What a week a difference makes.
This time last week, Mississippi State was sitting squarely at .500 - a huge disappointment eight games in. State was coming off a bad weekend split with Holy Cross, and in need of a big week to get back on track. The Bulldogs were able to get that big week started off right with two midweek wins over Mount Saint Mary's, and this weekend MSU wrapped up a perfect 6-0 week with two wins each over Eastern Illinois and Michigan State in the Diamond Classic at Dudy Noble Field.
In Friday night's game one against Michigan State, MSU-south struggled to start, as Brandon Woodruff's outing didn't get past the third inning, and the Bulldogs found themselves down 2-1 heading late into the game. Fortunately there is a man in the MSU bullpen named Ross Mitchell, who calmly stepped in and provided 6 and 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to keep MSU in the game and within striking distance of grabbing a win to open the weekend. In the bottom of the eighth, State finally pulled ahead as Daniel Garner and Cody Walker each delivered RBI singles to help put the maroon and white MSU ahead for good. The win (Box Score | Full Game Recap) was State's third in a row, and helped moved MSU to 7-4 on the season.
In game two, MSU took down a 2-8 Eastern Illinois team 4-3 (Box Score | Game Recap) in a game that was too close for too long. State built up a 3-1 lead behind a run in the first and two runs in the fifth thanks to back to back doubles by Gavin Collins and Jake Vickerson to start off the inning. After Trevor Fitts' solid one run, eight K effort was relieved in the seventh, pesky E. Illinois leadoff hitter Frankie Perrone would knock a two-run homerun that tied things up in the eighth. Thankfully, a Reid Humphreys two-out single plated the game-winning run and kept State from a bad loss, pushing the Bulldogs to 8-4 on the young season.
The nightcap was a bit more offense-oriented for the maroon and white, as the battle of the MSU's took place again. The Mississippi-edition of the MSU's put together a solid 7-1 win (Box Score | Game Recap) in the nightcap thanks to Austin Sexton's six scoreless innings of work and three multi-run innings. Freshman Reid Humphreys continued his hot hitting with a solo home run in the second, and Derrick Armstrong stole four bases to tie a school record for most stolen bases in a game.
In the sunny Sunday finale, State finished off its perfect weekend of work with a convincing 9-0 win (Box Score | Game Recap) over Eastern Illinois. Seth Heck, Derrick Armstrong and a seven-run seventh inning led the way offensively for MSU, while freshman Dakota Hudson's 5.2 innings of work earned him his first-ever win in maroon and white.
Overall on the weekend, State certainly seized its opportunity to right the ship a bit by sweeping weekend play. MSU still looks to have some work to do in a few places like leaving runners stranded on-base, but right now the wins are ultimately what matters. The Bulldogs have a few more weeks to build up steam and get into a groove before SEC play starts, but that path gets a bit more tough starting this week with a Wednesday visit from South Alabama. The Jaguars took a series from #24 Arkansas over the weekend, so their trip to Starkville is anything but a guarantee that MSU can move its win streak to seven games. After that, State will travel to Tuscon next weekend for a very important tournament against UC-Santa Barbara and Arizona. We should know more about where this team stands after next weekend is complete.
While MSU still has a ways to go to reach its full potential, there were a lot of positives to take away. The play of freshmen like Daniel Garner, Reid Humphreys, Gavin Collins, Austin Sexton and Dakota Hudson certainly is exciting to see. Garner and Humphreys are the future heart of the Bulldog order, but more importantly, they both have the talent and it seems are ready to contribute to this team THIS year. Collins' arm is impressive, as his showed everyone by throwing out four runners in Saturday's first game against Eastern Illinois. As for other noted positives, Jake Vickerson seems to be settling into the leadoff role nicely, and Seth Heck has done everything he can to cement his status as this team's new shortstop. The Bulldogs also seem to have about a hundred outfielders who could legitimately start, so it looks like Cohen will face the good problem to have of trying to figure out who gets to play where.
Hopefully on Wednesday we'll see this team's play continue to improve, and the winning streak continuing.
Game 1 - MSU 4, Michigan State 2 - Highlights
Game 2 - MSU 4, Eastern Illinois 3 - Highlights
Game 3 - MSU 7, Michigan State 1 - Highlights
Game 4 - MSU 9, Eastern Illinois 1 - Highlights