Pigott Goes The Route In 8-1 Bulldog Victory

Justin Pigott apparantly enjoyed watching his rotation-teammate toss a complete game so much, he decided to do the same.

The sophomore southpaw put together a superb Saturday outing, shackling visiting Florida to just three hits and a lone run as Mississippi State took a 8-1 victory in the first half of a doubleheader at Dudy Noble Field. Combined with Friday night's 6-2 win the Diamond Dogs were able to clinch their first SEC series win since March 26 and even their league record at 11-11.

The Gators fell deeper into the SEC basement at 6-17 and dropped under break-even for the overall season at 24-25. The second game of the day and third of the series, scheduled for Sunday, was to start at 5:00 CT due to threatening weekend weather.

While the Bulldogs pounded out a dozen hits off three Gator pitchers the big winner was Pigott, a lefthanded reliever who only seven days earlier had made the first start of his college career. He'd put in 6.1 innings without getting a decision in the previous Sunday's game at South Carolina.

For this second start, Pigott didn't just start. He finished, following the lead of Brooks Dunn after a complete-game Friday victory. And no one was more surprised than this pitcher about a full-route effort. "I had no idea," he said. "I wasn't expecting to go nine. I was just fortunate to get some early contact and they kept doing it all game. A lot of quick innings around ten pitches, that helped keep me going."

Pigott (5-0) wasn't overpowering as only two Florida batters went down swinging. But he didn't walk anyone, he hit only a pair, and best of all he got the Gators to keep bouncing balls right into teammate's gloves. Of the 27 outs, 21 came on grounders including a couple of double-plays.

"I'm not a strikeout pitcher, y'all know that," Pigott said. "I just tried to get early contact and let my defense work, because we really have a good one." The only run charged to Pigott's account came off an errored base hit to rightfield, and that in the seventh inning long after State had gotten a secure grip on the game.

Florida starter Bryan Ball wasn't too bad himself, at least not his first four scoreless innings. His outing collapsed and Florida's fate was sealed when State, combining Gator miscues with contagious hitting, exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Ball (4-8) was charged with all of them, though each was unearned. He was hit eight times in the process, walked two and struck out just one. He lasted 4.2 innings and three Gator relievers combined to complete the afternoon.

Pigott and his defense were in control literally from the first pitch, with third baseman Edward Easley fielding a grounded opening-offering for the initial out. The second Gator batter spanked a ball that became a sparkling snare for second-sacker Jeffrey Rea. Quickly as that a tone had been set. "That was a huge play," Pigott said. "It just got everybody going with a confidence boost knowing we were going to make every play. I was expecting them to make those plays because they're that good."

Pigott rolled two more grounders that inning, then two more with an easy fly ball in the second. Florida's first base hit was a one-out single in the third by Brandon McArthur, and he was erased on a 6-4-3 double-play. After that Pigott was able to sit eight-straight Gators before a bloop single in the top of the seventh. There was nothing fancy to his approach, the pitcher said.

"They weren't make adjustments. We were just going fastballs-away and changeups-away, and they didn't adjust on the outside corner and kept rolling-over stuff." Besides, by that time he had the seven-run cushion to work with.

Ball belied his record and 5.45 ERA by blanking the Bulldogs for four innings. He was greeted with a leadoff double by Rea the first frame, walked rightfielder Mitch Moreland in the second, allowed another leadoff double in the third to leftfielder Jeff Butts and a one-out single in the fourth. None of it mattered as Ball stranded those hands to keep it a scoreless pitching duel.

"It seemed whoever makes the error or get the big hit it sparks something," Pigott said. "I was trying to not let it happen to me." He didn't, while the proverbial roof caved in on his counterpart in the bottom of the fifth.

Ball cracked the gate with a leadoff walk of first baseman Brad Jones. Butts just missed laying a bunt down the left-line, so he dumped another attempt in front of the pitcher for a successful sacrifice. Rea went after the first pitch and kept this one on the ground. Gator shortstop Adam Davis couldn't field the hopper and Dogs were on corners with one out.

Easley dribbled a slow roller up the middle that the shortstop nearly misplayed again, settling for a force of Rea at the middle-bag while Jones crossed the plate for the first run of the day. And, the inning. Shortstop Thomas Berkery lined a single into rightfield for Dogs on corners again, and after taking two balls DH Brian LaNinfa pounded a single through the right side to plate Easley.

A 2-0 lead looked good in a pitching duel, but the Bulldogs were about to break it open…again with unintended aid. Ball should have been out of the inning as he got catcher Joseph McCaskill to lift a lazy fly ball to rightfield. Gator Brian Leclerc drifted over, held out the glove, and saw the ball bounce off the leather. Berkery scored for a 3-0 lead, and suddenly his teammates were spanking everything Ball offered. Moreland slashed a single past the second baseman for one RBI, and centerfielder Joseph Hunter hit the right-centerfield fence on one-hop for a double and two more Dogs driven in.

This gave Jones his second at-bat of the inning and he made it count by skipping a hot hopper past first base and into the corner for his first triple of the season, a RBI, and a 7-0 Bulldog lead. It all happened so quickly that only then was David Hurst ready to relieve Ball and end the frame on a fly ball. A caught one.

"I'm not going to lie, that seven-spot was nice!" Pigott said. So it didn't hurt much in the top of the seventh when he plunked Matt LaPorta with one out, and a two-out base hit to rightfield was errored into two more bases and an unearned run. It cost the shutout, but the victory was still secure.

A sixth-inning Berkery single off UF's Josh Edmondson came to naught, but with one out in the seventh pinch-hitter Matt Richardson got a good bounce—or to third baseman David Cash an awful one—that became a cheap double. With two down Jones pushed a single into leftfield, Richardson was waved home and while the throw was in time he apparently slid under the tag for State's eighth run. Lefty J.K. LaCoste came to get the last out, though Butts almost executed the squeeze bunt one pitch before grounding out.

With word of rain already in the county State delayed the end by loading the bags in the eighth on an Easley single off the unlucky third baseman's glove and walks of Michael Rutledge and Wynn Diggs. None scored, and Pigott had plenty of time after all to sit the side one more time with a fly ball and two ground-outs.

State had it's best-balanced offense in weeks as all nine starters got a base hit, and Berkery and Jones had a pair of safeties. Florida's hits came from the five, seven, and eight batters. Nothing came close to leaving the yard, and even fly balls were hard to come by with Pigott keeping control of the Gators and the game.

"Today I just wanted to give us a chance to sweep a series," he said. "I knew we were going to win."

Gene's Page Top Stories