College Baseball Roundup: Mississippi State Making Early Waves in SEC

There are currently other more highly ranked teams in the powerful Southeastern Conference: Vanderbilt, LSU, and Florida, just to name a few.  In some collegiate baseball polls, you can find Ole Miss and Alabama way up there as well.

But after two straight weekends of collecting four victories each, the 8-0 Mississippi State Bulldogs are serving early notice to the SEC that there is plenty of quality baseball to be found in StarkVegas this season.

Coach John Cohen’s Bullies have won their first 8 games for the second time in the last three years after edging an underrated Alabama A&M team 2-1 Sunday evening on a run-scoring single by freshman Ryan Gridley in the bottom of the 8th inning, breaking a 1-1 deadlock.  Gridley’s hit boosted his season average to .529, a very impressive statistic – but it’s not even the most amazing number for squad that is averaging 10.1 runs per contest.

“The great thing about Ryan Gridley is that he never tries to do too much, which is a very hard thing to teach a freshman,” Cohen said.  “He’s just going to put his barrel on the ball and hit it hard every time, and that’s a tough thing to do in the Southeastern Conference.”

Gridley has company in the potent MSU offense thus far. Jacob Robson is currently hitting .542 and leads the club with 9 RBIs.  Leadoff man Seth Heck is right behind at .538.  The entire team is batting .324, and when your pitching staff can compile a 2.88 ERA at the same time the hitters are productive, there is much reason for optimism in Starkville.

That pitching staff includes stellar relievers Ross Mitchell and Trevor Fitts, who were both on display in snuffing out a 9th-inning threat by Alabama A&M.  Bulldog starter Vance Tatum turned in 6 frames of 2-hit ball Sunday, fanning 9.  Mitchell, who has now thrown 11 scoreless innings for State in 4 appearances, worked the next 2.1 until an infield throwing error and a single put runners on 1st and 2nd.  Cohen called on Fitts, who uncorked a wild pitch and then completed an intentional walk to load the bases.

“Ross (Mitchell) pitches more often to contact, although it’s mostly soft contact,” Cohen said.  “Trevor is more likely to miss bats, and he wants the baseball at the end of games.  We feel very comfortable with him in those situations.”

With no further margin for error, Fitts whiffed the next hitter and then induced an unassisted ground ball force out to 3rd base to end the game and pick up his 3rd save.  The triumph capped off a long, cold day for the Bulldogs, who had to complete a rain-interrupted suspended contest with Marshall prior to the Alabama A&M encounter.

“It wasn’t our best day, literally and figuratively, I guess,” Cohen summarized.  “We did not play our best baseball, and I think the weather had a little bit to do with that, but you have to fight through that.  We played some pretty good teams that wanted to win badly.  Marshall really battled us, and Alabama A&M is a very good ball club.  Folks better take them seriously for the rest of this season.  They’re going to beat some people who they’re not ‘supposed’ to beat.  They have juniors and seniors who know how to play the game.”

In Sunday’s 7-4 win over Marshall, Brent Rooker slammed a 2-run homer in the 5th and Jake Vickerson added a late-inning, 2-run pinch single to get the Bulldogs off to a good start.

Earlier in the weekend, State topped the Thundering Herd 6-2 Friday behind the solid pitching of Preston Brown (now 2-0), who struck out 8 over 6 innings, and Mitchell’s 3 scoreless frames of relief.  Robson had 3 hits and stole 3 bases for the winners, and Gridley knocked in 2 runs.

On Saturday, MSU rode the strength of a 9-run 2nd inning to pound Alabama A&M 18-2.  Gridley had a 3-run, inside-the-park homer to highlight the uprising.  Rooker, also a freshman, collected 3 hits and 5 RBIs in the game with a double and home run.

Bulldog catcher Josh Lovelady has also aided the State cause by throwing out 8 baserunners attempting to steal already, 5 more than any other SEC team through the season’s first two weekends.

In other action around college baseball this weekend…

Florida (6-1) took 2 out of 3 with Miami (5-3) in Gainesville: One of the nation’s best in-state rivalries lived up to its hype.  The Gators squeezed out a 4-3 win on Friday on a 2-out walkoff single by Buddy Reed, his 3rd safety of the contest.  The Hurricanes rebounded to take Saturday’s duel 7-2 as Zack Collins belted a 3-run homer in the 4th and Thomas Woodrey (now 2-0) made it stand up, limiting Florida to 2 runs over his 6.2 innings.

On Sunday, the Gators claimed the series (winning for the 19th time in the last 24 meetings with Miami) by nipping the Canes 2-1 as Dane Dunning (now 2-0) gave up just an unearned run and no hits in his 5-inning start.  Reliever Taylor Lewis went the final 1.1 frames for the save, stranding the tying run at 2nd base with the final out.  Reed’s 3rd-inning RBI single had tied the game at 1-1, setting the stage for a solo homer by red-hot Harrison Bader for the clincher in the 4th.  Bader is leading all SEC batters with 4 HR and 15 RBI.

