Smith on Sports: Pitchers France, Neff keeping Bulldogs in games

Danny P. Smith
Staff Writer

Pitchers like JP France and Zach Neff for the most part have given the Mississippi State Bulldogs exactly what they've needed out of the bullpen this season.
The two Bulldogs sport the best earned run averages on the staff and usually don't give up very much.

On Sunday, France worked 4.2 innings for MSU in a 7-4 loss to the Texas A&M Aggies and even though he was touched for three runs on seven hits, he was effective on the mound.

Along with Cole Gordon, France didn't fold the tent and kept the Bulldogs in the game. Gordon did not allow a run in his more than one inning of action.

"JP and Cole were good out of the bullpen and gave us a chance,” MSU interim head coach Gary Henderson said.

France's ERA will probably go up some from the 2.79 he entered the game with, but he pounded the strike zone with seven strikeouts and no walks. France threw 79 pitches and it was his longest outing of the season. He was getting tired on Sunday, but he left it all out on the field for his team.

When it comes to the Bulldog bullpen, Neff has obviously been the best. He has a 1.73 ERA in 36.1 innings pitched. He is tied with the most appearances for MSU now with Gordon and Keegan James.

It will be important for those Bulldogs to continue to pitch effectively and lend as much help as they can to starters Konnor Pilkington, Ethan Small and Jacob Billingsley when they falter.

Pitching hasn't been the problem for MSU this season. It's been offense.

State ranks last in the Southeastern Conference in on-base percentage, runs scored, runs batted in and home runs.

Even though there have been times when the Bulldogs look like are about to be more consistent with their hitting, games like Sunday happen that causes a setback.

MSU had 13 hits against Texas A&M, but unlike the second game of the series that the Bulldogs won 11-6 on Saturday, they couldn't get the key hit to drive in runs. State left 10 runners on base on Sunday.
There's only one way for the Bulldogs to come up with a more consistent offense and that's to continue to work at it.

With three SEC series left with Alabama, Kentucky and Florida, there is still an opportunity for MSU to stay in the league race.

Arkansas stands in first place in the Western Division with its 13-8 record, but State is only four games back at 9-12. There are six teams within four games of each other in the West.

The only team not on that list is Alabama with its 5-16 mark. That makes next weekend's series in Tuscaloosa for the Bulldogs very important. A sweep for MSU will be ideal, but at least a series win should keep it in contention.

As it always seems to be, the run for a division championship and a spot in Hoover, Alabama, for the SEC Tournament will come down to the last series.

It probably drives coaches and players crazy, but that makes it fun for everyone else to see how the season plays out.

Danny P. Smith is sports editor and columnist for the Starkville Daily News. The opinions in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Daily News or its staff.