The setback left some State players and most of the 5,568 at DNF a bit confused. After all, it had been five weeks since the Bulldogs came out on the wrong end of a contest settled by a single score with eight-straight successes. "It is kind surprising when we don't get the win," SS Brandon Turner said. "But we didn't."
Not when the Tigers, 12-3 losers on Friday night, were able to hang with the home team all afternoon and stay in striking distance until the situation was right. The outcome spoiled a pretty good day's work for Mississippi State starter Justin Pigott. The southpaw put in 7.1 innings on a warm day, which he enjoyed, and despite a mild hamstring pull which he said was not a problem either. He even struck out a career-high ten and was particularly effective against lefties with six of his Ks against them.
Yet Pigott didn't claim to have been at his best, either. "I don't know what it was, I had the ‘B' stuff today. I didn't have a real good fastball or changeup. I kind of scattered them and held the best I could." He ended up with five runs on seven hits and a trio of walks. And, no decision. That went to reliever Ricky Bowen after the freshman ended the eighth with a pair of outs, got the first two Tigers in the ninth…and then was touched for a pair of game-changing hits that if defended differently would not have amounted to much.
Bowen (3-1) took the loss while LSU reliever T.J. Forrest (2-2) got a victory with 3.0 scoreless innings of middle-relief. After the Tigers got their lead in the top of the ninth closer Jared Bradford did his duty for a fifth save of the season, stranding the tying and winning runners. That was something State saw too frequently Saturday.
"We left ten guys on base to their five," said Coach Ron Polk, "and that's what happens."
"Justin pitched great, we just didn't give him enough run support," Turner said. Which was why Pigott couldn't even enjoy double-digit fannings. "I'd give all ten of them for the win."
LSU came out swinging against Pigott and the second Tiger to take the plate made it count, as Hollander lined a 2-1 offering over leftfield for a fast 1-0 lead. "I missed a spot and he smoked it," said Pigott. "The only ones they hit well were missed spots." A leadoff double in the second inning by Lewis didn't hurt, nor did Hollander's one-out double in the third. Pigott stranded both on third base, though he had issues with a LSU lineup stacked with right-side swingers.
"Normally that's a good thing with the changeup, today it wasn't doing what it normally does. But I had a good slider."
The Bulldogs made good contact as well through two but with only singles off Tiger starter Ryan Byrd by LF Joseph McCaskill and 3B Conner Powers to show for it. Other well-struck balls were stopped by excellent LSU infield-ing. The outfield was another matter as with one down in the third frame 2B Jeffrey Rea's drive to deep left went off Ryan Schimpf's glove for a two-base hit.
Byrd walked McCaskill on four pitches. C Edward Easley tried to clean the bags on his first pitch, pulling it foul to left. On the second, he tried the other corner and got the drive down fair to the fence. Rea and McCaskill scored unchallenged with Easley stopping at second. Turner didn't leave him there, driving a two-out hit into left-centerfield for the RBI and 3-1 lead through three.
"Byrd's not overpowering," Turner said, "he just spots up and did a good job. Then again we should have put up more runs. That's on us."
The Tigers chopped the deficit in half as Jason Lewis singled in the fourth and scored on a two-out double by Nicholas Pontiff. It was still a one-run game into the bottom of the fifth. McCaskill one-hopped by the third baseman and into the corner for a leadoff double and Easley got a free pass. Moreland showed bunt and when LSU still did not come in the corners he laid a nice one down to sacrifice both runners along. So when Turner's bouncer got through the right side it was good for two RBI and a 5-2 lead.
Which was quickly and entirely erased. Pigott got a called strikeout to start his sixth but lost control on a change and hit Mitchell, the first LSU lefty to reach base. Lewis screamed a double down the third base line, and while Jared Mitchell was held at third it just delayed getting to the plate. Because Pigott missed both plate and mitt for a run-scoring wild pitch. And with two down and a 2-2 count the pitcher left one in Pontiff's wheelhouse.
The drive hooked but not soon enough, staying inside the left foul-pole for a two-run homer and 5-5 deadlock. Pigott stayed in, ending that inning with a strikeout of the nine-batter and fanning a pair in the seventh. But he began the eighth with consecutive walks.
Easley took care of both as Ochinko and Mitchell both attempted steals and failed, the first by yards and the latter on a very close call. In-between State had changed moundsmen with Bowen taking over after the second walk. Lewis also drew the base on balls but Easley's arm wasn't tested again; Bowen struck out Schimpf, his fourth fanning of the afternoon.
Forrest had taken over after State's fifth run and left lone Dogs on bases in the sixth and seventh. In the eighth he survived a pair of walks and ground ball that had Dogs on corners with a full count to Rea. A fly ball ended that threat to set up the decisive ninth.
Bowen got the bottom pair of LSU's order and rolled a grounder from Jackson. "We were guarding the line at third and the ball was hit to Connor's left," Polk said. The third baseman got a glove on it but couldn't stop the ball, letting Hollander take his fifth turn of the day. He fell behind 0-2 before lifting a fly ball down the rightfield line.
Rice could have let it land, played the hop and halted the lead runner. Instead his dive came up short and Jackson made it all the way home. "Andy gave a gallant effort," Polk said. "Of course I'd now rather have him not dive for it and hold the guy at third and see what happens." And it didn't matter that Easley threw out Hollander going for third, LSU had their lead again.
And Bradford to make it hold up though he did give up a two-out single to Moreland and took a wicked liner off Turner's bat for two on. Jeff Flagg, the DH this day with regular Brian LaNinfa sitting out for a hurt wrist, made contact but right to the shortstop.
The teams head into Sunday's rubber game with LSU expected to throw freshman righthander Matt Jackson (0-0 in 10 appearances with two starts, 2.74 ERA). The Bulldogs will use senior RH Josh Johnson (2-2, 7.02). And, probably, a lot of other arms. They're available as only the two starters, Pigott and Chad Crosswhite, can't be used.
"Our bullpen is in good shape," Polk said. "We haven't used Aaron Weatherford and Moreland. We'll do whatever it takes to try to win this series and if we do it's a good weekend for the Bulldogs."