By Danny P. Smith
Mississippi State junior pitcher Devin Jones refused to crumble under the pressure and give up the lead Friday afternoon.
Given a 2-0 lead to protect early in the game, the Eupora native was able to battle through some mid-inning struggles to win his second game of the season.
Jones struck out a career-high seven batters in seven innings of work and the Bulldogs defeated the Sacred Heart Pioneers 5-0 in front of 1,143 fans at Dudy Noble Field.
With Jones and fellow junior hurler Caleb Reed combining on the shutout, it was the eighth quality pitching start of the year for MSU which already equals last year's total.
"That's kind of mine and (Chris) Stratton's job to eat up innings as good as we can and pitch efficiently," Jones said. "I probably didn't do a good enough job of limiting pitches (Friday night), but I wanted to make it through the seventh inning and give our team a chance."
Even though he had a role in the third shutout of the season for the Bulldogs, Jones wasn't about to take all of the credit. He acknowledged first baseman Ryan Collins' defense and the work of catcher Wes Thigpen behind the plate.
"Some of the credit goes to me, but it really depends on defense and offense," Jones said.
MSU (11-3) scored its first run of the game in the first inning when Nick Vickerson walked, then stole second base and third base ahead of a triple by Jarrod Parks. The Bulldogs went up 2-0 when Collins delivered an RBI single to get Parks across the plate.
After the Pioneers loaded the bases with an error and two singles in the fourth inning, Jones buckled down with two outs to strike out Chris Whittemore and got Rocco Gondek to fly out to right.
MSU coach John Cohen came out to visit with his infield and settle it down prior to Jones getting out of the jam.
"He just basically told us to play the game we've been playing all our lives," Jones said.
Jones gave up two more hits in the fifth, but Mj Schifano was thrown out stealing and Steve Tedesco was stranded when Jones struck out John Murphy to end the inning.
"He may not have had his best stuff, but he competed when he absolutely had to and we felt good about putting up zeros," Cohen said.
The Bulldogs gave Jones some cushion in the fifth when Jonathan Ogden singled and scored on a wild pitch, then Jaron Shepherd reached on a fielder's choice and scored on a single by wes Thigpen.
Shepherd had an RBI single in the seventh to score Ogden to increase Mississippi State's lead to 5-0.
"It's good to have run support," Jones said. "You get to settle in and relax a little bit. Our guys did a great job of handling that."
Collins was glad to be able to reward Jones' effort with some runs.
"I know the last few times Devin has pitched we really haven't provided much run support so getting those two in the first inning, then later on giving him an extra cushion was big," Collins said. "We need to score runs for him and help him out."
Junior pitcher Caleb Reed entered the game in the eighth inning and struck out the side. He added another in the ninth to give him 14 strikeouts in 9 1/3 innings.
"If you told me two years ago that Caleb Reed was going to have the kind of stuff right now, I'm not 100 percent sure I would have believed that," Cohen said. "He's turned into a dominant one or two inning guy because of his slider and movement of his fastball.
"What Devin and Caleb did was impressive. You don't want to trade defense and pitching for offense, but when you don't swing it like we didn't tonight, you've got to have it. Good teams don't always swing it, but they always get it done on the mound."
MSU's series continues with Sacred Heart continues today at Dudy Noble Field. The first pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.