They did indeed. Presented with some unintended offensive second-chances early in the evening, the Gamecocks cashed them in for their first five runs. More than enough, it turned out, to take care of series-opening business and improve to 30-7, 13-3 SEC. Mississippi State slipped to 23-15, 6-10.
South Carolina scored once in the first inning after a catcher’s interference call provided the key at-bat; then twice in the second as a fielding error by Ogden at least kept the inning alive for another big hit. And just to make it hurt more, in the fourth frame number-eight batter Evan Marzilli seized upon unlikely life after a not-quite-checked swing wasn’t called an obvious strikeout. He responded with a two-run homer that settled the outcome.
Then again those first three runs might well have been enough as things played out. “We weren’t as efficient on the mound as they were, and we weren’t as efficient defensively,” Coach John Cohen said. “And we did not have good at-bats against one of the best guys in our league.”
That would be lefthander Michael Roth. The junior backed up his record and reputation with a 6.1 inning outing, shaking off consecutive one-run turns to generally control Bulldog bats. Roth (9-1) allowed three hits with three walks and four strikeouts, and if maybe not at his most efficient he got the job done. With, as noted by the coach, excellent defense all over the infield.
“There’s a reason why Roth is 9-1. He can pitch. He throws three different pitches in the strike zone and it’s hard to see it coming out of his hand. If you’re going to beat this guy it’s going to be a low-scoring game. And we didn’t handle that very well.”
State starter Chris Stratton (4-5) had his hands full for one, ending up with seven S.C. runs charged on nine hits. He walked one and struck out three and was lifted a hit into the sixth inning, taking his third loss in as many SEC weekends now.
“He’s just elevating pitches in the hitting zone,” Cohen said. “When he’s down in the zone he’s really good, when he’s elevating pitches and getting behind people. He becomes a little bit generic, and generic gets you killed in this league.”
Yet in his defense Stratton also paid the price for those two early defensive gaffes. He has two outs and one on in the opening inning and the turn ended on a ground ball, except C Wes Thigpen interfered with the batter. That gave Adrian Morales the chance to swing, and drop a double in rightfield scoring Christian Walker. Thigpen made up for it by picking Morales off the base.
In the second South Carolina had a runner on second with an out as Marzilli spanked his ground ball right to Ogden. He got glove down but not the ball out leaving two safe on bases. Number-nine batter Robert Beary made it hurt with a double to right-centerfield for the 3-1 lead.
“We made a couple of mistakes, and they just took advantage of it,” Ogden said. “We made a couple of errors in the game and they capitalized on little things like that.”
The Bulldogs created their own early chances and converted to some extent. A leadoff walk of CF C.T. Bradford, passed ball as LF Brent Brownlee squared to bunt, then a successful sacrifice allowed 3B Jarrod Parks to temporarily tie the score with his run-scoring single past shortstop. And in the bottom of the second Ogden redeemed himself with a fly ball that carried over left-centerfield for a solo homer and his team-best seventh shot of the season.
But the big missed chance to really get to Roth came in the third as Bradford was plunked and Brownlee’s bunt booted for two on and no outs. Parks, the SEC’s leading hitter at .402, was given the bunt sign. “Jarrod is a line-drive/ground ball guy and with nobody out in that situation the last thing you want is a ground ball right at somebody,” Cohen explained.
Parks bunted but instead to the right side as planned it bounced leftwards where Roth could field on the run and, after a bit of bobble, flip to third base to out the leading runner. A grounder and fly ball kept a one-run lead, before South Carolina did some fourth-inning expanding. With one on and one out Stratton screwed Marzilli around on a 1-2 check swing, but neither the home ump nor the infield appeal drew the correct strike call.
Two pitches later Marzilli slugged the shot, his second longball of the year. Stratton ended that inning with his first strikeout, then fanned two more in the fifth before a single and plunking brought more trouble. Peter Mooney knocked the first chance up the middle for a 6-2 lead, though he stretched his luck and was tagged short of second. Stratton was at 88 pitches by then; when his 89th was knocked into centerfield for a dive-play double the evening was over.
Tim Statz inherited the runner, with Williams immediately joined by Marzilli who was trying to sacrifice. But his bunt was blooped far enough to the left side that Marzilli beat out the throw. Williams came home on a 6-4-3 double-play. In the third, consecutive hits with one out had a pair on, and after ball-one Statz was lifted for Devin Jones. He struck out Morales and with two on rolled a grounder in his brief stint.
Andrew Busby took care of the South Carolina eighth despite plunking Beary. The ninth went to rookie Hunter Renfroe, who allowed a leadoff single and two-out double—Mooney—for the night’s last run.
Meanwhile Roth rolled on behind sufficient support. A two-out walk of 1B Daryl Norris in the fourth did nothing. Nor did putting a pair on one out into the fifth as Brownlee singled and Parks was plunked. Consecutive fly-outs to rightfield stranded them. He came back for the seventh and an outing of Bradford, who was leading-off for the fourth time, before bowing out.
John Taylor worked the next 2.1 with just a hit against two strikeouts, then with two down in the ninth State sent Jaron Shepherd to pinch-hit. South Carolina changed mound matchups with Logan Munson, who plunked Shepherd and gave a single to Bradford. Jose Mata was signaled in to ground out Brownlee.
The Gamecocks collected 14 hits, four of them doubles with Marzilli’s homer. Christian Walker was the swinging star though with a 4-of-5 evening and two runs scored. Five Dogs had a base hit each, Ogden’s shot the only one for extra bases. Parks extended his hitting streak to 11 games with a single, and he has hit safely in 31 of 37 games played this senior season.
Allowing for the defending champs’ solid showing to start the series, the Bulldogs were more upset at their own shortcomings. “It does get frustrating, but you just have to keep battling through it and have faith you’re going to get it done,” Ogden said. “And start hitting, getting more guys in and getting more RBI.”
Bulldog batters will get their chances in another evening game, as Saturday’s second contest won’t start until 6:06 for regional telecast. State will sent junior lefthander Nick Routt (0-2, 4.91) up against S.C. sophomore righty Colby Holmes (3-1, 4.19).