By Randy Rossetta/Baton Rouge Advocate
BATON ROUGE, La. – With not much but pride to play for, Mississippi State could’ve taken a couple of different paths Thursday when they opened a season-ending series at LSU.
The Bulldogs chose to be a thorn in the side of the Tigers, who are fighting for a spot in the SEC Tournament after a late-season swoon.
It still wasn’t enough, though, as State tumbled 14-13 in a back-and-forth battle at Alex Box Stadium.
Nick Vickerson and Luke Adkins sparked a 16-hit attack from the top of the batting order. Those two popped back-to-back solo homers to start the night, and Vickerson went 3-for-5 with three runs while Adkins was 4-for-5 with four RBIs and three runs.
The Tigers (35-19, 13-15 SEC) never shook free from the Bulldogs until the final few innings and it took LSU ace Anthony Ranaudo to finish off the win. He allowed a leadoff double to Russ Sneed in the ninth, but wiggled off the hook by getting Jaron Shepherd to pop out to the catch on a bunt attempt, striking out Sam Frost and getting Wes Thigpen to on a foul popup to end the game.
State (22-32, 5-23) pulled even, 9-9 in the seventh when Adkins walked with the bases loaded and two outs against LSU’s Paul Bertuccini, the Tigers’ fourth pitcher of the night.
An inning later, the Bulldogs blasted in front 13-12 with Frost’s sacrifice fly and RBI singles from Thigpen and Adkins the big blows. Ranaudo hit Conner Powers with the bases loaded to force in the go-ahead run but then blew a full-count fastball past Ryan Duffy to end the inning.
LSU rallied from behind for the third time of the night when Micah Gibbs cranked a solo home run off State reliever Caleb Reed to even the score 13-13. Reed walked Blake Dean and Austin Nola dropped a soft single into right center that sent Dean scurrying around to third base.
Facing Matt Gaudet, who already had a pair of two-run homers, Reed gave up a fly ball to deep center that scored Dean for a the 14-13 lead.
The Bulldogs had to overcome a pair of shoddy defensive plays that led to a six-run LSU second inning and erased an early four-run cushion.
Down 4-0, LSU exploded after Adkins nonchalantly chased down a one-out fly ball near the foul line and dropped it for an error. Two pitches later, Gaudet launched a two-run home run.
Whitney got the second out but then surrendered three straight solid singles, the last to leadoff hitter Mikie Mahtook. Left fielder Ryan Duffy scooped up the ball as a run scored and alertly threw toward second base. But Jet Butler wasn’t looking and the ball scooted into foul territory just behind first base to allow Tyler Hanover to dash around with the tying run and Mahtook to get to third base.
Trey Watkins’ sharply hit ground ball to Vickerson at third took a bad hop for an infield RBI single that plated he go-ahead run. Watkins sprinted around two hitters later when Blake Dean rifled a single through the middle, LSU’s seventh hit of the inning.
The Bulldogs roared out of the gate when Vickerson and Adkins pounded solo home runs off Tiger starter Joey Bourgeois for a 2-0 lead.
After Powers walked and Bourgeois retired Duffy, Sneed lashed a triple off the right-field fence to nudge the lead to 3-0.
Vickerson and Adkins struck again an inning later. With two outs Vickerson fought off an inside pitch and dumped a single to left field and stole second. Two pitches later Adkins laced a base hit to right field to plate Vickerson for a 4-0 cushion.