Mississippi State is off to a fast start this baseball season and the Bulldogs continue to give indication that it is in no way a fluke.
No. 7 MSU earned another victory over a ranked foe on Tuesday as the Bulldogs downed No. 18 East Carolina 4-1 at Dudy Noble Field. It’s already the fourth win for State over a ranked opponent this season after previously downing Southern Miss twice as well as capturing a triumph over Texas Tech.
Bulldogs first-year head coach Chris Lemonis has seen a hunger in his team’s eyes and he’s loving the results.
“They know what they’re playing for,” Lemonis said. “These are huge wins.
“They’re showing up every day with a purpose, which I like to see.”
Mississippi State (11-1) used a familiar formula to capture its latest win – strong pitching. The Bulldogs used six pitchers against East Carolina (8-5). All six guys were effective.
Keegan James started and earned the win after tossing two scoreless frames. He was followed to the hill by Jack Eagan, Peyton Plumlee, Trysten Barlow, Colby White and Cole Gordon. The Pirates managed just one run and four hits off the Bulldog hurlers. State pitchers combined to strike out a whopping 14 batters and walked only one.
The dominant pitching has been a trend for MSU all year. It hasn’t allowed more than four runs in a game all season long. The Bulldogs currently boast a team earned run average of 1.57 and their strikeout-to-walk ratio is nearly six to one.
“They’re doing an outstanding job,” Mississippi State shortstop Jordan Westburg said of MSU’s pitchers. “We don’t win these games without those pitching performances.”
Westburg did his part on Tuesday to make sure State’s latest stellar mound work didn’t go to waste. Westburg had three of MSU’s six total hits in the game and scored a run.
The Bulldog offense earned an early lead on an Elijah MacNamee first-inning sacrifice fly, then made it 2-0 when Gunner Halter came through with an RBI single in the fifth. After East Carolina scored its lone run of the game in the top of the sixth courtesy of a Turner Brown RBI double, Mississippi State answered with a run in the bottom of the sixth after an error by the Pirates. MacNamee then drove in his second run of the day with an RBI single in the seventh to cap the scoring.
Lemonis praised his offense’s ability to do enough on a cold, blustery day at the ballpark in a game that the start time was moved up three-and-a-half hours to try and avoid the coldest of the day’s temperatures.
“I was really impressed in the fifth, sixth and seventh (innings),” Lemonis said. “We kind of came out in all those innings and expanded the game by one (run each inning). Somebody got a big hit, a big get-them-over, a two-out knock or whatever it might be. I thought we did a really good job there kind of manufacturing some offense on a really tough night to hit.”
White and Gordon closed things out from the mound for the Bulldogs. White pitched a scoreless eighth inning. Gordon did the same in the ninth to extend his scoreless innings pitched streak to 23 2/3 innings dating back to last season.
Gordon did run into some trouble. After a runner reached on a wild pitch following a strikeout, Gordon then committed two errors on a comebacker to the mound – a fielding error and a throwing miscue – to put East Carolina runners at second and third with only one out. However Gordon escaped danger by striking out two batters in a row to lock down the win for State.
On a small scale, it was just another victory in a long line of them so far for the Bulldogs. In the grand scheme of things though – by taking down another ranked team – it was further indication this year’s MSU squad is on a trajectory to make plenty of noise in the months to come.
“It’s a special group, special talent and special players,” Westburg said.