Taylor Stark spotted a check-swing strike on the outside corner to strand tying Bison on bases as Mississippi State (8-2) took the first game of a Saturday set at Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs and Connecticut had a 2:30 contest as part of the four-team, three-day event. It was a rematch of Friday afternoon’s nailbiter won by State 5-4 with all the offense coming in the last three innings, including the tying and winning scores on a Connecticut error in the bottom of the ninth.
That outcome typified much of this early season for Mississippi State. They have made a habit of staying close or falling behind for two-thirds of contests before striking late. Against Lipscomb, the Bulldogs reversed the gameplan by scoring twice in the opening inning and four times more in the second. The trick this time was making that stand up as Bulldog bats cooled fast and managed only four base hits in their last six turns.
Fortunately the Bison waited a little too late themselves, and despite MSU fielding errors opening the door Lipscomb (4-5) could not come all the way back. Stark made sure of it, earning his first save of the season.
He worked in support of long-reliever Trevor Fitts, the winner based on 4.1 middle innings. Freshman Fitts (2-0) was impressive for most of his stint, having done some door-slamming himself to strand a pair in Lipscomb’s fourth inning after the Bison had scored twice. He retired 13 of the 16 batters faced through eight innings with three strikeouts and no walks.
But the ninth opened with a fielding error by SS Matthew Britton, then a single off Aaron Sandoval’s bat for two on and no outs. Coach John Cohen called in a well-warmed Stark who himself got greeted by another shortstop error that scored the lead Bison; then a Noah Chandler single to load all bases with tying runners.
Sophomore Stark wasn’t rattled. He grounded order-topper M.L. Williams to third base for an easy force at home, then got a grounder to second base for an out at the middle base while Taylor Stewart scored. It was Lipscomb’s last chance. Zach Lowery had been struck out by two prior State pitchers and on 1-2 he waved just enough at Stark’s offering on the outer half for the strikeout.
Kendall Graveman started for State and worked the first 3.2 turns with two runs on half of LU’s ten base hits, striking out four. The three Dog moundsmen combined for eight strikeouts, and walked none of the 39 batters faced.
Bison starter Chris Nunn (0-1) took the loss on just 1.2 rocky innings with all six State runs on five hits, four walks, and a single strikeout. He got a pair hung on him immediately as with one out 2B Adam Frazier sliced a short drive behind third base that rolled far enough for a double. 3B Daryl Norris singled him home, advanced on a 1B Wes Rea single, and scored with two outs on LF Hunter Renfroe’s base knock.
The inning ended oddly as with bases loaded Nunn threw behind SS Matthew Britton’s head, and hit the bat. The carom came back into the field of play for a ground-out.
Nunn was on borrowed time though as he put four Bulldogs on bases in the second inning without a base hit amongst them. He did fan gimpy LF Brent Brownlee to start the frame but his catcher didn’t catch and the runner reached. One-out walks of Frazier and Norris loaded it up, and with two down Rea scored Brownlee on a fly ball.
A walk of C Mitch Slauter re-loaded everything for Renfroe. The leftfielder went behind a couple of strikes, then lined a double between center- and right-fielders to send everyone else home for a 6-0 lead. That finally brought a Bison change with Tyler Burstrom stranding one with a real strikeout.
Leaving a few unscored Dogs didn’t seem to matter much with Graveman sitting the first eight-faced and leaving one on in the third. He lost his shutout in the fourth, with Lipscomb getting something going on their own strikeout/wild pitch to open the inning. A single and bunt had two Bison in scoring positions and with two down Gray Hutchinson singled through shortstop for a 6-2 score.
Another base hit brought Trevor Fitts to the hill with a pair on. He ended the rally with a popup, then hung four full scoreless full innings on the board. The seventh might have gotten troublesome with consecutive singles after two outs, before leftfielder Renfroe ran down a foul-fly.
State could have expanded in the fifth, and should have in the seventh as Demarcus Henderson singled and Britton executed the run-and-hit for Dogs on corners. Or should have been, because the Bison rightfielder threw behind him and got a tag on the uncertain freshman.
Gil Rehwinkle retired the Dogs in their eighth and they didn’t have to swing in the ninth. Renfroe was 3-of-4 with four RBI to set State’s scoring pace, while Norris had a pair of hits, scored twice and had one RBI. Lipscomb’s Sandoval was 3-of-4, and both Chandler and Williams had two hits.
The Bison play twice Sunday, facing UConn at 11:00am and State again at 2:30. Freshman righty Will Cox is expected to start the afternoon game.