite way and past the third baseman to score Diggs for a 7-0 score, though Rutledge rounded second base a bit too far and was caught to end the inning.
State did not score in the fourth, though Berkery singled through the middle to run his hitting streak to 25 games.
Lea retired the first ten batters faced before nicking Ben Soignier to put his first runner on. Soignier stole second, then took third as Berkery made a great running grab behind the bag and an even better throw to first base for the out. James Bennett was able to draw Lea's first base on balls and the Indians attempted the delayed double-steal. Before Soignier could reach home MSU's Jones had tagged Bennett on the helmet for the inning-ending out.
The no-hitter ended one out into the Indian fifth when Matt Miller scratched out an infield single. A walk put a pair on bases before Lea struck out pinch-hitter Ty Rollinson and got Scott Vaughn to ground out.
Jennings managed to string three scoreless innings together, then in the top of the seventh his time ran out. Berkery and Moreland led off with base hits, then Jennings got two down before LaNinfa hit his way on for Dogs on corners. That was enough to bring righthander David Mixon from the bullpen. But pinch-hitter McCaskill's slow bouncer was errored by the third baseman, scoring Berkery. On 2-2 Butts got the end of his bat on the ball and blooped it over the third baseman for a single and another RBI.
Rea followed with his favorite hit, an inside-out job whipped by the third baseman, and McCaskill jogged home from third for a 11-0 score that would stand at the end. It could have been worse had Mixon not gotten a bases-loaded popout to end the outburst.
The Indians tried break up the shutout in the bottom of the inning with one out as a walk, hit batter, and single to rightfield had three on the paths. Only, middle-runner Miller literally was still on the paths, having rounded second assuming lead runner LaBorde had headed home. He was run down for the second out and Rollinson bounced out to first base, concluding Lea's successful and career-long stint.
Chad Crosswhite had been warming for a while and was sent out to toss a one-hit eighth, striking out one. The ninth had Brett Cleveland on the hill to close the evening, and he had to work around a hit, walk, and base-loading grounder. A swinging strikeout did the trick, securing State's first shutout of the season.
Nine Bulldogs had base hits in this game with three by Rea, his fifth three-hit outing of the season.
While their non-SEC record was finally marred, the Bulldogs felt much better about themselves after sweeping the pair in Pearl. "We felt we had a pretty good midweek, honestly," said Butts of taking two-of-three.
"After last night's shocker we wanted to make sure we got two wins today and took care of business," said Lea, who also pointed to the importance of winning every midweek game possible to strengthen State's post-season stature. "We want to win them all."
That's a goal for this weekend as the Bulldogs host the other Bulldogs, taking on Georgia in a three-game SEC series at Dudy Noble Field. MSU is 5-3 in league play after losing a pair at Alabama and need to take advantage of the homefield to get back into the thick of the SEC and Division races.
"It's exciting," Berkery said of the upcoming series. "It's Super Bulldog Weekend, and we want to put on a good show. We want two for sure, and three would be great."