STARKVILLE – Anthony Ranaudo didn’t look like the SEC’s second-best pitcher … at first.
After a rough start, LSU’s 6-foot-7 sophomore right-hander handcuffed Mississippi State’s hitters in the No. 2-ranked Tigers’ 5-4 victory Thursday night.
In front of 2,626 fans at Dudy Noble Field, Ranaudo turned in 7.1 innings of four-run, six-hit ball. None of those runs or hits came after the third inning.
He retired 14 of the last 15 batters he faced, finally leaving with one out in the eighth and LSU leading 5-4. Ranaudo (7-3) entered the game with the SEC’s second-best ERA, which now stands at 3.26.
“He got back in a rhythm because he’s got a lot of skill,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “And guys that have skill can jump right back into the middle of it.”
Ranaudo’s lockdown effort allowed LSU (40-14, 19-9 SEC) to rally from an early 4-1 hole and remain in first place in the SEC. The Tigers are one game ahead of Florida and Ole Miss and one-and-a-half games ahead of Alabama in the race for the SEC Tournament’s top seed.
MSU’s bullpen wasted a solid effort by starter Tyler Whitney, who was charged with three runs on five hits, striking out two and walking four in six-plus innings.
What made it worse was how LSU got the lead – on a wild pitch by Chad Crosswhite with two outs in the eighth. Jared Mitchell, who’d reached on a double, scored on an 0-2 slider that missed big.
“I’m not sure Grant Fuhr could’ve stopped that ball, just watching it on the (video) screen there,” Cohen said.
Crosswhite (0-4) gave up three hits and the one run in 2.2 innings.
LSU’s Matty Ott got the final five outs for his 12th save of the year.
It was 4-1 MSU when Whitney exited with no outs, two on in the seventh, but Lee Swindle’s first pitch was smacked by No. 9 hitter Austin Nola to right-center for a two-run double. Swindle was chased two batters later after Mahtook’s RBI single tied the game.
“I think it’s symbolic of a lot of games we’ve had this year,” Cohen said. “You’ve got to be able to step out there late in the game and really just shut down a big inning, and we just allowed it to happen.”
For Whitney, it was a second straight strong outing. He earned a win against then-No. 7 Ole Miss last weekend.
He yielded a first-inning solo home run to Mikie Mahtook on Thursday but gave up just two hits from the second through sixth innings.
“Seems like if I can get past the first couple innings without too much damage, I was going to be OK,” Whitney said. “I was able to settle down and pitch at a good height level down in the zone and get ahead a lot with the slider.”
MSU (24-28, 8-19) got its 4-1 lead with a three-run third. Russ Sneed and Jet Butler had run-scoring singles, and Frank Rawdow capped the frame with a sac fly.
The Bulldogs must now face the league’s ERA leader, Louis Coleman (10-2, 2.45), in today’s 6:30 p.m. game.
“If you’ve got two guys, three guys with the numbers that they have, you’re going to win a lot of games,” Cohen said. “Unfortunately, we’re not there yet, but we will be.”
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal