Mississippi State’s search for a Sunday starting pitcher continues after a disappointing 13-4 blowout loss to South Carolina in the third game of its Southeastern Conference series.
For the third time in Southeastern Conference play, the Bulldogs hurler on the mound for the series finale left after no more than one inning of work.
“We’re going to have to pitch on Sundays better than that,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “We’re searching for that guy to get us deeper in a ballgame and haven’t found it yet.”
However, unlike previous trips to Vanderbilt and Arkansas, the MSU bullpen was unable to provide coverage for the short start and South Carolina (31-8, 14-4 in SEC play) jumped all over five of State’s six pitchers for the day for a 13-4 victory at Dudy Noble Field.
Mississippi State handed the ball to freshman Daryl Norris for his first ever collegiate start but the former Mr. Baseball in the state of Alabama elevated seemingly every pitch he threw in an opening inning where he allowed a pair of runs. MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson immediately pulled the Fairhope, Ala., native after 25 pitches for sophomore southpaw Chad Girodo.
“It’s clear to me that Norris wasn’t going to get it done,” Cohen said. “He needs to find that sink that he had two weeks ago.”
The middle relief of right-handers Devin Jones, Victor Diaz and Taylor Stark allowed a combined nine earned runs while letting 11 of the 16 batters they faced to reach base.
Before the fifth frame was completed, Mississippi State (24-16, 7-11 in SEC) was down 11-3 and staring at their fourth lost series in a row.
“Obviously the fourth and fifth innings were a killer for us today,” Cohen said. “When you’re playing South Carolina, you got to get some swings-and-misses."
Jones (2-5), a former 49th-round draft pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2008 out of Eupora High School, surrendered four earned runs in 16 pitches.
“He’s just finding a whole lot of barrels,” Cohen said. “Sometimes a light switch has to go on for him just like it did for Pollorena and like it did for Caleb Reed. His last two outings before this were fine but they weren’t everything on the line type situations.”
South Carolina, who was missing two starting outfielders due to injury or illness, got a hit from everybody except one member of their lineup and their offensive explosion allowed them to roll out their 1-2 relief punch of John Taylor and Matt Price to end the ballgame.
“(South Carolina) Coach (Ray) Tanner said it best before the game when he said we could crumble with two guys out when people expect us to lose or we can handle the adversity,” South Carolina right fielder Jake Williams said.
The middle of the Gamecocks lineup (Christian Walker, Brady Thomas and Williams) combined to hit 11-for-16 with 10 RBIs and five runs scored Sunday. Walker, a senior first baseman ended the weekend with a .909 batting average through the three games raising his season total 42 points (.339 to .371).
“We had every reason in the world not to win today,” Tanner said. “Never did I think we’d have double digit runs. Of all the games I’ve been involved in, this one means a lot to me because the way we went after it when we really didn’t have enough soldiers today.”
In his first collegiate start Sunday due to a severe wrist injury to centerfielder Jackie Bradley Jr., DeSean Anderson went 3-for-4 with a run scored a walk. The true freshman from High Point, N.C., came into Dudy Noble Field with only two career at-bats in the 2011 season but managed to be a significant contributor out of the eight-hole of the USC lineup.
“He’s going to get some opportunities after getting three hits today and he’s got athleticism,” Tanner said.
Taylor (3-1), who got the loss after giving up the lead Saturday night, redeemed himself with his third appearance of the weekend allowing just one run over four innings of work. The 77 pitch-effort was the senior’s longest stint since arriving on the South Carolina campus as a submarine-style right-hander.
“It was a case today were he had some innings in him and we felt like we could go to Matt Price for four innings minimum and if we got a couple out of Taylor, that’s how we sort of mapped it out,” Tanner said.
Price, who hadn’t been used all weekend, came into the contest second in the league with 11 saves and after his final 2 1/3 innings of shutout relief has not allowed a run in 19 of his 21 relief appearances this season.
Mississippi State actually took the lead in the third frame after roughing up South Carolina starting pitcher Forrest Koumas for three runs in the inning and forcing Tanner to turn to his bullpen a bit earlier than he’d anticipated.
Senior Jarrod Parks contributed a pair of hits and runs on the scoreboard while keeping his batting average at .409 for the season and extending his hitting streak to 13 contests. Fellow senior Ryan Collins had his first three-hit day in the month of April.
With the loss Sunday, State falls two games behind a three-way tie for the lead of the Western Division with Auburn, Ole Miss and Arkansas all at the top spot with 9-9 records. The Bulldogs, who still currently stand one spot out of the SEC Tournament in Hoover, have four remaining series’ against teams outside the Top 25 of the Ratings Percentage Index (vs. Alabama, at Tennessee, at Ole Miss, vs. LSU).
“I know our kids will bounce back,” Cohen said. “I think they were so excited about taking a step forward. I felt like we kept competing. You take away those middle innings and it’s a whole different game.”