By Randy Rosetta/Baton Rouge Advocate
BATON ROUGE, La. – In a season chock-full of pitching struggles, Mississippi State has watched leads evaporate at various points in games.
No need for that on Friday night.
The pitching woes were still prevalent, yes. But the Bulldogs uncharacteristically never mounted much of an offensive threat in a 17-3 loss to LSU at Alex Box Stadium.
The Tigers blew open an early pitchers’ duel with eight runs in the third inning and never looked back, clinching a berth at next week’s SEC Tournament in Hoover, Ala.
State starting pitcher Devin Jones gave up all eight runs with two outs, and much of his undoing was his own with four walks and a hit batter after he’d gotten two outs.
“We haven’t pitched well all season long,” Bulldog coach John Cohen said after his team’s worst SEC loss this season. “The guy who pitched for us is a one- or two-inning guy for us right now and it didn’t work to try and extend him.
“We didn’t throw lot of strikes and that’s been a big problem for us all season long.”
Not that Jones was alone.
The Bulldogs ran through five pitchers and none fared well as LSU (35-19, 14-15) kept the pressure on. State issued eight walks and hit a batter and eight of those base runners came around to score.
“That’s how big innings work,” Cohen said. “You’ve got to challenge the strike zone consistently to have the chance to win a ballgame.”
Combined with a pair of two-out, two-run singles and three Tiger homers, the math was bad news for the Bulldogs (22-33, 5-24).
Meanwhile, the only damage State could inflict came on three solo home runs.
In the fourth inning, Nick Vickerson belted a leadoff homer on the first pitch he got from Austin Ross, who was perfect in the first three innings. Three hitters later, Ryan Duffy drilled a towering home run to right field to pull the Bulldogs within 8-2.
After LSU bloated the lead to 17-2, Ryan Powers unloaded a two-out solo bomb to center field in the sixth.
Other than those three homers, Ross was nearly untouchable. He tossed seven innings, struck out eight and didn’t walk a batter.
“I took advantage of them being aggressive,” Ross said. “They know I throw a lot of strikes and especially the first time through, I threw quality pitches and they got weak contact.”
It also helped Ross that he got a dazzling play behind him before the State bats ever got untracked.
Duffy led off the second by hammering the first pitch to deep left-center field, but center fielder Leon Landry raced over, dove to his right and snared the ball for a catch.
“Leon’s catch early in the game really helped Ross settle in,” Tiger coach Paul Mainieri said.
Jones mowed down the first six hitters before LSU designated hitter Matt Gaudet whistled a leadoff single to right-center field to begin the third frame.
After nearly working around that with two quick outs, Jones walked Trey Watkins and Leon Landry with two outs to load the bases and then hit Micah Gibbs with a pitch to force in a run.
Blake Dean walked on four pitches for a second run and Austin Nola rolled a two-RBI base hit through the left side to plate Landry and Gibbs.
Mikie Mahtook legged out an infield single reload the bases and Jones couldn’t escape, walking Gaudet for another run.
Luke Bole came on in relief and surrendered a two-run single to Alex Edward and Hanover’s RBI hit up the middle for the final runs as LSU sends 13 hitters to the plate and matched its highest-scoring of the season.