STARKVILLE – Cal State Fullerton’s pitching staff entered Saturday with an NCAA-low 2.17 earned run average.
The second-seeded Titans lived up to their billing on the mound but No. 1 seed Mississippi State was able to string together some late offense to advance to the finals of the Starkville Regional with a 4-1 victory.
“I’m obviously really proud of our kids,” said MSU skipper John Cohen. “Fullerton is a really good club. It doesn’t take you long to study their numbers to see that they can really defend, really pitch and situationally score.”
Titan starter Colton Eastman held MSU to a run on five hits through the first six frames but the Bulldog bats finally got to the freshman right-hander in the seventh.
Brent Rooker led off the inning with a double to right center and was bunted over to third. Ryan Gridley drove Rooker in with a single past a drawn in infield. Gridley later took second on a wild pitch and Jake Mangum delivered an RBI single to right to push State’s lead to 3-0.
“Eastman was an incredible pitcher and commanded three pitches well,” Mangum said. “Eastman really controlled the ball all night and got us off our timing a couple of times. Offensively, we had good approaches, stayed aggressive and stuck to our game plan and it worked out.”
Josh Vargas belted a solo home run in the bottom half of the inning to breakup a shutout for Bulldog starter Austin Sexton. Sexton was strong through 6 1/3 innings giving up just one run on five hits and a walk and had four strikeouts to improve to 8-3.
“Austin just took the ball tonight and really just did a great job,” Cohen said. “He battled through some adversity and we made a couple of mistakes behind him defensively but he just kept on battling.”
Sexton worked out of a jams in the second, third, fifth and sixth innings and stranded five runners in scoring position in those frames.
“I thought Sexton pitched good and he made pitches when he had to,” said Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook. “I thought we had him on the ropes numerous times and he worked his way out of it.”
Blake Smith came on to toss the final 2 2/3 innings without allowing a hit to pick up his fifth save.
Mississippi State (43-16-1) finished with nine hits led by Mangum’s 2-for-5 evening with two singles and an RBI.
Rooker, Jack Kruger and Jacob Robson all doubled for the Diamond Dogs with Robson’s being of the RBI variety in the eighth inning to add an insurance run.
The Titans (36-22) had five hits while Eastman (8-3) suffered the loss while striking out seven.
MSU will meet the winner of the Cal State Fullerton-Louisiana Tech elimination game at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday.