"When you win the first two and don't win the third one it's disappointing, that's the one you remember the most," Coach John Cohen said. "But I think our baseball team is playing at a much higher level now than earlier in our season. We played a very good Vanderbilt team."
A better Commodore club than showed up for Friday's 17-2 rout, or even in a 6-3 Saturday loss. For that matter the Sunday final margin was equally deceiving. All Vanderbilt runs came in the last three innings, as did the lone Bulldog score. And with just a made-play or two as well as a couple of balls placed better with less zip…the sweep was within realistic reach.
"That's baseball," said RHP Trevor Fitts. "The past couple of days we've taken the two from them. We had good ABs both those days, we had good ABs today I thought. So things are looking good."
Fitts certainly looked good for most of his 6.1 starting innings. The junior threw two-thirds of a shutout and very nearly kept it scoreless into the stretch. Fitts (2-1) wasn't even on the hill when the Commodores broke scoring ice in the seventh, on a squeeze-play. Still he took the decision with the first run, after five hits with a lone walk and six strikeouts.
"Trevor was fantastic and did a great job," Cohen said.
Ferguson (4-0) was even better though, throwing 6.0 complete turns with two hits and two walks allowed against three strikeouts. The tall righty came in the low 90s with ease and had the location each inning. It wasn't that Bulldog batters could not make contact on Ferguson, but that their best-struck balls all went right into gloves. And usually at the worst times possible.
"He did a great job against us, he really pounded the zone," said C Gavin Collins, who notched both base hits off of Ferguson. "He used all his pitches and all his pitches were on today." Only the catcher, hitting in the nine-hole, got results off the starter. "Just sitting one pitch and trying to sit his fastball and hit it early in the count, not let him get deep and use all his pitches."
Having a late lead at last also allowed Vanderbilt to use fireballer Carson Fulmer the last three innings, with one hit and a walk against four strikeouts. He was touched for the run which didn't prevent save #7 of the season.
Ferguson opened with a walk of LF Jake Vickerson, then sat ten of the next eleven faced into the Bulldog fourth. A one-out plunking that frame was negated as SS Seth Heck scorched a drive to the left side. Third baseman Xavier Turner made the leaping back-hand stop and since Heck had been running it was an easy double-off. Nor was it the last such frustration for State.
Fitts had a few early challenges too, needing a slow roller and just-in-time toss to first to strand a pair in his third. He, too, got a different sort of double-play in the fourth. With Bryan Reynolds running, Xander Wiel struck out and Collins notched his SEC-leading seventh shootdown of the season. Fitts needed just seven pitches in his fifth against the bottom of Vanderbilt's order, then retired the top trio in the sixth.
"I felt pretty good about it, being up in the zone kind of hurt me towards the end. But I thought I kept their hitters off-balance most of the day."
The Bulldogs had their big chance in the sixth after Collins led off with a double and was bunted-over by Vickerson. DH Alex Detz did his job but too well; his hard ground ball was pulled directly to a crept-up first baseman and Collins was run down.
The lost chance stung soon as Reynolds led off the seventh with a single, and made second base on a wild pitch that umpire Barry Chambers blocked-out Collins on. Wiel singled to rightfield for Commodores on corners with still no outs and a busy Bulldog bullpen.
Fitts remained to face Vince Conde and got him swinging, before taking his leave as Lindgren entered to face a lefthanded hitter. Rhett Wiseman bumped the first pitch in front of the plate and Lindgren's throw home had no chance as Reynolds ended the shutout.
A leadoff walk of Pirtle finished Ferguson for righthander Fulmer to strand him with fastballs. The closer returned with a bigger lead too. Ro Coleman reached on a grounder to shortstop and stole second base; before Turner also bounced one that Heck could field but not throw in time. Lindgren came back for two strikeouts and rolled a grounder to Heck. But the shortstop's rushed throw was too high even for Rea to snare and stay on the bag and Coleman scored on the error. Turner took third base and was able to score on a wild pitch.
The Bulldogs avoided the shutout with an eight-inning run after a leadoff walk of Britton. Collins was startled to hear a called strike-three on full count, as Britton made second on a steal. A wild pitch advanced him to third base for Britton to score on a fly ball to centerfield by Vickerson. Detz singled to bring a tying chance to the plate, but 1B Wes Rea grounded to third base.
Vanderbilt got the run back anyway in their ninth with interest. Consecutive infield hits and an errored grounder off Turner's bat plated John Norwood. Swanson's grounder was used to force Turner with no relay to first attempted, but Coleman kept running around third and made home unchallenged.
With bases loaded and a 1-2 count Gentry was lifted for RHP Ben Bracewell. His 2-2 offering got off Randolph's mitt but not far, and a flip to the covering pitcher produced the out of Swanson. Two strikeouts and a pop-up in the MSU ninth ended the series.
The Commodores collected ten base hit, nine bunched by the first five in their order and three from Reynolds. They were aided by the two official errors and a few other grounders which caught Cohen's attention.
"I think the game beat us a little bit today. We didn't make some infield plays. I thought every pitcher that took the mound for us did a great job today, I thought Lindgren did a great job and deserved better, we didn't make plays behind him. Myles came in and did exactly what we wanted, get ground balls. Some of them we should have defended much better, some of them were just well-placed that we couldn't do anything about."
At the same time, the coach could point to offensive opportunities that weren't wasted as much as un-used. "The only way we're not scoring is to hit it right on the button right at somebody. We had 15 balls hit hard out of 31 plate appearances when you look at our chart."
Most MSU frustration about that third game was sure to fade in the bigger picture of having beaten a top-ten opponent in the full series, to stay at the forefront of the conference and Division standings. Not that titles are won in March, to be sure, but this is also no time to fall behind the pack. The Bulldogs go into a new week with momentum, and with confidence after two winning weekends.
"It's huge to take it here, obviously we wanted to go for the whole sweep but it's great to take two," Fitts said. "Now we're just focused on the next game."
Which will be Tuesday evening against Southeast Missouri as the Bulldogs continue a seven-game home stretch.