March 28, 2011 7:55:00 AM
STARKVILLE -- The Mississippi State baseball team''s pitching staff threw its fourth shutout of the season Sunday in a 5-0 victory against No. 21 Auburn in the final game of a Southeastern Conference series Sunday afternoon at Dudy Noble Field.
Nick Routt and Daryl Norris combined on a four-hit shutout. It was MSU''s first shutout of a league opponent since Ricky Bowen threw a two-hit, 4-0 shutout against the University of Mississippi on March 16, 2008.
With the victory, the Bulldogs completed a three-game series sweep. It was their first three-game conference sweep since the 2007 team that advanced to the College World Series accomplished the same feat at home against Auburn.
Winning their fourth-straight game against a ranked opponent, the Bulldogs (18-6, 4-2 SEC) maintained sole possession of second place in the SEC Western Division standings. Auburn fell to 14-10 and 2-4.
"It was nice to get three SEC wins under our belt this weekend," MSU coach John Cohen said. "Today, (we) executed a couple of plays very well. The first-and-third play was executed to perfection. ... I think we gained a ton of confidence this weekend that will help us moving forward."
The Bulldogs broke open a scoreless tie with four runs in the fifth inning. Jonathan Ogden singled, and after a sacrifice bunt by Adam Frazier, Wes Thigpen singled to score Ogden. Jaron Shepherd followed with an infield hit. After a strikeout, Ryan Collins walked to load the bases. Jarrod Parks followed with a two-run single to center field. An RBI-single by Cody Freeman capped the inning.
The Bulldogs tacked on an insurance run in the sixth. With runners at first and third and two outs, MSU executed a first-and-third play. Running at first base, Shepherd got into the run down that brought Frazier in with a steal of home.
Two-out hitting was the theme of the weekend. The Bulldogs scored 24 of their 27 runs with two outs.
"It is all about confidence," Shepherd said. "There are going to be ups and downs in baseball. The key is staying focused and not getting too down. Each win this weekend gave us some momentum going into the next game."
The other storyline was the performance of Routt. Still battling back from an injury-plagued 2010, the junior left-hander made his second start of the season. Working with a pitch count, Routt threw 3 2/3 innings, allowing two hits, with three strikeouts and two walks.
Norris (1-0) entered with two outs in the fourth and worked a career-longest 5 1/3 innings. The freshman right-hander allowed two hits, with two strikeouts and no walks.
For the weekend, MSU pitching posted a 3.00 ERA, with 23 hits and 14 runs (12 earned) allowed in 27 innings. MSU pitchers struck out 20 and walked 11.
MSU had 10 hits in the series finale. Ogden had three hits, while Thigpen added two hits. Ogden went 7-for-12 in the series to lead the Bulldogs, who hit .387.
Auburn starter Derek Varnadore (3-1) allowed eight hits and four runs (all earned), with eight strikeouts and a walk in five innings.
Dan Gamache had two of Auburn''s four hits.
MSU will play host to Alabama A&M at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.
1. Caledonia softball continues magical postseason run HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
2. New Hope advances in baseball playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
3. Starkville falls to DeSoto Central in playoffs HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. MSU drops doubleheader, SEC series to Auburn COLLEGE SPORTS