April 20, 2013 11:23:24 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- Jacob Lindgren knew his luck needed to change in a hurry.
The sophomore left-hander saw it happen in front of the second-largest crowd in Dudy Noble Field history.
Lindgren allowed just five hits and struck out 11 Saturday to lead the No. 16 Mississippi State University baseball team to a 6-0 victory against Auburn University in the third and final game of a Southeastern Conference weekend series. MSU (32-10, 10-8 SEC) clinched its third consecutive series in front of an announced crowd of 14,562. He threw 106 pitches and left to a standing ovation after the first batter in the ninth inning.
"It was one of those days where I had some good movement, and it's hard to describe, but I got to the ballpark today with my best stuff in all of my pitches," Lindgren said.
Lindgren's "best stuff" allowed him to avoid any crazy circumstances. Earlier in the season, Lindgren was forced to leave a game after getting hit in the knee with a line drive. In another game, he sprained his ankle retrieving a bunt. On Saturday, Lindgren (two walks) stayed out of trouble and delivered his third quality start of the season.
"I just thought Jacob Lindgren was phenomenal in attacking the strike zone," MSU coach John Cohen said. "He is just one of those guys that works off his slider and is kind of backwards of most pitchers."
Lindgren, who opened the year as the team's opening-night starter and Friday night option before injuries derailed his progress, went to three-ball counts on six hitters and only allowed runners in scoring position one time other than the second inning. He also had better success getting hitters to swing and miss. He had 13 strikeouts in his last three starts against the University of Kentucky, the University of Arkansas, and Texas A&M University.
Lindgren's effort was the latest in a string of quality pitching performances. Six MSU pitchers allowed just four earned runs in the series and had a 1.33 ERA.
"When you talk about the three phases of the game, pitching, hitting, and defense, I don't think we gave our best effort in any of those today," said Auburn coach John Pawlowski,whose team slipped to 24-16 and 6-12. "We've got to get a lot better and fast."
The bottom of the MSU batting order came through all weekend and continued its torrid stretch Saturday, as senior catcher Nick Ammirati had only his fifth multi-hit game of the season. He had two RBIs and scored two runs in the eighth spot of the lineup.
"It was always there," Ammirati said of his batting talent. "I just needed more playing time to show it off."
Playing time for Ammirati has been a touchy subject for Cohen and the MSU staff after they used starter Mitch Slauter in 64 games last season. The coaches feared Ammirati would get restless as a backup and would leave the program this summer. However, the transfer from Panola (Texas) College from Sparta, N.J., has used Slauter's injury (fractured hand) to his benefit. He hit .545 this weekend and made only one error in 27 innings.
"You're talking about a guy that didn't get to play as much as he wanted to or deserved to," Cohen said. "A lot of 21-year-old men say the world is against me because of those darn coaches. He worked his tail off this summer to prove he deserved this opportunity."
MSU outfielders C.T. Bradford and Demarcus Henderson broke out of slumps and combined for seven hits out of the sixth and ninth spots in the order. The production from the bottom of the lineup allowed MSU to survive a stretch in which Hunter Renfroe and Alex Detz went 2-for-21.
"Our lower half of the order had some huge clutch hits, and those guys are really taking great swings and putting together what we would grade out as quality at-bats," Cohen said. "People used to get on Ron Polk for this, but there's a lot in this game that you can't control and there's an element of fortune in this game."
With the victory, MSU improved its Ratings Percentage Index and continued to fight for one of four byes in the SEC tournament and a chance to play host to a NCAA Regional next month.
MSU will play the University of Memphis at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at AutoZone Park in Memphis, Tenn. The park is the home stadium of the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds.
"There is no Vanderbilt (MSU's weekend opponent). There's only Memphis, and Memphis has beaten Ole Miss twice and is a really good club to contend with," Cohen said. "We recognize the importance of mid-week games when you're fighting for what we're fighting for."