Mississippi State Baseball Continues to Build Momentum in the Young Season

 

Mississippi has its first series win over a ranked team after taking 2 of 3 from in-state rival Southern Mississippi at the new Dudy Noble field this weekend in a thrilling three games of baseball. A weekend where a lot of playing-by-ear from administrators, coaches and fans took place in light of oft inclement weather started off with a tough loss for the Bulldogs, but LHP Ethan Small being spectacular in his second start of the season. State lost 1-0 in 10 innings despite 7.0 innings from Small with a career-high 13 punchouts and only one hit without a walk. USM pinch runner Brant Blaylock, a former Bulldog, scored from second on a seeing-eye single  in the top of the tenth inning for the decisive score in a thrilling pitchers’ duel. Mississippi State managed 7 hits but was unable to string enough consecutive hits together to out the Golden Eagles away. USM managed only 3 hits, but stole the opening game of the series. Coach Lemonis said in a postgame interview that he and the entire Bulldog roster was angry about the close loss, and that roster certainly played angry Saturday afternoon by clobbering the Eagles 8-1. Freshman phenom JT Ginn picked up where Small left off, going for 7 complete innings and 9 strikeouts with only a walk and 2 hits against him without any runs. At the plate, third baseman Hunter Foscue lifted his second ball of the year out of Dudy Noble Field, and Hunter Skelton has already doubled his homerun total from last season by smashing two towering homeruns Saturday. Foscue, Skelton, Marshall Gilbert, and Jake Mangum all had multiple hits in the 13-knock day for the Dawgs. Ginn picked up his second win of the season. On Sunday, the Bulldogs got a less-than-stellar start from RHP Keegan James, but was able to jump out to 1-0 and 3-1 leads by the time the third inning was over. However, State was unable to capitalize on runners in scoring position after scoring in the third and again in the fourth and fifth innings. Relief pitching, which has been a strength for the entire young season for MSU, faltered in a sixth inning Sunday where Jack Eagan started with two quick outs. Eagan went on to give up a solo line-drive homerun over the right-center wall, before Riley Self entered the game and played not like himself. Unable to get the third out, Self gave up three hits and a run to help Southern tie the game. Mississippi State only had two baserunners reach to no avail in the 6th, 7th, and 8thinnings. Cole Gordon threw the 8thand 9thinnings, pitching carefully around Southern Miss’s plethora of left handed batters with a stiff wind blowing out to right field and working around three walks to not surrender any hits or runs and strike out two. In the bottom of the ninth, JT Ginn struck out as he pinch hit for Landon Jordan. Mangum was unable to reach base, but Jordan Westburg busted it down the first base line to barely beat out an errant throw after falling behind in the count 0-2 and fouling a ball hard of his shin. On the first pitch of the next at-bat, Tanner Allen tomahawk-swung at a fastball near his eyes and smashed it into the right field corner. Coach Kyle Cheeseborough waved Westburg home from third, and he slid in safely for the Mississippi State walk-off win to take the series from Southern Mississippi.

NOTES: It’s looking like the pitching has fallen into place for Mississippi State. Great outings by a lot of State’s guys in the opening weekend were still not enough to answer the questions many had coming into this season, with Youngstown State not having necessarily the caliber talent MSU will be facing in conference play (all due respect to the Penguins). This weekend, however, State faced a great Southern Miss team and saw its Friday and Saturday starters make Eagle hitters look silly with 22 combined strikeouts in 14 innings. Small has built on a strong 2018 campaign and Ginn is proving he was worth the money he would have earned as the 30thoverall pick in 2018 the MLB draft. Both old and new faces are getting the job done in the bullpen, with Cole Gordon looking like the go-to guy to hold a lead or get ahead in late innings. Trysten Barlow, Riley Self, Jared Liebelt, and newcomers Jack Eagan and Colby White have all been key for State. Peyton Plumlee and freshman Eric Cerantola have contributed as well and will both get midweek starts this week, and former SEC saves leader Spencer Price is rounding back into form. State allowed USM to bat only .158 this weekend. The Eagles had 3 extra base hits in 28 innings, and only 12 more singles. The Dawgs played errorless baseball on the weekend, forcing 7 mistakes from USM, including one that sealed the series on Sunday. State’s outfield displayed multiple SportsCenter top-10-type plays, and including phenomenal catches from Elijah MacNamee and Rowdey Jordan. State turned but one double play on the weekend. Matt Wallner, the clean-up batter for Southern that had a lot to say about MSU in the week leading up to the game, was 0-10 on the weekend with 4 Ks. State also has some key position players that have shined this season, either elevating their play from last season or making a name for themselves on their new team. Dustin Skelton, a terrific defensive catcher in his third year at MSU, seems be finding his stride as a hitter. He was 7-12 on the weekend with 2 homeruns, and he has the type of power that baseball lovers knew he would have if he ever got his timing right. Freshman catcher Hayden Jones is looking like an important DH and once-a-weekend catcher, and he is currently 2 for 2 on throwing out baserunners at second with that major-league cannon of an arm he has. Twice he has erased a baserunner before they even had a chance to slide.  Tanner Allen and Jordan Westburg are going to be phenomenal baseball players for their entire college careers. Not only are they each knocking the cover off the ball with averages over .350, but Westburg is playing a mean shortstop, which is going to be key with the only losses in the lineup from last season coming at middle infield. Through 7 games, Westburg is errorless at short with 60 fielding attempts. Gunner Halter and Landon Jordan, who will find their mojo as hitters as the season goes on, are holding things down pretty well at second base as well. Two of the most productive hitters from last season, Jake Mangum and Rowdey Jordan, are in a small slump of sorts at the plate. Magum is batting .310 this season, which is outstanding for pretty much anybody except Mangum, whose career average is .355. Jordan has posted a .154 average through 7 games, but State’s two switch hitters have a lot of baseball left to get that average up to where they’d like it to be.
State plays Jackson State on Tuesday and Southeastern Louisiana on Wednesday, both at home, at 4:00 PM and 5:30 PM respectively. Then the Dawgs will be traveling to MinuteMaid Park in Houston this weekend to play neutral site games vs Sam Houston State, Texas Tech, and Nebraska on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday March 1-3.

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