FINAL: No. 2 South Carolina 8, MSU 2

The buzz: The record keeps skipping: MSU had chances but couldn’t come through at the plate, and starter Chris Stratton continued to struggle. And shortstop Jonathan Ogden made another error. The Bulldogs (23-15, 6-10 SEC) seem to have hit a wall in their return to respectability, and it was encapsulated in tonight’s performance. Of course, this was against the reigning national champions, who boast one of the league’s best Friday starters.

Big inning: I’ll go a slightly different direction and say the bottom of the third. MSU was trailing 3-2, and the first two batters – C.T. Bradford and Brent Brownlee – reached. No outs, and Jarrod Parks steps to the plate with two speed demons on base. Naturally, the SEC’s leading hitter drops down a bunt, and the out is made at third base. Oomph. Next two guys went quietly, rally killed.

Key stats: MSU stranded nine base runners despite getting only five hits. South Carolina (30-7, 13-3) had 14 hits, five of them for extra bases. MSU made two errors and gave up two unearned runs.

MSU at the plate: Nobody had multiple hits for State, and it was 1 for 6 with runners in scoring position through the first five innings, when it was still a game. Nick Vickerson struck out three times, and check this out: Through the first six innings, Wes Thigpen and Taylor Stark each made the last out three times. Ogden hit a solo homer in the second inning to cut SC’s lead to 3-2.

South Carolina at the plate: I mentioned the hits. Christian Walker had four of them, all singles. Evan Marzilli had a two-run homer in the fourth to give SC a 5-2 lead. Marzilli, Peter Mooney and Robert Beary – a trio that entering the game had a combined batting average of .254 – were altogether 5 of 10 with six RBIs tonight.

MSU on the mound: Stratton (4-5) has an ERA of 11.85 over his last three outings. He was charged with seven runs (five earned) on nine hits, struck out three and walked one. He was pulled after facing one batter in the sixth and was followed by four relievers.

South Carolina on the mound: Starter Michael Roth (9-1) wasn’t overwhelming, but he was sure effective. In 6.1 innings, he allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, fanned four and walked three. The sidearmed lefty threw 109 pitches and gave way to three relievers.

Bottom line: It’s got to be frustrating for MSU to put itself in good positions against some of the best teams in the country and continually come up short. This is the third top-five team MSU has faced this season, and it’s now 2-5 in those games. A potentially bigger issue is Stratton, who coach John Cohen said is elevating his pitches; two weekends ago, he wasn’t finishing pitches, which perhaps goes hand-in-hand with elevating. He’s supposed to be State’s ace.

Quotable: “We’re going to fight through. We’re going to keep our heads up, and it’s going to happen for us.” – Ogden

Up next: Game 2 is set for a 6:06 p.m. start Saturday and will be broadcast on FSN South. MSU junior lefty Nick Routt (0-2, 4.91) will face off against sophomore righty Colby Holmes (3-1, 4.19).