Mississippi State pitching coach Butch Thompson had two meetings at the mound with his starting pitcher about facing LSU’s best hitter.
It’s clear those instructions weren’t followed by MSU hurler Luis Pollorena in the Bulldogs 17-1 home loss Thursday night.
“(Mikie) Mahtook is truly one of the best players not only in our league but in the country, a sure fire first-round draft choice, and he’s just become so consistent,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said.
LSU cleanup hitter Mikie Mahtook put on a hitting display showcasing why is among the leaders in the Southeastern Conference in nearly every offensive category. The junior centerfielder silenced the announced crowd of 3,415 by going 3-for-4 with four RBIs and being a triple away from hitting for the cycle.
“You don’t want the other team’s best hitter to beat you,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said.
Mahtook treated Pollorena like a batting practice pitcher throughout an evening that culminated in a two-run home run off the top of the left-centerfield wall to give LSU a commanding 7-1 lead in the fifth inning.
“We threw a (first) pitch down the center of the plate,” Cohen said. “We’re in a pattern two, which means we’re not going to let him beat us. We’re going to work out of the zone and that’s what Butch met (with them about).”
One inning later, the Tigers brought 14 batters to the plate in its largest scoring frame of the season (10) and knocked around four different Bulldogs pitchers. LSU scored all 10 consecutive runs in the inning without Mississippi State being able to register a single out.
LSU (35-19, 12-16 in SEC play) scored its largest run total of the season with its previous high being 15 produced three times at home in Alex Box Stadium.
The loss for Mississippi State means that after Thursday night’s action Alabama (32-22, 14-14) has clinched a spot in the SEC Tournament and leads the Western Division after a 2-1 victory over No. 3 South Carolina. Following the Crimson Tide is a four-way tie in the West for the final three spots to the postseason tournament.
“It’s all about them forgetting and moving forward,” Cohen said. “I think our kids are pretty resilient.”
Mahtook, who was a preseason first team All-American selection by Baseball America, now leads the SEC in home runs (14) and slugging percentage (.697) this season.
With two outs in the third inning and two outs, Thompson went out to chat with Pollorena. Everybody had their eye on keeping Mahtook and his .373 batting average standing on deck.
Five pitches later, the bases were loaded up after a walk and Mahtook did what Thompson and everybody in maroon and white feared at Polk-Dement Stadium feared by crushing a two-run single off the glove of MSU third baseman Jarrod Parks to score two runs and give the Tigers a 3-1 advantage.
“That at-bat he had there kind of exemplifies how he’s grown as a hitter,” Mainieri said. “Probably two years ago he would’ve swung and missed but now he stayed right in there and smashed that ball.”
Mahtook, who easily kept his 53-game on-base streak alive, had his 21st multiple-hit game and his fifth three-hit game of the 2011 season.
It's likely LSU must still win the final two games of this weekend series and get help from the out-of-town scores to get a bid in the 2011 SEC Tournament. The Tigers haven’t swept MSU in Starkville since taking four games in 1975.
“Our players understand that this is just one game,” Mainieri said. “It has nothing to do with (today) and that’s just how baseball works.”
His regular season finale was Pollorena’s shortest outing of the season since being put in the starting rotation at the beginning of May. The sophomore left-hander allowed seven earned runs in just 4 1/3 innings while allowing seven hits in 80 pitches.
However, once the 5-foot-6 sophomore left the game, the combined relief effort of Tim Statz, Devin Jones and Andrew Busby allowed 10 more runs while recording just three total outs.
“(Pollorena) did a great job getting that fastball down and away but he was struggling to get a second pitch over tonight,” MSU senior catcher Wes Thigpen said.
In the other dugout, LSU starting pitcher Kevin Gausman was dominant on the mound limiting Mississippi State (33-20, 13-15) to just four hits in 7 2/3 innings while striking out seven in 110 pitches. The sixth round selection out of high school by the Los Angeles Dodgers has allowed just four earned runs in his last 30 2/3 innings of work.
“Gausman has a chance to become one of the elite pitchers in our league,” Mainieri said. “He’s been getting better as the year goes along. He was phenomenal tonight.”
The pair of teams will meet again tonight for a 6:30 p.m. contest in which MSU will send junior southpaw Nick Routt (2-2, 3.86) to the mound and LSU will counter with freshman right-hander Kurt McCune (7-3, 3.30).