March 24, 2014 10:51:53 AM
STARKVILLE -- Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin left Dudy Noble Field Sunday almost relieved his team wasn't swept out of Starkville.
The sixth-ranked Commodores came away with a 5-1 victory thanks to using the identity that Mississippi State coach John Cohen has tried to instill with his club: pitching and defense.
After watching his more highly touted pitching teammates implode in the first two series, Vanderbilt sophomore right-hander Tyler Ferguson shut the door on any potential sweep talk with a two-hit performance over six innings. The Fresno, Calif., native pitched to contact perfectly and had three strikeouts over a 74-pitch outing that gave the Commodores a chance to salvage a game in their first series loss since April 2012.
"We were embarrassed about how we played Friday and you saw the hangover of that on Saturday," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said. "The result today is good and maybe we grew up a little bit but we've got a lot maturing to do with our club from now till the end of the season."
Vanderbilt (20-5, 3-3 in Southeastern Conference) pushed all five runs across in the final three innings of play after MSU starter Trevor Fitts pitched a third straight quality start in the weekend. The MSU program hasn't seen three straight quality starts since their successful postseason run in the 2011 Atlanta Regional hosted by Georgia Tech.
"We've had some good ones and we have a great staff this season that we rely on heavily right now but boy I must say, Mississippi State is just so good on the mound - so good," Corbin said. "We couldn't do anything with Mitchell the previous night and we had to do some interesting manufacturing with Fitts today as well."
After following stunning performances from Preston Brown and Ross Mitchell in the weekend, Fitts joked after the game that he may actually be the weak link of the starting rotation.
"I read something that said I was the innings eater of the staff but if Ross and Preston are going eight and nine innings each time out, I must be the bullpen guy," Fitts said. "They're doing a great job and I hope they keep doing that the rest of the season."
Only two of the runs on MSU pitching Sunday were earned as the Commodores used two fielding errors, two walks and the sacrifice bunt to make the Bulldogs pay for those fundamental mistakes.
Vanderbilt finally broke the game's scoring ice by plating a run in the top half of the seventh inning on a sacrifice bunt attempt by Rhett Wiseman. The lead grew to 3-0 with two runs in the eighth inning, thanks in part to a pair of hits, an infield error and a wild pitch.
"We really pitched it well," Cohen said. "I am not sure Vanderbilt got a ball to the outfield. We certainly defend it as well as you would have liked. And we have been a very good defensive team all year. However, we certainly pitched it well enough to win for a third straight day."
However, through a three-game series against arguably the most dominant baseball program in the league over the last three seasons MSU pitching allowed just three extra-base hits and forced Vanderbilt to leave nine runners on base.
"Boy I must say, Mississippi State is just so good on the mound," Corbin said. "So good."
Vanderbilt got a three-hit day from cleanup hitter Bryan Reynolds and run-scoring hits from Xavier Turner, Dansby Swanson and Rhett Wiseman to avoid being swept by MSU for the first time since 2000.
There was a point in the game where the 1-8 hitters were 0 for 18 and the No. 9 hitter Gavin Collins had the Bulldogs only two hits in the afternoon.
"Based on our charts, we had 15 hard-ball outs," Cohen said. "That is how the game of baseball sometimes works. The weak ground ball out can sometimes be the better thing. We take a lot of positives away from the weekend because we played really well against a top team. We certainly had our chances in this game as well."
Despite not being able to capture the sweep, MSU (17-9, 4-2) finds itself in a three-way tie for the SEC lead with Auburn and Ole Miss after two weekends of league play. Through winning four of its last five conference games, MSU has limited opponents to a .235 batting average and nine earned runs.
"Overall we leave the park knowing we have a successful weekend even though Sunday leaves a bad taste in your mouth," Cohen said.
Vanderbilt (19-5, 2-3 in SEC) came into Starkville this weekend having won 15 consecutive league series dating back to April 20-22, 2012. That streak was halted suddenly after two games of defensive mishaps, walks and MSU capitalizing on those mistakes for 23 runs in two games. In its last 16 games against Top 20 ranked competition, MSU is 11-5 and the Bulldogs picked up its seventh win against a team ranked in the Top 100 of the latest ratings percentage index Saturday night.
The Bulldogs MSU hosts Southeast Missouri State at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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