It's really hard to know where to begin this. Going in to this weekend's Hi Corbett Classic, Mississippi State had seemingly gotten itself back on track, as the Bulldogs were riding a seven game winning streak. State was headed out west to take on a good UC Santa Barbara team and an Arizona team that had lost five straight. It wouldn't be easy, but many of us were confident that MSU could leave the weekend unscathed, or with minimal damage from the two teams.
Boy, were we wrong.
Mississippi State (11-5) 3, UC Santa Barbara (8-1) 8
Through five innings of Friday's opening game, MSU seemed to be in cruise control somewhat. The Bulldogs held a tight 2-1 lead, but Ben Bracewell was pitching well, and that vaunted MSU bullpen was waiting to come in and close the game out for him for a win. What happened instead was something we have rarely seen out of that bullpen in the last 80 games or so - a complete implosion. Four Bulldog pitchers would combine to give up seven runs on eight hits in the sixth and seventh to let a tight 2-1 lead turn quickly into an 8-3 deficit. State would never recover after that, as the Bulldogs could only scratch off a late ninth-inning run to push the final tally to 8-3.
In addition to the pitching staff's struggles, the offense wasn't much better as MSU was able to manufacture only six hits total against UC Santa Barbara pitchers Justin Jacome and Greg Mahle.
I think it's safe to say that we were all a bit shocked at how State imploded against the Gauchos, but the good news was that we still had one game to go on the day, and there was a chance still to get back on the winning side of things before Friday was over.
Too bad it didn't quite work out that way.
Mississippi State (11-6) 3, Arizona (7-7) 12
State fans like myself undoubtedly thought things couldn't get worse following that opening loss to UC Santa Barbara, but it dang sure did. In the nightcap, Arizona pounded out 17 hits and touched up MSU's Brandon Woodruff and Austin Sexton for a combined 11 runs in a 12-3 win that was never even that close.
There really isn't a ton of noteworthy material out of this game, other than to say that MSU again was crippled by stranding runners on the basepaths. In the first four innings alone, MSU stranded six runners, including loaded bases in the first and C.T. Bradford after his no-out triple to start the fourth inning. State was only able to push across one run early out of all of those opportunities, while Arizona took full advantage of its opportunities, scoring in every inning but the second and fifth.
I haven't seen as much baseball as some State fans have, but Friday was one of the worst days I can remember in awhile for MSU baseball. The Bulldogs just looked unprepared to play, and the Gauchos and Wildcats took full advantage. Jacob Lindgren didn't look like he has so far this year, and Brandon Woodruff, the anticipated ace of this staff, again had a poor outing. Add to that the struggles that MSU had offensively, and Friday raised a ton of issues to light for a team that was preseason ranked in the top five.
The most frustrating thing for me is that this team's talent is undeniable. I honestly do think they are top-five talent wise, but six times already this year they've come out and played very poorly. That's a big concern for me, especially given just how bad things ended Friday against a team in Arizona that was on a five game losing streak, and reeling. It is still early in the season, so there's still plenty of time to correct mistakes and get back on track. Baseball can be a streaky game, so if MSU is going to go through a rough patch, I'd rather it be now than later on in the season.
The good news for MSU is that there's nowhere to go for the weekend but up. State has a chance today and Sunday to get two wins, and potentially come away 2-2 on the weekend. IF MSU can do that, then I think we can put this weekend behind us as a learning experience, and hopefully get better from it. But if State comes out on Saturday and Sunday the way they did last night, the Bulldogs could very well be headed home with an 0-4 weekend and some very serious concerns heading into the opening of SEC play next weekend..
Fortunately for us fans, we've seen this situation before in different MSU sports. And on occasion, we've seen State respond really well following bad showings. Let's hope today is one of those good responses, and let's hope a madder-than-Heck State team comes out today at 3 p.m. and starts a new winning streak.