The MSU Baseball Team Takes 2 of 3 from UF Behind Great Offense and Pitching Across the Board

Impromptu double-headers and rainy days did little to put a damper on the Diamond Dawgs’ dandy season as the boys in Maroon and White took two of three from top-five ranked Florida in Gainesville this weekend. State opened up SEC play on Friday night with right-handed ace Ethan Small getting his fifth straight Friday start on the mound, where he continued to overpower hitters with 11 punchouts in 6 innings of work. Small used well-located fastballs, aptly timed change-ups, and mixed timing methods to keep the dangerous Gator lineup, which scored 20 runs in a game against top-ten team Florida State, off balance and unproductive. He gave up only two hits, one of which was a solo shot into the left field bleachers by Gator outfielder Will Dalton. Small left the game with the Dawgs up 4-1, having walked 3 and having thrown 99 pitches. Jared Liebelt didn’t allow a baserunner in the seventh, and gave way to Colby White in the eighth, who allowed his first run of the season and almost gave up two more. But Elijah MacNamee went back and to his left on a dead sprint from his right field post to make a spectacular basket catch and rob UF first baseman Kendrick Calilao of extra bases. In the top of the ninth, back-to-back hits by Jordan Westburg and Tanner Allen came to hurt Florida when MacNamee roped a double in the gap to drive in both—barely ten minutes after protecting the 2-run lead with his magnificent catch in right field. Both of MacNamee’s plays were enormous for the Dawgs, because Bulldog closer Cole Gordon got into some trouble when Florida tried to mount a late rally in the bottom of the ninth. Two hits, a walk, and a hit-by-pitch were enough to get the Gators within a run, but no more as Gordon threw a breaking ball down and away to get infielder Brady McConnell to chase on a 1-2 count and end the game with a final score of 6-5. State racked up 10 hits in the win, including a line-drive homerun to left field by Justin Foscue and two-hit nights for Jake Mangum, Tanner Allen, MacNamee, and Foscue. 9 of the 10 hits came from the first 5 batters in the lineup on Friday, the lone exception being DH Josh Hatcher.
In the first game of Saturday’s twin bill, the story of the afternoon would be commanded by two Bulldogs, one a seasoned senior and the other a fascinating freshman. Jake Mangum and JT Ginn continued to impress in their first weekend of SEC play. On the third pitch of the game, Mangum nonchalantly tossed his bat aside two steps from the batter’s box and started to trot around the bases for the first time this season after a towering solo home run to right field. Jake finished the day 3 for 5 with the bomb and two doubles, two RBI, and two runs scored. The young phenom JT Ginn used a live fastball and deceptive slider to match Small’s 11 K outing, going 6&1/3 and giving up 4 runs on 10 hits. Those last two numbers are deceptive however, as Ginn was perhaps stretched out a little longer than coach Lemonis would’ve liked—four of the hits and three of the runs came in the seventh after Ginn had already surpassed his career high in pitches and strikeouts. Jared Liebelt would replace Ginn and have one of his better outings as a Bulldog, going for 2&2/3 and allowing one run on one hit and no walks while tallying a strike out. The Bulldogs would answer the mini-rally later in the game with a 3-hit, 3-run ninth thanks to Allen, MacNamee, and Foscue and Dustin Skelton. The explosion pushed the lead to 6 runs and allowed Liebelt to comfortably finish the game in the last inning, giving up a solo homerun to two-way Gator Kris Armstrong but getting three groundouts to clinch the series for State. Mississippi State recorded 17 hits, 9 of which went for extra bases and 3 of which got out of the yard off the bats of Mangum, Allen, and MacNamee (early reports indicate that Tanner Allen’s homerun may hit the ground this Wednesday sometime near Orlando). 6 Bulldogs got multiple hits and Mangum, MacNamee, and Skelton tallied 3 hits apiece.
The offensive explosion would not continue into the next game of the double-header, as Florida managed to salvage a 4-2 win for their only victory on the weekend. Freshman catcher Luke Hancock would earn his first start as the designated hitter, and hot-hitting Josh Hatcher would get the nod at left field over Rowdey Jordan. Keegan James limited UF to three runs in his fifth start, but took his first loss of the season while Florida’s Tyler Dyson got the decision for the Gators. Mississippi State struck first in the third when two doubled from Josh Hatcher and Jordan Westburg pushed a run across the plate to put the Dawgs up 1-0, but Florida would grab the lead for good in an interesting fourth inning that saw James give up all 3 of his runs on 4 hits and 2 walks, (neither walk contributed to the scoring). The first run of the flurry was balked home on a call that was not a very clear miscue by James, but nonetheless it opened up a 3 spot by Florida where every run came home with two outs on the board. Brandon Smith came on to get the final out on a long fly ball with bases loaded. Senior captain Nelson Maldonado would add to the Gator lead with a leadoff shot to start the fifth off of Brandon Smith, and the Dawgs wouldn’t get anything going again on offense until the seventh inning. That’s when hits by Marshall Gilbert and Gunner Halter scratched the second run across, and Jake Mangum came mere inches away from getting his second bomb of the day and taking the lead in the game with one swing. Mangum was robbed a homerun and 3 RBI by the UF left fielder, and State would only get one more hit the rest of the game as UF got win. Relief pitching by Trsyten Barlow, Riley Self, and Spencer Price took care of the last 3&1/3 innings by only allowing a single in the sixth, seventh, and eighth; but it was too late for State as the Dawgs fell short of the sweep but managed to get a series win on the road from a consensus top-ten team.

TAKEAWAYS: State continued its habits of stellar pitching by getting 31 strike outs out of a potent Gator lineup that had scored 111 runs in 9 games in the month of March coming in to the series. State limited UF to 5 or less runs in all three games, and, despite being a bit north of the usual team ERA, is an impressive feat to accomplish on the road against a program like Florida. Ginn and Small have not slowed down off of their break-neck pace from the beginning of the season, as both are amongst the country’s leaders in strikeouts and runs allowed for starters. Elijah MacNamee continued a dazzling streak at the plate, going 7 for 14 on the weekend with a homerun and a couple doubles, Tanner Allen broke out of his slump in the last four games, recording six hits and a massive homerun since last Wednesday’s outing vs Grambling. Josh Hatcher burst on the scene after drawing three starts on the weekend, two at DH and one at left field. 5 for 9 with a couple doubles in the series, and he may have solidified that every-game starting role for himself as the DH or an outfielder. He adds another left-handed bat into the lineup that includes at least one more lefty and a switch hitter or two on a game-to-game basis. Jake Magnum showed once again his freakish ability to take over a game somehow as one of nine hitters in a lineup. Sometimes, all you can do as an opponent is try to limit everybody else State brings to the plate and concede to Jake what Jake’s going to get. Rowdey Jordan’s lack of production finally caught up with him, as the left fielder sat the bench to start the final game this weekend for first time this season. State showed that they can really get the offense going behind that pitching staff, tattooing the Gators for 35 hits over the course of three games, 14 of which went for extra bases.

The Dawgs will open up home SEC play with Auburn for a three-game series next weekend in Starkville after taking on the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Samford in two midweek games this Tuesday and Wednesday.

Don’t Stop Believin’: The Story of the 2018 Mississippi State Baseball Season

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