“It was a huge win for us,” said winning pitcher Tyler Whitney of getting the year’s first SEC series off to a successful start. “These guys have kind of had our number the past couple of years so to beat them on our home field and take care of business was big.”
Just getting the series started was big, as Friday’s game was washed out early and a twinbill slated for Saturday. Even then the 3:00 start time looked shaky with more morning rain and some drizzle after 1:00. But even with a mist falling at the re-set time the teams lined up and played ball.
“We knew it was going to be tough conditions when we showed up, that’s OK,” Whitney said. “We played a lot of intrasquad games when it was cold and rainy so it wasn’t a problem for us.” Especially not when Bulldog bats took over in the middle inning.
Leading 5-4 midway of the afternoon contest, Mississippi State sent 13 Dogs to the dish in their fifth frame to produce the seven scores on five base hits, including a two-run triple from DH Luke Adkins and bases-loaded single from C Scott DeLoach for another pair of RBI that completed the assault.
But the offensive star of the afternoon was 2B Jet Butler, hitting safely three of six trips while driving in four of State’s runs and scoring twice himself. The Bulldogs would tally 15 total hits at the expense of three Gamecock pitchers, with a solo home run by 3B Russ Sneed for their opening run.
The big inning made sure that Whitney, who’d already tossed his final pitch of the day in the top of the frame, would be the winner. The sophomore southpaw worked five-full frames, absorbing four runs—three of them unearned and coming on a single swing from Gamecock third baseman Andrew Crisp—on four hits. Whitney (2-0) struck out three with a pair of walks.
Forrest Moore took care of the last four innings, his line showing a couple of runs allowed on four hits with seven strikeouts and a lone walk. The length of that stint secured his first save of the season.
Righthander Sam Dyson (2-1) took the loss, his first as a Gamecock hurler, charged with the first eight Bulldog runs on ten hits. He struck out three with a walk and hit-batsman.
A two-out Butler single didn’t hurt Dyson in the first. But he led off the second by hanging it in front of Sneed, who went opposite-field for a solo shot in front of the scoreboard and put the first run on it at the same time.
Whitney was an out into his third turn and all save ump Kevin Bradley through he’d hit the inside corner on 1-2, as DeLoach hopped out of the crouch to throw to third. He didn’t. Given another chance Gamecock shortstop Bobby Haney drove one deep to left-centerfield that LF Mark Goforth—who’d made a on-his-behind grab for the first out—could only deflect with the glove. Haney got all the way around for a three-bagger as both Dog outfielders slipped and slid. Whitney made it two outs with a fly to center but a dirtpitch let Haney come home and tie it up.
State was able to answer quickly enough. CF Grant Hogue lined a clean single to left, and when RF Ryan Collins dropped the sacrifice the Gamecocks tried to get Hogue and failed for two ons and no outs. Adkins didn’t get his bunts down but a grounder to the right side worked just as well to advance both runners. And Butler came through with the line shot over second base to score both. Walks of 1B Connor Powers and Sneed filled the sacks and more to the point pushed Butler to third base so he could make it 4-1 on a passed ball.
The lead didn’t last though as SC’s Jackie Bradley reached on a two-base throwing error by Butler. After a walk Whitney got a fly-out to right, with Bradley advancing, and Goforth got to another fly. Unfortunately Crisp hit his drive a bit farther and better, just left of the center wall. Hogue fell down on the run but it didn’t matter as the shot hit the top of the fence and bounced on over for the three-run homer and 4-4 tie.
“We threw a changeup, we all felt it was the right pitch to throw and it just wasn’t in a very good spot,” Whitney said. “If I had to do it again I’d throw the same pitch, just in the same spot.”
State was able to do some bag-filling as well in the bottom of the frame. SS Ryan Powers singled, as did Collins and Adkins with one out. Butler spanked it right at the Gamecock first baseman and all Nick Ebert could do was knock it down for a lone force as R.Powers crossed for the 5-4 lead. A strikeout left two more Dogs stranded.
Whitney took care of the bottom two in South Carolina’s order in the fifth but the top two each singled, bringing a mound talk while Moore warmed up in the pen. A walk loaded the sacks and brought up #4 swinger Justin Dalles. On 1-2 the catcher thought he’d taken a low one off the foot but the blues did not notice. Whitney didn’t get a favorable 2-2 call either, but on full count he coaxed a foul-pop from Dalles that Powers pulled in.
“It was an inside fastball, he’d fouled off a couple of sliders-in and a couple of fastballs-away before that,” Whitney said. “We stuck with our gut and went in and fortunately got the pop-up.”
That capped Whitney’s afternoon, and while he was cooling-down the Dog offense heated back up. Sneed legged out an infield single his counterpart couldn’t get to soon enough, and when DeLoach squared to bunt he took the fastball off his chest instead. On 2-2 Goforth grounded to second base and DeLoach was forced, leaving Dogs on corners for R.Powers. The shortstop was able to hop it past the Carolina second-sacker for one RBI as Sneed scored; and Goforth drew a throw by going for third base. A wild throw, too, that let him finish the course for a 7-4 scoreboard and pitching change.
Righthander Matt Price flew-out Hogue, but he walked Collins and Adkins made it hurt by slapping a drive into the right-center gap that turned into a two-run triple. And with the runner on third, Butler caught SC by surprise with his bunt. It wasn’t a squeeze as Adkins waited to watch the catcher throw wide of first before coming home on the scratch single. Suddenly all went wrong for Price as Connor Powers singled, Sneed walked to fill all posts, and DeLoach singled over third base for two more RBI and a 12-4 margin. A walk of Goforth re-filled the paths so Price needed a called K to end the onslaught.
By then Whitney was a satisfied spectator. “They’d told me I was coming out, but it was huge for us to get that and it really won the game for us. My pitch count had been driven up pretty high and I was done.”
Having had plenty preparation time Moore took care of the sixth despite a one-out shortstop throwing error. In the S.C. seventh a one-out double by Bradley ultimately produced a run as with two downs Ebert dropped a single behind shortstop. A strikeout of Dalles kept it 12-5 at the stretch.
Righthander Jordan Propst was sent to pitch State’s seventh and overcame a pair of walks that inning. But in the eighth he walked sub-swinger Brent Brownlee, was hit by R.Powers, and loaded the bases by walking Collins. Adkins’s single to rightfield scored the lead Dog and should have brought in another, but Powers slipped on the wet turf rounding third and was run down.
South Carolina put a pair on corners in their last chance and while Sneed stopped Ebert’s hot hopper the throw across went awry. Moore had to throw strike-three past pinch-hitter Casey Rihn to finally end it after 3:39 of play.
“It’s a different ball game when you get to the SEC,” said Whitney. “There’s three parts to the season, pre-SEC, SEC, and post-season. And there is a different feeling when you hit SEC play.”
Freshman lefthander Nick Routt was to start game-two for State, with righthander Blake Cooper going for South Carolina.