By Jeff Lockridge/Special to The Journal
NASHVILLE – It’s often a good thing when Mississippi State coach John Cohen signals for his top reliever, Ross Mitchell, to enter a ballgame.
Just not in the first inning.
Vanderbilt scored seven runs in the first two innings on Sunday, and the Bulldogs used seven pitchers in an 8-3 victory by the Commodores that completed a weekend sweep at Hawkins Field.
Starting pitcher Jacob Lindgren lasted two-thirds of an inning and was charged with five earned runs, which Cohen attributed to too much focus on velocity and not enough on location.
“You can’t throw them belt-high fastballs,” Cohen said. “It doesn’t matter how hard you throw. Jacob Lindgren was 92 to 93 (mph), throwing balls at the catcher’s mask, and they hit the ball real hard. So we’ve got to throw down there at the bottom of the strike zone. We just ran away from our identity.”
No. 3 Vanderbilt (39-6) improved to 19-2 in the SEC with its fifth conference sweep, marking the best start ever by an SEC team through 21 games. South Carolina started 18-3 en route to a 25-5 record in 2000 – the best SEC record since the league went to a 30-game schedule in 1996.
It was the first SEC series this season in which Mississippi State (33-13, 10-11) was outscored, outhit – and swept.
“I’m a little surprised we kept them down that well,” Vanderbilt winning pitcher T.J. Pecoraro said.
Mitchell, who shut down the Commodores in the 2012 SEC Tournament championship game, allowed two inherited runners to score in the first inning as Vanderbilt took a 5-0 lead on the strength of three two-out RBI singles.
In the second, Mississippi State third baseman Sam Frost’s throwing error opened the door for a two-out rally. Vanderbilt freshman Zander Wiel, a former teammate of Mitchell at Murfreesboro (Tenn.) Blackman High, delivered a two-run double for a 7-0 cushion.
‘A better approach’
“I think they just had a better approach against me this time,” Mitchell said. “They wouldn’t let me get underneath their barrels like they were (in 2012). I just have to tip my hat to them. They just attacked my fastball and were hitting the ball good.
“We knew they were real good coming in, but we’re a real good team, too. We didn’t expect to get swept by them at all. We actually believed we could win the series.”
Brett Pirtle was 2-for-4 and drove in two runs for the Bulldogs, who stranded 10 on base Sunday and 28 over their three losses in Nashville while scoring just six runs.
Conrad Gregor was 3-for-3 with three RBIs and a solo homer for Vandy.
MSU returns to action at home on Friday to open an SEC series with Alabama.