By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State accomplished something Friday night that no other Southeastern Conference team had figured out how to do this season – score runs against Gators starting pitcher Hudson Randall.
"We watched so much film of that guy," Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. "I can see how the guy is extremely effective but thank goodness for us, we just got the barrel of the bats in the right spots several times."
The Bulldogs offense pounded six runs against the sophomore right-hander, who came in leading the league in earned run average (0.54) for the most runs he's given up in his college career in MSU's 7-5 victory over No. 4 Florida. The 46th-round selection by the Kansas City Royals out of high school had allowed five runs on two previous occasions in his career.
"He had a mulligan like that one time last year at Ole Miss (allowed five runs in one inning) and the other starts he was nails," Florida assistant coach Brad Weitzel said. "I watched his bullpen personally and he looked great, looked like Hudson Randall and then the first inning gets away from him."
Senior Jonathan Ogden pounded a pair of home runs for the Bulldogs that easily landed in Left Field Lounge as the senior shortstop increased his team-high total to six and had three RBIs for the night. It's the first multi-home run game in Ogden's career and already tied his 2010 home total.
"We knew what to expect from (Randall) and that he'd bury a lot of breaking balls and come straight at us with fastballs," Ogden said. "We didn't come out here tonight expecting to see the most unhittable guy in the country."
Before the third inning was complete Randall (5-1) was handing the baseball to Florida head coach Tim O'Sullivan after allowing a career-high six earned runs on nine hits in just 2 1/3 innings of work that consisted of just 49 pitches.
Florida (24-7, 7-3 in SEC play) got on the scoreboard early with a pair of run-scoring base hits from catcher Mike Zunino and designated hitter Brian Johnson off MSU starting pitcher Devin Jones that had pitching coach Butch Thompson sending sophomore long reliever Tim Statz before the opening half inning was completed.
Johnson, who State fans will see on the mound this afternoon, finished the evening with a 2-for-5 effort at the plate with two RBIs.
Mississippi State had its four-man relief effort (Daryl Norris, Chad Girodo, Taylor Stark and Caleb Reed) all work out of jams with runners in scoring position from the third to eighth inning of play.
The four-man bullpen crew refused to allow an earned run in the final six innings of the game and were a big reason the Gators finished 4-for-16 with runners in scoring position.
"We feel like that's the strength of this club," Cohen said. "We can go matchup with five or six guys and it can make the other team uncomfortable because you haven't seen that guy before."
Stark (2-0), a freshman from Northwest Rankin High School, increased his shutout streak on the mound Friday night to eight with two innings of no-hit relief that included back-to-back strikeouts in the eighth inning.
"I was primarily throwing sliders as I'm more of a swing-and-miss guy," Stark said. "We got a lot of guys (in the bullpen) that can throw and we can do anything we want."
Reed earned his fifth save of the evening with a two inning effort after throwing 25 pitches in the ninth inning of Tuesday night's victory against Southern Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl.
"You've got to be ready to throw every day and that's what I've trained my arm to do," Reed said. "I came back on Wednesday and did a great rehab session with Coach Thompson. I've been here three years now so I kind of know my routine to get my arm ready to go."
The victory marks the third straight series-opening win against Florida at Dudy Noble Field and was State's sixth win in eight games against ranked opponents during the 2011 season. With the win and Ole Miss' 9-8 loss to Georgia in Oxford, Mississippi State (21-9, 5-5 in SEC) takes over second place by itself in the Western Division and two games behind Alabama for the lead.
Mississippi State will try for its second series win of the season against the Gators when they send sophomore Chris Stratton (4-2, 3.04) to the mound. The Tupelo native will be countered by Florida's southpaw Johnson (4-1, 2.92).