State Completes Win, Clinches Series In Two

Nick Routt

The weather interrupted but couldn't prevent Mississippi State completing their work begun the day before, as the Bulldogs finished out a 10-3 defeat of South Carolina on Sunday afternoon. Along with a 13-6 Saturday victory, State was able to clinch the opening series of this SEC season prior to the remaining seven-inning contest.

The victories also snapped Mississippi State's string of five series losses to South Carolina, dating back to the 2001 season.

Leading 4-0 after two innings, and a 15-hour delay for weather, Mississippi State padded their lead(s) with three-run outbursts in both the fourth and eighth innings. That was more than sufficient to finish what Bulldog lefthander Nick Routt started Saturday and resumed Sunday, putting in 4.2 combined innings for his initial SEC outing. The rookie had a league debut to remember, retiring the first 13 foes faced (spread over two dates on the calendar), with six strikeouts and a walk. His stint was ended by three hits and a couple of Gamecock runs, with relievers Greg Houston and Chad Crosswhite completing the win.

What Routt didn't get was a decision, as his fifth-inning entry meant Houston (1-0) was in line for the decision based on his 1.1 middle-innings of work. Crosswhite tossed the last three full frames with a run on three hits and two strikeouts, earning his fourth save of the young season.

Gamecock starter Blake Cooper (1-2) took the loss by giving up the four Saturday scores on four State hits. He didn't return for Sunday action; Nolan Belcher did and put in a tough performance for 5.2 frames with four more runs charged on seven hits, though the little lefthander fanned six. His job was to preserve as much pitching as practical for the third game.

Saturday night, State got a pair on the paths in the first inning against Cooper with a walk of RF Ryan Collins and plunking of Butler, and no more. The second was another matter. DH Ryan Duffy and C Cody Freeman both singled through the middle and were pushed into scoring positions by SS Ryan Powers' bunt. CF Grant Hogue delivered the first RBI-knock of the night with a liner through the right side scoring Duffy, as Freeman stopped at third and Hogue nearly got run-down going round first too far. He was able to steal second on a 2-1 ball to Collins.

SC third baseman Andrew Crisp saved a couple of scores by diving and stopping Collins' hot shot. And ump Nelson Graham saved a run by blocking a dirtball with his feet. But after a walk loaded the sacks Butler was able to lash one over third base that landed maybe three inches fair. Freeman, Houge, and Adkins all came home for a 4-0 Bulldog lead. Butler was on second when the inning ended and soon afterward the game was put on pause.

Routt needed just 19 pitches to sit the S.C. sides in the first and second Saturday innings. Sunday he picked right up where left-off by putting the Gamecocks down in order twice again, before his offense could pad the lead in their fourth. Belcher's first pitch of that inning was yanked over leftfield in an unlikely show of shot by Hogue. That brought up the top of MSU's order, too, and both Collins and Adkins singled through the left side. Butler did his sac-job nicely to advance both runners along, and an out later 3B Russ Sneed came through as his line shot slipped by the shortstop's stretch for two more RBI and a 7-0 lead through four.

Routt had to tire eventually and the middle of the Gamecocks order rapped solid singles in their fifth. A walk loaded the sacks and pinch-hitter Parker Bangs got his team on the scoreboard with a ground ball to shortstop that plated DeAngelo Mack. Another substitute-swinger, Casey Rihn hitting in the ninth slot, knocked a double into the leftfield corner that Adkins did well to hold to a one-RBI hit.

That was enough for the starter and righty Houston was summoned to get State back in the dugout with a 7-2 lead on a grounder to shortstop. For his part Belcher was told to keep tossing. He did it well for a while by sitting eight-straight and erasing a one-out double by Sneed in State's seventh with a nice pickoff play.

The Dogs did have to dip into the bullpen though as Houston walked the leadoff Gamecock in the seventh. Crosswhite erased him with a double-play but an out into the eigthth consecutive singles gave S.C. some hope. Another run, too, as with two down and runners on corners Crisp's grounder pulled sub-second baseman Frankie Radow too far for a play. Ebert came in for the 7-3 scoreboard, before Crosswhite froze Kyle Enders on 2-2 with the strikeout.

State was able to more than match that in their last at-bat. A leadoff single by Mark Goforth was erased on a fly-ball double-play, but a walk of Hogue finished Belcher and Brandon Miller came in to end the inning. It took a while as he walked Collins, then both runners stole their way into scoring positions. New LF Brent Brownlee made his only swing of the contest count for two RBI by dropping a fly-ball single in front of the rightfielder who, on a drier track, might have made the play.

And Brownlee didn't stop at first but kept going to second, where he was able to score on Radow's single for the final 10-3 margin of victory. Crosswhite sat them down in ninth-inning order aided by a long run and tough catch against the fence by Brownlee.

State nearly doubled the Gamecocks in hitting, 13 safeties to seven, with Sneed, Duffy, Freeman, and Hogue all getting a pair of hits. Butler, who had 3 RBI in the first game, had three more in the second.

With the third game starting 25 minutes afterwards, MSU players and coaches were not available for comments in between contests.

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