February 22, 2018 11:09:03 AM
JACKSON -- The opening weekend of the college baseball season was a jarring experience for Gary Henderson.
What he saw in Mississippi State was not what he expected both in result and in qualitative measures. The three-game sweep at the hands of Southern Mississippi had moments where MSU looked clueless in all three aspects of the game, and each instance was easy to connect with the loss that followed.
If Wednesday's game was any indication of the future, all of that is gone.
"If you saw us over the weekend (against Southern Miss), we were clearly more relaxed, noticeably more energy and played a lot better," Henderson said.
Playing better Wednesday night meant two home runs and 12 runs on 10 hits, plus striking out a total of 11 Jackson State Tigers, in a 12-1 win. MSU (1-3) certainly had every reason to play distracted, given the resignation of former MSU coach Andy Cannizaro Tuesday morning, but Henderson saw the improvement sourced in the sour opening weekend that came before it.
"Sometimes you play over the course of a weekend, you get a couple of days off and you realize you're much better than you performed," said Henderson, MSU's interim coach. "You're determined to go out and prove it and I think we proved that tonight."
As junior center fielder Jake Mangum saw it: "Offensively, we got deeper into counts, I thought. Guys laid off balls outside the strike zone and I think that was the biggest story of the (Southern Miss) weekend: guys chased too much, too aggressive at pitches we shouldn't be swinging at."
That pitch selection could be evidenced in MSU's seven strikeouts compared to 11 walks, plus additional help from four hit batsmen. It also showed itself in the home runs that put the Tigers out of striking distance for good.
Junior designated hitter Hunter Vansau led off the top of the fourth inning, with MSU leading 2-0, with a solo home run well over the right field fence, flashing a subtle bat flip before his trot around the bases. Later in the frame, freshman left fielder Rowdey Jordan met a bases-loaded situation with a two-run single, his first RBIs as a Bulldog.
Vansau led off the top of the fifth, as well, by being hit with a pitch and getting to second on a passed ball. After catcher Dustin Skelton walked, senior outfielder Tanner Poole hit his first home run of the season over the left field wall, a three-run blast that put MSU up 8-0.
It all came after Vansau got MSU on the board with his RBI single that ultimately scored a second run on an error. It was all the run support starting pitcher JP France (1-0) needed to earn the win in his first appearance for MSU as a graduate transfer. He pitched three shutout innings, allowing one hit and two walks and struck out two.
Keegan James, Trysten Barlow, Jared Liebelt and Riley Self all came together to get MSU to the end of the game. James was the first out of the bullpen and have MSU 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief while allowing two hits and striking out five. Liebelt and Self each threw perfect innings in the eighth and ninth, respectively.
"On the mound tonight, lights out," Mangum said. "Guys filled the zone up, changed speeds, threw three different pitches for strikes all night. We had really good outings tonight and we needed them."
Junior second baseman Hunter Stovall had two hits, as did Vansau. Freshman first baseman Josh Hatcher continued his hot start with a hit, two walks and two runs scored.
MSU's 12-day road trip continues with three games in Corpus Christi, Texas, this weekend, against UC Santa Barbara on Friday, Nicholls State on Saturday and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi on Sunday.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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