By JOEL COLEMAN
The Mississippi State pitching staff was still posting goose eggs on the Dudy Noble Field scoreboard into the second game of the season.
Chris Stratton dazzled for six innings, Caleb Reed slammed the door the final three frames and Mississippi State posted its first back-to-back shutouts to open a season since the first two contests of the 1994 campaign with a 2-0 win over Lamar University in the opening game of a Saturday doubleheader at Dudy Noble Field.
"We came out and just played great," said Stratton. "Just glad that our pitchers could come out and really set the tone."
One day after the Bulldogs' offense exploded in an 11-0 win over Akron, the State bats weren't as giving to Stratton.
Fortunately for MSU (2-0), the sophomore right-hander from Tupelo didn't need much support.
Stratton allowed just six hits and one walk while notching a career-best 10 strikeouts in his 15th-ever start for State.
All of Stratton's punch outs came with a price, however, as the hurler threw 105 pitches in his day's work.
"Something I definitely need to work on is pitch efficiency," said Stratton. "I just need to throw a lot less pitches in those innings."
Despite his pitch count, Stratton was in control for most of his outing with the only real hiccup coming in the top of the fourth.
A half-inning after MSU provided its starting pitcher with his first lead on a two-out RBI double by Nick Vickerson that scored Jonathan Ogden, Stratton surrendered back-to-back singles and a walk that loaded the bases full of Cardinals with one out in the fourth.
Stratton rebounded by striking out Lamar's Pablo Salinas and Joey Latulippe to end the frame.
"Just had my back against the wall," said Stratton. "I credit my catcher, Wes Thigpen. He's one of the best catchers I've ever thrown to. He's a great coach and he just gave me the right pitches to throw."
State held its 1-0 lead until the bottom of the fifth.
With one out, Sam Frost's first hit of the 2011 season was a single to left just ahead of a walk to Vickerson.
After Ryan Collins was retired on a fly out to center, Jarrod Parks doubled to right-center field to score Frost.
Vickerson was retired at the plate on the play trying to reach home all the way from first base.
The newly-gained two-run lead was plenty for the Bulldogs, who turned the mound duties over to the junior right-hander Reed in the seventh.
In his first two innings of work, Reed struck out four and faced the minimum.
The Cleveland, Miss. native ran into a bit of ninth inning trouble as Lamar (0-2) was able to bring the potential go-ahead run to the plate with one out in the final frame, but Reed got a strikeout and induced a game-ending ground out to himself to record his first career save.
"I never really thought Caleb would be able to spin the baseball consistently the way he has for the last six or eight months," said MSU third-year head coach John Cohen. "He's going to be very difficult for right handed hitters to deal with. The thing we're working very hard with is the left-handed hitters. Those are the guys that see the ball a little bit better. But the depth of (Reed's) slider, the movement of his fastball is very good."
Lamar senior right-hander Blake Ford took the loss for the Cardinals, working five innings, walking three and striking out two while giving up four hits and two earned runs.
It was a solid outing for Ford, but a far cry from the 18-inning stretch that State has used to start its season.
Through two games, a Bulldog pitching quartet of Devin Jones, Daryl Norris, Stratton and Reed didn't give up a run, surrendered just nine hits and struck out 24.
"We're really happy with our arms," said Cohen. "It's 56 games (this season) and your measuring stick is the Southeastern Conference. You're thrilled you have great weather. You're thrilled your kids come out with the type of energy our kids had, and you're thrilled when there's a lot of zeros going up on the board for the other team."