Even if the final regular-season series of this conference campaign opened one night earlier than usual, LSU had few problems putting championship-caliber pitchers on the Starkville hill. Starter Anthony Ranaudo shrugged off allowing all four Bulldog runs in the opening-third of the affair and dominated long enough to leave with a lead and hand the pill to closer Matty Ott. The righthanded combination was more than Mississippi State could handle over nine full frames.
“They can really pitch, give them credit,” Cohen said.
Ranaudo (7-3) certainly did, putting in an out over seven innings with six hits and six strikeouts to his credit. The only blots came on uncharacteristic loss of some control in the second and third inning when State collected all their scores on five hits and three walks. It didn’t seem to bother the tall righty too much. “We did as good a job against him as he could, but he figured it out,” Cohen said. “That’s what good ones do.” Ott was pretty good too, picking up his 12th save of the season by getting the last five Bulldog outs with three hits and three fannings.
At the same time State starting pitching merited some credit as well, with lefthander Tyler Whitney giving a fine performance. After allowing a solo homer in the first inning the junior kept his side ahead into the decisive seventh.
“It seems all year I’ve been a slow starter, if I get past the first couple of innings without too much damage I’m OK,” Whitney said. “And I was able to settle down and just pitch at a good level down in the zone and get ahead with the slider.” Whitney’s line showed three runs on five hits with two strikeouts and four walks. Good enough to win, even, had the Bulldog bullpen been able to support their starter just a bit better. Instead relievers Lee Swindle and Chad Crosswhite combined to allow the catch-up and go-ahead run, with the winning score ironically coming on a wild pitch in the LSU eighth.
“You’ve got to be able to step up there late in a game and just shut down a big inning,” Cohen said. “And we kind of allowed it to happen, instead of them hitting their way into the big inning they walked their way into the big innings.”
Whitney wasn’t giving up any early big innings. After centerfielder Mikie Mahtook, the second Tiger to swing, cleared left-centerfield with his sixth homer of the season the Bulldog hurler was able to hold them there. He even picked off second baseman D.J. LaMahieu to end the inning. The next time the LSU cleanup hitter stepped in it was with bases loaded in the top of the third on a hit and two walks. LaMahieu struck it sharply and 1B Connor Powers had to time his all-out jump just right to snare it and prevent at least a pair from scoring.
That sparkling play began a strong stretch for Whitney as he retired nine of the next eleven, aided most often by SS Frank Radow with one outstanding dive-and-throw and a couple of direct line-outs.
“I had a good fastball most of the night, I was able to locate it pretty well. A couple of times they got me in the stretch and I was a little bit erratic but I was able to get out of those jams.”
By then State had done some damage. Ranaudo also escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first turn as LF Luke Adkins fouled off two ball-fours and flew out on a third chance. It was another matter in the second as a two-out walk and clean single by CF Grant Hogue had Dogs on opposite corners. RF Ryan Collins’ grounder was slow and some steps to the off-hand of Tiger first baseman Sean Ochinko, who did very well making the diving stop but tried to get back up, turn, and dive for the bag. Collins got there first making it count as lead runner Radow crossed the plate for a tied score.
A leadoff double by DH Ryan Duffy in the third set State up to take a lead, with C.Powers joining him on the paths via walking. Adkins did his job nicely with a bunt to advance each into scoring position, and 3B Russ Sneed lined his first pitch just past his counterpart’s glove for one RBI, as it was covered too quickly to risk bringing C.Powers further than third. It didn’t matter because 2B Jet Butler’s hot grounder somehow hopped over Ranaudo’s glove and through the box. Sneed was able to make third and score on Radow’s fly ball to rightfield for a 4-1 Bulldog advantage, though Butler took a chance on the throw-in and was tagged out at second.
From there, though, Ranaudo reverted to all-conference form. “He got back in a rhythm because he’s got a lot of skill. He’s got a great arm, a good breaking ball. And guys that have skill can jump back in there,” Cohen said.
The lead still lasted into the seventh, when Whitney ran out of gas against the bottom-third of LSU’s order. “I thought that was the right time, I was starting to wear down a little bit and was over the 100-pitch point,” he said. A walk of rightfielder Jared Mitchell and single from catcher Micah Gibbs had Tigers on third and first for Swindle…who saw them both come on home as his first pitch was lined into the right-centerfield gap by shortstop Austin Nola. Cohen said that the pitcher missed a couple of signs from the dugout what to come with in the situation. “We’re absolutely throwing a breaking ball there, in fact (C Scott) DeLoach goes to block it. And it’s a fastball down the middle.”
Worse, now the tying runner was on second and top of the order coming up. It fell to Mahtook to tie things back up with his one-out single through shortstop, and force another pitching change. Crosswhite had to leave the go-ahead runner on third base with a pop-out.
He wasn’t so lucky the next inning as with one out Mitchell went just about all the other way, his shot lined off the leftfield padding for a standup double. He was standing on third with two outs and a 0-2 count, when Crosswhite wasted the slider much too low-and-away. “Just a huge miss,” Cohen said. “And nobody wants it more than Chad does. He threw a lot of good pitches, that was the one bad pitch he threw.” By the time DeLoach could retrieve the ball Mitchell had given LSU a 5-4 lead.
LSU let Ranaudo return for the first out of MSU’s eighth before giving Ott the save opportunity. An out later he had Dogs on corners via an infield single from Sneed (Nick Hardy came in to run) and blooper off Butler’s bat. Cody Freeman got the pinch-hit call and after getting ahead 3-1 missed twice on fastballs to strike out. A two-out single by DeLoach was all State could muster in the last chance.
“You have to be win a low scoring game and we just weren’t capable of doing that,” Cohen said, adding “Haven’t been capable of doing that much this year. The kids are trying hard.” In fact this was State’s tenth loss in 13 one-run games. Four Tigers had two base hits each with Mahtook and Nola both driving in a pair of runs. Duffy, Sneed, and Butler also had a pair of hits for State.
LSU improved to 40-14, 19-9 SEC and has a one-game lead on both Florida and Ole Miss in the championship race with two games left. The Bulldogs are 24-28, 8-19 SEC. Friday’s game-two is at 6:30, though the forecast is iffy. Weather permitting, State will put freshman lefty Nick Routt (4-3, 3.89era) on the hill while the Tigers will come with their league-leading righthander Louis Coleman (10-2, 2.45).