BATON ROUGE, La. – Chris Stratton had a front-row seat to watch LSU roll up run after run against any Mississippi State pitcher who took the mound in the first two games of an SEC series at Alex Box Stadium.
So the Bulldog freshman and former Tupelo High star knew exactly what he was getting into Saturday when his turn in the rotation came.
“They can hit,” he said, shaking his head with a smile. “They can definitely hit.”
Thing is, Stratton can pitch a little bit too. And his pitching trumped the Tigers’ red-hot bats in the season finale of a rocky year for MSU.
Stratton notched seven shutout innings and allowed just three LSU hits, holding the Tigers off long enough for the Bulldogs to finish the season with a 2-1 triumph.
LSU got back-to-back singles in the first inning and a one-out base hit in the fourth and that was it against Stratton, who won his fifth game when Kendall Graveman came on for a two-inning save, his first.
It wasn’t without some drama. Stratton walked six, including three to lead off innings. But he stranded nine Tigers and didn’t let a runner get past second base after the opening frame.
He struck out seven, six with runners on. LSU’s red-hot hitting Micah Gibbs fanned twice with a runner in scoring position.
“I really mixed up pitches well and tried my best to limit damage and that was a big key,” Stratton said. “I really trusted in my coaches and my catcher. (Wes Thigpen) has done a great job all year, and me and (pitching coach Butch Thompson) have really been on the same page and that’s really helped out in the last several ball games.”
Just enough offense
And the State offense, although handcuffed most of the day, helped just enough.
After walking Bulldog leadoff hitter Nick Vickerson on five pitches to begin the game, LSU starter Chris Matulis got two outs and was on his way out of trouble.
But a wild pickoff throw to first base moved Vickerson to second and he swiped third when Matulis barely checked him at second. Ryan Duffy’s line-drive base hit to right field gave the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead.
Then in the eighth – right after Stratton struck out Gibbs for the second time – MSU scratched a second run on a Tiger error with the bases loaded.
Russ Sneed and Jaron Shepherd looked at third strikes against LSU reliever Paul Bertuccini to begin the eighth, before Jet Butler walked, Thigpen singled to center and Bertuccini plunked nine-hole hitter Jonathan Ogden on a 2-and-2 pitch to load the bases.
Vickerson tapped the first offering slowly to the left side of the infield, where Tiger third baseman Alex Edward darted in front of shortstop Austin Nola and scooped the ball up but threw high to first base. Vickerson was safe and pinch-runner Sam Frost scored for a 2-0 State edge.
“I was having trouble gripping ball and keeping the ball dry,” Bertuccini said. “The one I hit the guy with slipped out of my hands. The ground ball was one of those in-between balls and I can’t fault my defense. I just can’t put my team in that situation.”
Graveman gave up a run in the bottom of the eighth but averted more damage with two huge ground balls.
With the bases loaded after a pair of hits and a walk, Graveman got slugger Matt Gaudet on a 6-4-3 twin killing and ended the inning by inducing Edward to roll out to shortstop.
In the ninth, Graveman stranded LSU’s 11th runner after a one-out walk, to help the Bulldogs salvage a win in the series and snap a 14-game SEC losing streak.
A day after pounding State 17-3, LSU was 1 for 20 with a runner on base, 0 for 10 with a runner in scoring position. Stratton was the culprit for most of that.
“He was phenomenal,” Bulldogs’ coach John Cohen said. “His curve ball was good and so was his changeup, which he really just started getting comfortable with about two weeks ago. He’s tough. Any time you see hitters of LSU’s caliber swinging at bad pitches, there’s deception and movement and something special going on there. He got a lot of chases on elevated fastballs and that’s what the good ones can do.”
Randy Rosetta/Baton Rouge Advocate