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Mississippi State vs. Tennessee Baseball 2014 Recap: Dogs take two from Tennessee

We review the weekend of play in Starkville where MSU somehow took two games from the Tennessee Volunteers.

Lucas Laster pitched outstanding on Sunday to help the Bulldogs take two from Tennessee.
Lucas Laster pitched outstanding on Sunday to help the Bulldogs take two from Tennessee.
Mississippi State University |

There are going to be weekends on occasion in baseball where you just come away happy that you won.  This past weekend was one of those for MSU baseball, as it scraped together just enough offense to take a very important series from the Tennessee Volunteers, two games to one.  Despite winning the series, the Dogs still have some serious offensive concerns going into the final weekend of the regular season and the SEC Tournament starting next week.  Before we talk about those, though, let's take a look back at last weekend's results.

baseball logo Friday - MSU 2, Tennessee 4

Friday's series-opening loss to Tennessee was all about two things: a bad inning pitching-wise for MSU and offensive woes.  The Bulldogs gave up all four UT runs in the fourth, and 12 men left on base on the night hampered efforts to ever get back in the game after that.  The epitome of MSU's struggles on the weekend could be found in State's final two at-bats of the night in the eighth and ninth innings.  In the eighth, State had the bases loaded with no outs only to come away with nothing as the next three batters struck out.  In the ninth it was more of the same as MSU followed an out by loading the bases and then promptly stranding all-three runners.  It was not the best way to start off a weekend where MSU badly needed a series win.

baseball logo Saturday - MSU 1, Tennessee 0 (10 innings)

You may remember that State struggled offensively last weekend as well, outside of the Sunday one-inning explosion, but it got great pitching all weekend long.  With the offensive struggles continuing into the UT series, State would need good pitching to pull itself out of the hole on Saturday and Sunday.  Thankfully, Ross Mitchell and Jonathan Holder did just that on Saturday, allowing just two hits while striking out 12 combined en route to a 1-0 MSU win.  The game would go extra innings scoreless before Seth Heck singled in C.T. Bradford in the bottom of the tenth to give MSU the win and tie the series at one a piece.

I don't think enough can be said about Ross and Jonathan's performances on Saturday; they really stepped up big when State need it.  Holder has had some really impressive long relief performances this year, as well, which is promising going into the SEC Tournament and presumably the postseason after that.

baseball logo Sunday - MSU 4, Tennessee 3 (12 innings)

In Sunday's rubber match, MSU's Lucas Laster and Jacob Lindgren combined for 11 innings of scoreless relief and State received a gifted game-winning run to outlast Tennessee 4-3 in 12 innings to win the series.  The story of the day here was Laster and Lindgren, who were excellent to the level that Mitchell and Holder were on Saturday.  Laster has been really good in his last two or three outings, and to me he's earned a shot at that Sunday starting spot should Preston struggle anymore.

The one offensive point worth sharing was that Wes Rea homered in a huge spot in the sixth on Sunday to tie the game at three.  It was Rea's first homer since February, a streak that State was no doubt happy to see end.  Wes has not had the greatest season following last year's really good campaign, but if he could find his power and again become a scary force in this lineup, well then look out.  I'm not saying that is what is happening based on one HR, but I am rooting for it.  We're all rooting for you, big guy.

baseball logo Record (As of Monday, 5/12)

33-19, 16-1 SEC.

baseball logo Pollwatchin' (As of Monday, 5/12)

Pollwatchin': Week Thirteen
Poll Ranking Previous Link
Baseball America 20
21 BA
College Baseball Newspaper 16
18 CBN
Perfect Game 20 22 PG
USA Today/Coaches 21 21 USAT

Overall, MSU's moves were marginal, but the Bulldogs did make some upward progress in all but two polls, even if it was one spot.  There is a logjam of teams in front of the Bulldogs, so they will probably stay put for the most part unless they put together a solid SEC Tourney run, or a few teams in front of them have rough final weeks.  Either way, what matters most at this point are wins.

baseball logo Overall Impressions

  • Again, this weekend wasn't pretty, but it was a series win.  The amount of men left on base continues to really be worrisome, especially Friday night's epic fail.  The good news, though, is that the pitching staff seems to be getting better, which could again carry this team into the postseason.  Whether or not State can put another run together will likely depend on whether or not they can get out of this funk on offense.
  • #Cohening seems to become more real as the year progresses.  To this point we've made jokes as to how every games' lineup is completely different from those before it, but some things really start to worry you this late in the season.  One thing that really puzzled me was John Cohen pulling Gavin Collins in the second inning when Lucas Laster also entered the game.  I'm perfectly aware of Collins' struggles at time defensively, but his bat right now is irreplaceable in the lineup.  If Cohen even thinks he would have to pull the freshman for his defense, then why not put him at DH?  Fortunately for State it worked out just fine on Sunday, but Cody Walker did draw a walk in the batting position where Collins was before getting pulled.  If he instead hits into a DP there, how much does that move hurt then?  Collins was pulled early on in the Friday game as well - a game that MSU was not able to win.  I'm not saying Gavin single-handedly saves that game, but I am comfortable saying that you never want to pull a guy with a .350 average in conference play from the lineup unless he's hurt or waving at chicks in the stands during at-bats.
  • The marker 'staches on Sunday were another peak at the fun team we got to see more often last summer.  I don't know what or if anything may have changed in the lockerroom, but this year's team has certainly seemed more "contained" than last year's.  On Sunday they seemed to relax a bit, and it worked (to an extent.  hey, they got the win).  Hopefully we'll see more of the fun, happy-go-lucky Bulldogs of old for the remainder of 2014.

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baseball logo Upcoming Week

at Alabama (32-19) - Thursday, May 15th - Saturday, May 17th