By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Mississippi State has been here before, but now there’s more than just a series on the line.
The Bulldogs are fighting for their season after Friday’s 11-1 loss to Florida in the first game of the Gainesville Super Regional. Game 2 is at 11 a.m. today, and the Gators can clinch their seventh College World Series berth with a victory.
Back in early April, MSU (37-24) lost the second game of its home series against Florida by an 18-0 count. State played much better the next day but fell 3-1 and lost the series.
“You’ve just got to forget about them as soon as you leave the park,” senior Jarrod Parks said. “Like coach said earlier in our (postgame) huddle, the preparation for the next game starts as soon as we leave here.”
MSU hopes it can recapture the momentum it gained in last weekend’s NCAA Regional but saw evaporate in the relentless Florida heat.
The Bulldogs confronted the Hudson Randall they were supposed to have seen in Starkville. The Gators’ sophomore right-hander allowed one run on six hits in eight innings, striking out a season-high eight and tossing 115 pitches – 81 of them for strikes.
After recording five strikeouts through the first two innings, Randall (10-3) was able to settle in and pitch to contact and let his defense do the work.
It was a far better outing for Randall than the first time he faced State, when he gave up six runs on nine hits in 2 1/3 innings.
“Last time in Starkville I think I was just leaving the ball up too much,” Randall said. “I’m a sinker ball pitcher, so I was sinking the ball a little bit better and hitting my spots, both sides of the plate.”
MSU had seven hits and finally pushed a run across in the sixth inning on Jaron Shepherd’s RBI groundout.
“By our charts, we had 10 hard hits that were outs,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “It’s hard to get going when you’ve got a guy with really good command, and when you do hit a ball hard it’s an out.”
On the other side, the Evan Mitchell of late was not the one that showed up Friday. MSU’s freshman starter, who pitched well against Florida in the SEC Tournament and shut out Austin Peay for eight innings in the NCAA Regional, gave up seven runs on five hits with three walks in two-plus innings.
Mitchell fell to 6-2 on the season.
Florida (49-16) jumped out with a four-run first inning. Mike Zunino had a two-run single, and two batters later Tyler Thompson stroked a two-run double.
Home runs by Nolan Fontana and Zunino helped Florida build the lead to 7-0 after three innings. It grew to 10-0 after five.
“The thing that we have to do against a really good club like Florida is we have to throw the ball in the strike zone immediately,” Cohen said. “And Evan’s done such a great job in his last three or four outings. He got behind instantly, the two walks in the first inning score.”
The Gators have now won six in a row and nine of their last 10, and they’ve not missed a beat without pitcher/designated hitter Brian Johnson and first baseman/closer Austin Maddox, who have both been out with injuries.
Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan, who in four years at UF is 12-4 in regionals and super regionals, had a very specific message for his team following Friday’s win.
“This job is not done. We talked about that as soon as the game was over,” he said. “Mississippi State’s got a great ball club. They’ve earned the right to play in this super regional.
“I can assure you we’ll be ready to play.”
Contact Brad Locke at 678-1571 or firstname.lastname@example.org.