By Miss. State Media Relations
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. – Nick Routt picked up his first win as Mississippi State led from start to finish in a 5-3 Southeastern Conference baseball win over Tennessee Saturday afternoon at Lindsey Nelson Stadium.
Coupled with Friday’s 16-5 victory, the Bulldogs clinched the weekend series with Saturday’s victory. For MSU, it is their second conference victory of the season. The Bulldogs also claimed their first conference road series since winning twice at Ole Miss in 2009. MSU also takes a road series in Knoxville for the first time since 2001. Granted, MSU did win one game in a rain-shortened series in 2007.
With the victory, the Bulldogs improved to 28-18 overall and 10-13 in league play. Tennessee fell to 22-22 and 5-18. MSU remains tied with Ole Miss for fourth place in the Western Division standings and eighth place in the overall league standings. For the Bulldogs, this marks their most league wins since 2007.
In his longest start of the season, Routt was lifted after a leadoff walk in the Tennessee seventh inning. Routt (1-2) allowed five hits and three runs (all earned), with three strikeouts and five walks. Tim Statz faced three batters in relief. Taylor Stark worked the final 2.2 innings of hitless relief to earn his second save. Stark struck out four and walked one.
“Nick did not have his best control but for the most part, he pitched well,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “I can’t say enough about what Taylor Stark did for our ballclub. He was great out of the bullpen. We really needed that lift.”
The Bulldogs built an early 4-0 lead with single scores in the first and third innings and two scores in the fourth inning.
In the first inning, Ryan Collins started things with a one-out single. After a steal of second base and a walk to Cody Freeman, Nick Vickerson delivered an RBI-double. That hit scored Collins but Freeman was retired at home.
In the third inning, Hunter Renfroe hit a leadoff double – his first hit with the Maroon and White. After a sacrifice bunt, Renfroe came home on RBI-groundout hit by Collins. In the fourth inning, Vickerson and Jaron Shepherd hit back-to-back solo home runs. For Vickerson, it was his fourth, while Shepherd has now hit three.
“Normally solo home runs are a curse,” Cohen said. “However, on this afternoon they certainly turned out to be a blessing.”
The Volunteers broke up the shutout with a single score in the fourth inning. In the fifth inning, each team scored a single run. The Bulldogs tallied when C.T. Bradford doubled and later scored on a sacrifice-fly by Collins.
In the seventh inning, the Volunteers had that last shot. Tennessee loaded the bases thanks to two walks and a fielding error. However, UT only plated one score.
From there, Stark closed the door – only allowing one base runner, on a ninth inning one-out walk.
“This team came to Tennessee and needed to make a statement,” Cohen said. “We have been able to do that this weekend.”
The Bulldogs finished with nine hits – snapping a streak of three straight games with double-digit hits. Collins and Vickerson had multiple hits. Vickerson remains on fire with 16 hits in his last 29 at-bats. Third baseman Jarrod Parks ran his hit streak to 19 games.
Matt Duffy had two of Tennessee’s five hits.
UT starter Nick Blount (1-3) worked four innings, while taking the loss. Blount allowed six hits and four runs (all earned), with one strikeout and two walks.
The Mother’s Day series finale is set for 1 p.m. CT Sunday and will be televised regionally by SportSouth. MSU is scheduled to start sophomore right-hander Chris Stratton (4-5, 4.98 ERA), while the UT starter has not been announced.