By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – John Cohen doesn’t want his players scoreboard-watching, but that’s about all there was to do by the halfway point of Thursday night’s game against LSU.
The Tigers eviscerated the Bulldogs’ pitching in a 17-1 win witnessed by 3,415 at Dudy Noble Field. The series-opening setback puts MSU at 33-20 overall and 13-15 in SEC play.
MSU, which entered the series in a four-way tied for first in the Western Division, is now in a four-way tie for second with Arkansas, Auburn and Ole Miss. Alabama, at 14-14, is in first and clinched an SEC Tournament berth with a 2-1 win over South Carolina.
Cohen doesn’t want to worry too much with other results, only with getting his team to bounce back today.
“I think our kids really understand that tonight was an anomaly,” Cohen said. “I felt like tonight, I didn’t feel like we had great energy, which is very disappointing.”
State has been in this situation before. It was shut out twice by Vanderbilt back on opening weekend but rallied to win the third game. The Bulldogs suffered an 18-0 loss to Florida a few weeks ago but played the Gators tough the next day in a loss.
“We’ll use this to make us angry and come back tomorrow with another chip on our shoulder and prove that we’re a way better team than the way we played tonight,” catcher Wes Thigpen said.
MSU could possibly clinch a tournament berth with a win today. If it wins and Arkansas beats Ole Miss, and then if Florida wins the Eastern Division, the Bulldogs would be in due to a tie-breaker.
There’s a good chance the East won’t be decided until Saturday. And there are several other ways for State to make the field.
As for LSU, which has won 11 of its last 13 games, it needs to sweep MSU and get some help to get into the tournament.
An offense that’s been up-and-down this season was in fifth gear early on Thursday.
LSU was leading 7-1 when it put up a 10-spot in the sixth inning, sending 14 batters to the plate. The run total was the Tigers’ highest this season, and it was their largest margin of victory since a 20-3 win over Auburn in 2003.
Mikie Mahtook, the second-leading hitter in the SEC behind State’s Jarrod Parks, was 3 of 4 with a home run and four RBIs. It was his fifth three-hit game this season, and his 15th multi-RBI game.
Nine of LSU’s 15 hits went for extra bases.
“I was just glad to see us get some big hits and bust the game open,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I want the kids to be ultra-confident, and we have been for most of the last few weeks.”
LSU starter Kevin Gausman (5-6) gave up one run on four hits in 72⁄3 innings, striking out seven and walking one on 110 pitches.
After a double and a two-run single his first two times up, Mahtook stepped into the box in the fifth with a man on and launched a Luis Pollorena (6-4) pitch over the left-center field wall to give LSU a commanding 7-1 lead.
It was part of a four-run inning that also featured back-to-back RBI doubles by Raph Rhymes and Mason Katz.
Pollorena was charged with seven runs – all earned – on seven hits in 41⁄3 innings. He walked two, hit a batter, struck out one and threw 80 pitches.
“We didn’t throw enough first-pitch strikes,” Thigpen said. “We know where they’re weak, and we just really didn’t expose it as much as we needed to.”
Junior left-hander Nick Routt (2-2, 3.86 ERA) will start on the mound for MSU today, and Cohen expects a much different Bulldog team to take the field than the one he saw Thursday.