Offensive Onslaught Owes itself to an Outstanding Mississippi State Assistant
Head coach Chris Lemonis has instituted a new post-game ritual for his Mississippi State baseball team. In the same spirit that guides some coaches to give out game balls or MVP awards, the player with the biggest effect on the game or the most consistent player of the day for State gets a t-shirt that resembles a jersey. The jersey number corresponds to the new win total after that day’s game was completed (shirts are only earned by a player in a win). After a hectic Sunday rubber match vs Auburn saw State score 20 runs in 8 innings, scoring at least once in every frame and racking up an astounding 21 hits against Auburn pitching, it was anybody’s guess as to which Bulldog would bring home the less conventional hardware. In a game where all nine starters got a hit, eight batters recorded multiple hits, four players had at least three hits, three players had 4 RBIs or more, and two players hit a home run, how does somebody decide who gets the shirt? The decision is clear. That shirt belongs to your hitting coach. Jake Gautreau has been nothing short of a hitting savant in the Mississippi State dugout. The former Tulane great is the Conference USA Player of the Decade from 1990-2000, and produced a career batting average of .344 before being drafted 14thoverall in 2001. The only thing better than a great hitter is a great hitter that can teach others to be great hitters, and Gautreau has shown a remarkable ability to do both over the course of his career. He has Mississippi State batting at a .316 clip as a team, with seven of his players recording hits on at least 1/3 of their at-bats. State is scoring 9.1 runs per game, and has put up double-digit runs in 10 games already this season. Less than halfway through the season, the Dawgs only need 6 more double-digit scoring contests to match last season’s total. Behind a pitching staff that was lights out earlier in the season (and still has some great arms that limit opponents’ production), the Bulldogs are outscoring their competitors 227-81. Mississippi State needed all of the fire power coach Gautreau has coaxed into this lineup on Sunday to keep up with the Tigers of the plains and get its second consecutive SEC series win. Auburn jumped out to an 11-5 lead en route to scoring 15 runs of their own on Sunday, but State’s hitters would not be outdone or unsettled. They battered 7 Auburn hurlers for double-digit extra-base hits and 21 total knocks on Sunday after pounding 20 hits in the Saturday game. In what was a strange and emotional back-and-forth battle, State dug in and answered the Auburn slugging attack blow-for-blow, and came out on top of the offensive blitzkrieg of a contest. The resiliency of the comeback from a 6 run deficit and the efficient run-producing ability of MSU owes a lot of credit to the upperclassmen that have been through the wringer of the 2018 season and the Bulldog hitting coordinator. Coach Gautreau, who has only put this year’s Bulldog hitting attack on the stratosphere after helping to turn a club that was struggling at the plate last season into a team one win away from the national championship series, is as hot a commodity as there is in the baseball industry today. He should be worth everything John Cohen could possibly pay to keep him around after this season, and his name will be very high on the list for every baseball coach search committee in the country. But that doesn’t matter until the end of the season, and neither Gautrea nor Lemonis nor any of the Diamond Dawgs will be satisfied with anything less than the national title they feel their fans deserve. Coach Gautreau may have this batting order firing on all cylinders, but you won’t hear that from him or any of the other Bulldogs. To them, there’s still work to be done, improvements to be made, and battles to be fought throughout the course of this season.
State will leave behind the eastern Tigers of the plains for the western versions from the bayou as it takes on LSU in Starkville on a Thursday-Friday-Saturday series. Game times will be 6:00 pm, 6:00 pm, and 2:00 pm respectively. Thursday’s game can be found om ESPNU and Friday’s matchup will be played on the SECNetwork while Saturday’s contest finds a home of the SECNetwrok+. Before the busy SEC series, the Dawgs will take on Mississippi Valley State at Dudy Noble Field on 6:30 on Tuesday, and that game can be found on the SECNetwork+.