By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Halfway through the SEC season, Mississippi State was fighting just to get in the SEC Tournament field. Now it enters this week’s affair as one of the hottest teams in the league.
The Bulldogs (34-21, 16-14 SEC) capped off a weekend sweep of No. 4-ranked Kentucky on Saturday with an 11-3 win at Dudy Noble Field.
With 3,629 fans looking on, MSU recorded its first winning record in SEC play since 2007, and its best league mark since 2003. State did so by winning 11 of it last 15 SEC games.
“We’re hot right now. I can’t say I’d want to play us right now either,” catcher Mitch Slauter said.
MSU will next play on Tuesday in the first round of the SEC Tournament as the No. 7 seed. It will face No. 6 seed Arkansas in the second game of the day, following the 9:30 a.m. Ole Miss-Kentucky game.
The tough weekend for the Wildcats (41-15, 18-12) cost them the Eastern Division title and No. 1 tourney seed.
On Saturday, State had perhaps its best offensive outing of the season, collecting 14 hits and tying its season high for runs in an SEC game. Sam Frost had three hits, while Demarcus Henderson had two hits and three RBIs off the bench.
All of this against UK’s ace, Corey Littrell (8-1), who allowed seven runs (five earned) in 41/3 innings.
The Bulldogs had three RBI bunts and were helped by three Kentucky errors. Six players had at least six hits to cap a weekend in which MSU hit .320.
That backed up a pitching staff that has become one of the best in the country. Starter Evan Mitchell couldn’t make it out of the third inning, but freshman Jacob Lindgren (2-2) tossed 51/3 innings of one-run ball, allowing three hits and striking out seven.
“Fastball and slider, both pitches were really working,” Lindgren said. “My two-seam was really working down to right-handed hitters.”
MSU scored three times in the fourth and took a 3-2 lead on Wes Rea’s two-out single. State added five runs in the fifth, with Henderson’s two-run single making it 8-2.
“We’re just doing everything the right way,” Slauter said.