The entire Mississippi State squad will second that notion, after laying the lumber—or, alloy—to Auburn in a Saturday afternoon romp at Dudy Noble Field. The Diamond Dogs racked up a season-best 21 base hits, and scored 13 of their 15 runs in just the first two innings to take care of business. And, in the process, clinch the weekend series following Friday’s 7-6 success.
State improved to 17-6, 3-2 SEC, while the visiting and #22-ranked Tigers are 14-9, 2-3.
Rightfielder Collins was not entirely correct in his first impression; only eight in the starting State order hit safely, and just one of the four late-game substitutes garnered a base knock. But a bunch of Bulldogs had big days at the dish, none more than Collins as he went 4-for-4 with two RBI and two runs. 1B Daryl Norris was 3-of-5 and scored three times, while SS Jonathan Ogden busted out of a recent slump with a two-run homer, a three-run double, and for the fun of it a single. He ended up with five RBI and scored three times as well.
What mattered more than the totals was how State’s offense concentrated their assault in the opening innings. They scored eight times in just the first inning, five more in the second. Even more impressive was how 12 Bulldog runs came with two outs.
“I think probably just our approach is probably better,” said Collins, also giving credit to the tough but productive lessons learned a week ago against superb Vanderbilt pitching. Ogden noted the offense is continuing to swing as they did in this past week’s batting practices. “We all feel good at the plate right now and we’re meshing well as a team in every way.”
#1 fan of all the offense was of course State starter Chris Stratton (4-1). Staked to a huge advantage so early, the sophomore righthander just went about matters for 7.1 innings, eventually responsible for four Tiger runs on five hits with four walks and five strikeouts.
“He did a great job,” Coach John Cohen said. “I think it was a little bit of a challenge today, Stratton hung in there.”
With, at the time, a 15-4 lead. Auburn was able to take advantage of relievers Evan Mitchell and Hunter Renfroe to score some pride points with four runs in the last inning, aided by iffy infielding from a substituted lineup. Veteran Caleb Reed had to enter with loaded bases and one out, completing the afternoon with a double-play ground ball (one scoring) and strikeout.
Cohen tried to avoid calling on Reed, who’d worked 1.2 innings clutch Friday relief already. “But we knew he was going to throw it in the strike zone and get us a ground ball.”
Auburn opener Will Irvin (3-1) had a far shorter stint, lasting just two outs into the first Bulldog inning. Before he could be relieved he’d been hit six times with a walk and his final line was for the first seven State runs. “We were making him throw strikes,” said Collins. “He wasn’t commanding a whole lot of his off-speed for strikes so we were jumping on the fastball. And it’s amazing how once things get rolling the hits keep coming. Guys kept attacking.”
That meant attacking Slade Smith over his 4.1 innings with the other eight State runs on 12 hits and a walk. In fact no Dog struck out until seventh inning and only four in all.
The onslaught was immediate with 2B Nick Vickerson leading off on a single. Collins hit safely two and, at this early point, both were bunted over. So a hit from C Cody Freeman made it 2-0. Irvin might have survived another hit and even a two-out walk, except this brought up Ogden. The senior shortstop lined his drive just fair down the left stripe to score everyone in front of him. Another hit finally chased Irvin, but Smith came in against the top of the order and Vickerson doubled for one RBI before Collins made it 8-0 with his second single of the inning.
Auburn did scratch out a run in their second aided by Ogden’s high throw of first to put Dan Gamache on second. A couple of ground balls moved him around and home before Stratton ended this frame with a pop-out. He’d sat through a 22-minute first inning; now he had a comparable wait as the offense went back to work. With two on freshman 2B Adam Frazier scored classmate Norris with a single. Ogden came home on a Tiger infield error; then Collins got his third hit and another RBI. It was 3B Jarrod Parks capping the inning with a two-run double for the 13-1 lead.
Battling a straight-out wind, Stratton got two more scoreless frames until the fifth when a walk, one-out double, and consecutive singles produced a pair of Tiger runs. He wild-pitched in another. Cohen said the wind and the potential Auburn batters showed with a bunch of long Friday fly balls affected Stratton’s pitching plans. “And getting a big lead like that you can’t get in a rhythm, he struggled with that today with his command. But he did enough to get in the eighth inning.”
And any real concerns were eased in the bottom of the fifth when Ogden came up with Norris on first base. He liked the first pitch and drove it high and long over leftfield for his team-best fourth homer of the season. “I guess I’ll give credit for another home run to the wind. I’ll take it!”
From there it was merely a matter of playing out the game, though the Tigers did make it a little more interesting at the end as Cohen put freshman faces in the field. “When the opportunity presents itself we’ve got to get those young guys in there.” Though there were misplays and missed chances to make plays, a healthy margin and Reed in the bullpen minimized any anxiety.
Auburn did collect 11 hits, with two each from starting leftfielder Cullen Wacker and sub-rightfielder Bobby Andrews. The Tigers had two doubles, the rest were singletons.
After having to get a clutch double, from Freeman, with two outs in the ninth to win Friday’s nailbiter, game-two was much more enjoyable in-process. Particularly as a Dog offense that had been sputtering not too long ago broke loose in a big way. “I don’t know what we’re doing, hopefully it carries on,” Collins said.
Then again senior Collins, more than most Dogs, does know what Sunday means. The last SEC sweep by a Bulldog team was in 2007, ironically also against Auburn at home. For that matter the last time a Cohen club was better than break-even in SEC play was two games into his first series, in 2009. Just winning this weekend is big enough, but to take Sunday’s third chance?
“We won the first two, now the next step is to win the third game,” Collins said. “We haven’t done it since I’ve been here in the SEC so that would be huge. Especially with us going on the road next weekend.”
Cohen confirmed that junior lefthander Nick Routt (0-0, 2.70) will start game-three. Routt missed all but one SEC series in 2010 and only 11 days ago made his ’11 debut by working 3.1 innings at Lipscomb. A good outing for Routt would mean big things for State’s rotation the rest of the season, but Cohen also has the security of a mostly-fresh bullpen at Sunday disposal.
“It all has to do with how he’s feeling but we’d love to get between 60 and 70 pitches out of him,” said Cohen, adding that the forecast ought to be much more favorable for all moundsmen. “I think the wind is going to turn and come out of the north tomorrow, and that will change the whole nature of the game.”
Auburn expects to start with righthander Derek Varnadore (3-0, 3.09).