A rough start on the diamond ended on a positive note for the Mississippi State baseball team (17-7, 1-3 SEC) in Lextington against the Kentucky Wildcats.
Preston Brown had his worst outing of the year in game one. He gave up six runs on five hits, walked one, and also hit one and failed to make it out of the second inning.
The four MSU relievers to follow Brown would each give up one run a piece, and the Bulldog bats were quieted on the way to a 10-2 Kentucky route. The middle of the Wildcats' lineup pounded the baseball while MSU only totaled five hits for the game.
In game two MSU trailed early after starter Austin Sexton allowed five runs in 5.1 innings pitched.
The bats started to wake up especially in the later innings but it was too little too late. State got back-to-back homeruns from Cody Walker and Jacob Robson in the 9th but it wasn't enough to overcome the 9-3 deficit, and Kentucky escaped with a 9-7 win.
Sunday everything finally came together for the maroon and white. Reid Humphreys had a monster day at the plate with two homeruns, and Vance Tatum went the distance to lead his team to a series-salvaging win.
MSU dealt the big blow with a six-run fifth inning highlighted by Gavin Collins' two-rbi double and Reid Humphreys' three-run homerun. The inning broke open a 3-3 tie and propelled the Bulldogs to a 12-5 victory.
The big win didn't take away the fact that MSU lost the third series in a row, including the second SEC series in a row, but it did end the weekend on a positive note and hopefully put the team in a positive state of mind going forward.
Some big individual performances will be overlooked because of the loss, but some key players are catching fire at the right time, and that bodes well going into the eight remaining SEC series.
Here were the best performances for the Bulldogs this weekend in Lexington:
Hitter of the weekend: Reid Humphreys
Somebody call the fireman, cause Reid Humphreys is too hot right now. He looks like a completely different hitter than the one we saw early in the season. Humphreys is squaring up balls and not trying to do too much, and it's paying off. After being the only player with multiple hits on Friday, he had a quiet 1-for-4 day on Saturday but his one hit was a double. He had a career day in game three with two home runs, one an absolute no-doubter to left-center field, and five RBI's. Kyle Niblett tweeted out an interesting stat that Humphreys is 11-for-24 (.458) in the last seven games, after going only 5-for-37 (.135) in the 11 games preceding that.
Pitcher of the weekend: Vance Tatum
It wasn't his sharpest day on the mound, but he was a warrior out there on Sunday. Tatum battled through several jams and pitched all nine innings, giving up 11 hits but only five runs. He struck out one and walked four on 125 pitches. It was good to see Tatum show the ability to last in a game where he didn't have his sharpest stuff. MSU's starting pitcher has thrown complete games in both SEC wins so far this season. It looks like that is the only formula for success right now.
Best individual play: Humphreys' three-run dinger
No lead has been safe lately with the way MSU pitchers have walked batters and given up untimely extra-base hits. The team needed to jump out to a big lead Sunday to feel comfortable about securing a win in the series finale. In the fifth inning with the Dogs on top 6-3, Humphreys blasted a no-doubter over the wall in left-center to give his team a 9-3 lead and all but put the fork in the Wildcats.
Number that made the difference: 11
The tables kind of turned this weekend with MSU pitching. While the starters have been excellent and the bullpen has been suspect the last few weeks, it was the starters that struggled in the two losses against the Wildcats. Granted, the bullpen didn't do anything to help matters. But Preston Brown and Austin Sexton gave up a combined 11 runs in only seven innings pitched. That's not going to win very many ballgames. It was bound to happen at some point. Your starters are going to struggle eventually, but you have to find a way to overcome it with hitting and better relief pitching.
MVP of the weekend: Jacob Robson
Not that it comes as a big surprise, but Jacob Robson was fantastic yet again. The guy is just an on-base machine and a force running the bases. He had six hits in 13 at bats against Kentucky, several of which came in the form of bunts and infield grounders, stole a base and scored three times in the victory on Sunday. Robson was a key part in three of the five innings that MSU scored a run, including the big six-run fifth. His average is up to .436, and he has an OBP of .558. He doesn't have to hit the ball hard or even get it out of the infield to record a hit, and that's what makes him such a dangerous player. Robson was moved to the leadoff spot for games two and three, and that's the perfect place for him to hit in front of Seth Heck.
New series, same old story. Pitching reared its ugly head and no clutch hitting existed at all in the first two games. Some of the hitting problems were due to poor at bats, and some of it was just bad luck. Guys were hitting right into double plays every time someone would get on base in the first game, and in the second game balls were being hit hard but right at Kentucky players. As the saying goes, that's just baseball.
I don't know if it's the new ball or if it's teams having four years of experience in facing him, but Ross Mitchell doesn't look like the same pitcher any more. He used to come in and force groundout after groundout. Now he walks batters, and when he does throw strikes, teams hit him and hit him hard. I never would have expected him to have a 3.56 ERA at this point in the season, especially after what it's been the past three years.
Gavin Collins is getting back close to healthy. He played some in the outfield and had three hits in the third game. He's not all the way back, but he's getting there. When Cohen starts running him out there to catch again, we'll know he's close to 100 percent. They need his bat in the lineup. Hopefully he can get enough at bats in the next couple of weeks to find a rhythm and be a difference maker again.
Levi Mintz deserves more innings. I really like his curve ball, and his delivery can be a little deceptive to hitters. He saw action in two games this weekend in an attempt by John Cohen to breathe some new life into the bullpen. Mintz is only a reshirt freshman, but once he gets some innings under his belt he has a chance to be one of the better pitchers on this team.
It looked like the wheels were about to officially fall off. A huge loss on Friday where Cohen gets tossed and then another big deficit to start Saturday's game had the MSU faithful questioning where the coaches and the team were mentally. I think the ninth inning Saturday definitely got the ball rolling, at least offensively, and the bats stayed hot the rest of the way. Tuesday's game in Pearl is a big one to try and keep that momentum going. A sweep of Auburn next weekend is needed in the worst kind of way.