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Florida blasts Bulldogs 11-1 in Super Regional opener

 

Mississippi State pitcher Evan Mitchell gave up seven earned runs in two innings Friday.

Mississippi State pitcher Evan Mitchell gave up seven earned runs in two innings Friday. Photo by: Gene Swindoll/Special to the Dispatch

 

David Miller

 

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Mississippi State baseball team entered its NCAA Super Regional series against Florida brimming with confidence.  

 

Even though they''d lost three of four against the No. 2-ranked Gators, a pair of two-run defeats to Florida and a flawless regional round against the Gators gave players and coaches the sense that there wasn''t much separating the two teams -- if they played a perfect game.  

 

Friday, after an 11-1 loss that mirrored some of MSU''s uglier defeats this season, the Bulldogs find themselves one loss away from their season ending. 

 

MSU got just two innings from starting pitcher Evan Mitchell and struggled to move runners, leaving seven stranded, including two in both the second and fifth. 

 

He gave two home runs, the first two of his career and a career-high seven runs. 

 

The Bulldogs were held to one run or less for the ninth time this season.  

 

The loss was tied for MSU''s third-worst of the season behind a 17-1 loss to LSU and an 18-0 loss to Florida. 

 

"Everybody in the league deals with this type of loss, everybody," MSU coach John Cohen said, "It''s the way baseball works, so I fully expect our guys to come out tomorrow and be ready and again, have a better approach at the plate and at the mound." 

 

MSU (37-24) was down 4-0 after the first inning to a Gators team that has now outscored opponents 34-1 through the first three innings of four NCAA tournament games.  

 

Starting pitcher Evan Mitchell struggled to throw strikes, giving up seven earned runs on five hits, including two home runs. He walked three and struck out two.  

 

"The thing that we have to do against a really good club like Florida is throw a ball in the strike-zone immediately," MSU coach John Cohen said. "And Evan''s done such a great job in his last three or four outings. He got behind instantly in the first inning (and) the two walks score. And again, if you give up solo home runs it''s not gonna kill you, but if you have walks in front of that it''s just not gonna win for you." 

 

Once falling behind, the task became more difficult for the Bulldogs offense, which had scored six or more runs before the fifth inning in each of its last two games.  

 

Florida pitcher Hudson Randall atoned for an ugly start at Dudy Noble Field that led to Florida''s only loss the Bulldogs this season.  

 

Florida''s usual Friday starter pitched a season-high 115 innings and gave up just one run on six hits. He had a career-high eight strikeouts and walked two.  

 

Unlike his loss in Starkville, Randall kept the ball down in the zone and didn''t pitch to contact in the early innings.  

 

"This is definitely one of Huddy''s greatest outings," Florida catcher Mike Zunino said. "His curveball was great today. Early, he got some strikeouts then settled in and pitched to contact once we got the lead. There''s been a few others where his stuff was just as good, but he stepped up for us." 

 

Randall said he was surprised MSU''s hitters were laying off early pitches because that''s how they chased him after two innings in Starkville. But the way his slider was moving away from hitters and the way he was hugging the corners of the plate, it didn''t leave MSU hitters many options early in the count.  

 

Randall gained a first-pitch strike against seven of the first eight batters he faced.  

 

"It''s kind of a double-edged sword: if you''re super aggressive against [Randall], he''s gonna get through four or five innings and not have thrown any pitches at all," Cohen said. "I thought the first time we faced him we did a great job taking marginal pitches. Again, you look at our chart, it''s just not as bad as you think it is. Every guy in our lineup, except for Cody Freeman, hit a ball really hard -- it was right at somebody." 

 

The Gators offense scored in each of the first five innings, first getting on the board through a two-RBI single from Zunino with the bases loaded. Tyler Thompson followed with two-RBI double to the spacious right-center field gap that came on a 1-2 count, one of the few times Mitchell got ahead against a Florida batter. 

 

Nolan Fontana followed with a two-run home run to left in the second to make it a 6-0 Florida lead, and Zunino took Mitchell''s first pitch of the third inning over the left-field wall.  

 

"This time of the year, it''s all about momentum," Florida coach Kevin O''Sullivan said, "how you handle it and hang on to it. It might be one of our better offensive games in a while. To not have any give-away innings was outstanding." 

 

Zunino, the SEC Player of the Year, went 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Leadoff hitter Fontana went 1-for-4 with two RBIs.  

 

Parks went 2-for-4 for MSU.  

 

The Bulldogs will start left-hander Nick Routt (3-3, 3.78 ERA) Saturday; Florida will send freshman Karsten Whitson (8-0, 2.42) to the mound.  

 

 

 

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