“It felt good,” the junior from New York said of the game-winner.  “I found myself in a lot of 2-strike counts (in this series).  It’s kind of how the game goes sometimes.  You can never lose that battling aspect at the plate.  You’re not out until you get 3 strikes, so I was just trying to put a good swing on the ball, and I was lucky to get one out.”

UCLA (6-1) took 2 out of 3 with North Carolina (4-2) in Orlando: In a marquee matchup moved southward by weather concerns, UCLA won 8-5 on Friday and 12-6 on Sunday to claim the series, with the Tar Heels taking the Saturday contest 9-6.  Luke Persico had 3 hits and 2 RBIs and Brett Stephens scored 3 times in Friday’s victory.  Shortstop Kevin Kramer was 4-for-6 and scored 3 runs Sunday, aided by Chris Keck‘s 4 RBIs and Persico’s 3-for-6, 2-RBI outing.  UNC’s lone triumph came when pinch-hitter Brian Miller stroked a run-scoring double to tie the game in the 6th, and Landon Lassiter followed with a sacrifice fly.

Virginia (7-0) swept 3 games from Marist (0-3) and 1 from LaSalle: Sunday’s 18-inning, 5-4 win over Marist was the longest game (by innings) in the Cavaliers’ history.  Matt Thaiss led off the 18th with his 3rd hit of the day and was sacrificed to 2nd.  Freshman DH Christian Lowry then lined a single to left-center for his first collegiate hit and Thaiss barely beat the throw to the plate as Virginia remained unbeaten.  Josh Sborz and Kevin Doherty each contributed 5 scoreless frames of relief for the Wahoos, who moved these games to Charleston, South Carolina to evade poor weather conditions.  Virginia won 9-1 over Marist on Friday as Kenny Towns collected 3 hits and 3 RBIs and Pavin Smith smashed a double and home run for 3 more RBIs.  On Saturday, Ernie Clement went 3-for-5 and joined teammates Smith and Daniel Pinero in the home run circle as Virginia dumped LaSalle 8-3.  Smith then had a 3-for-4, 2-run contest to back Alec Bettinger‘s strong pitching (5 shutout frames, 6 Ks) as the Cavaliers topped Marist 7-2.

TCU (6-1) took 2 out of 3 with Arizona State (4-3) in Tempe: TCU won Friday’s opener 3-0 as Preston Morrison (2-0) hurled a masterful 88-pitch complete game shutout, scattering 3 hits.  ASU bounced back Saturday for a 7-6 decision as R. J. Ybarra blasted a 3-run HR among his 3 hits and Colby Woodmansee delivered 2 RBIs.  Sunday’s rubber game went to the Horned Frogs 3-2 on a Cody Jones RBI single with 2 outs in the 9th, overcoming Sun Devil homers by Ybarra (who was 3-for-3) and David Greer.  TCU’s Derek Odell was 3-for-4 with an RBI and Riley Ferrell worked a perfect 9th for the save.

Texas (7-2) swept 4 from Minnesota as its starting pitchers did not allow a single earned run in the series… LSU (6-1) took 3 straight from Boston College (2-5), getting big games from Danny Zardon, Mark Laird, Jared Foster, Kade Scivicque, and Alex BregmanHouston (6-1) took 2 of 3 from Alabama (4-2), but the Tide collected its 2,500th program win on Sunday… South Carolina (6-1) swept 3 from Northeastern (2-4) with solid offense from Alex Destino, Jordan Gore, and Gene ConeVanderbilt (4-2) took 2 of 3 from upset-minded Indiana State (3-3), winning the deciding game Sunday 6-0 as Kyle Wright threw 6 scoreless innings in his first collegiate start… Rice (5-3) won 2 of 3 at Arizona (6-2), claiming the series decider Sunday 6-4 on an extra-inning throwing error… Texas A&M went to 7-0 for the first time since 2006 by sweeping a 3-game set with Penn State (0-6)Ole Miss (4-2) took 2 of 3 from Wright State by splitting a Sunday doubleheader… Maryland topped Arkansas 13-6 Sunday to move to a 5-1 start for the season… Stanford (3-4) took a 2-1 series from Cal State-Fullerton (2-5)JaVon Shelby drove in 4 runs as Kentucky (3-3) defeated UC Santa Barbara 12-7 Sunday… Arden Pabst blasted a 3-run, walkoff homer to pace Georgia Tech (5-2) over Albany 9-8 Sunday… Central Florida moved to 7-0 by topping South Alabama (4-3)  7-5 Sunday… Missouri (7-1) is off to its best start since 2004 after turning a bases-loaded triple play in the 6th inning to preserve a 1-0 triumph over Purdue Sunday… Nevada (7-0) is the lone unbeaten team in the Mountain West Conference after gaining a weekend sweep from Fresno State (3-4)K. J. Harrison‘s grand slam led Oregon State (5-3) past Kansas 15-5 at Surprise, Arizona… and Oregon (7-1) completed a 4-game sweep of New Mexico State.

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