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MSU baseball completes sweep of top-ranked Florida

 

Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum celebrates a leadoff home run in the first inning of Saturday’s 13-6 win over No. 1 Florida at Dudy Noble Field.

Mississippi State’s Jake Mangum celebrates a leadoff home run in the first inning of Saturday’s 13-6 win over No. 1 Florida at Dudy Noble Field. Photo by: Mississippi State Athletic Media Relations

 

Brett Hudson

 

 

STARKVILLE -- Jake Mangum's legendary three years as Mississippi State's center fielder has contained nearly four times as many singles, 200, as all other extra-base hits, 55. Of those 55 multi-baggers, only two have left the yard. His first home run, as a freshman on April 2, 2016, opened scoring of a win over Ole Miss that clinched the series. 

 

His second home run was the both the beginning and the end of a run that won't soon be forgotten. 

 

Mangum took the first pitch of the bottom of the first inning for a home run to right field Saturday, one of three hits in what could be his final game at Dudy Noble Field. It was the beginning of a run of slugging that drowned No. 1 Florida (41-15, 20-10 Southeastern Conference) to a 13-6 win; it was the end of a regular season-ending sweep, after 6-3 and 12-4 wins on Thursday and Friday. 

 

"I think we're playing some of our best baseball this year, certainly our most competitive," MSU interim coach Gary Henderson said of his lineup. 

 

Mangum has made a career of setting up RBI opportunities for those behind him, and almost all of them took advantage: against the best starting pitcher it faced all weekend, Jackson Kowar (9-3), MSU put three doubles and two home runs on the board in 14 hits. It exploded for four runs in the first inning to prove a point and six runs in the eighth to put the Gators away. 

 

Most of it came from the bat of Elijah MacNamee. 

 

MSU's junior right fielder made his presence known in his first at-bat, sending Kowar's hanging breaking ball beyond the first two rows of famed left field lounges, at least 350 feet. His RBI double two innings later regained control of a game that had since been brought within a run before a two-run double in the eighth effectively sealed the sweep. 

 

It should not be a surprise for MacNamee to produce at this level, as this ended a run of 18 games where he raised his average from .246 to .318, hit 10 doubles and drove in 21 runs. He argues the lack of surprise can be extended to the rest of the lineup. 

 

"Coming in against the No. 1 team in the nation, everybody thought, 'Oh I hope they get one,' but our mind-set is we're taking all three," MacNamee said. "We don't care who's on the mound, who we're playing, we're going to compete. Toughness and all that beats talent, and we definitely showed that all three days." 

 

MacNamee's eighth-inning double was only made possible by production around him, boosting his point. Second baseman Hunter Stovall singled before him, scoring a run, and freshman third baseman Justin Foscue singled behind him to score two more, MacNamee included. 

 

While its lineup was sending baserunner after baserunner across the plate, the Bulldogs (31-24, 15-15 SEC) conducted a similar parade of relievers to cover seven innings. Blake Smith (1-0) got the win for his 1 2/3 scoreless innings, including retiring two with the tying run on second and the go-ahead on first. 

 

All told, the only mess the final three relievers created was self-inflicted. After retiring the final batter of the seventh inning, Zach Neff left the dugout to start the eighth, just to find Cole Gordon taking the mound. Confusion ensued, as the two didn't know who was supposed to be pitching. Gordon was mid-trot back to the dugout when home plate umpire Tony Walsh intervened; because Gordon had taken the mound to warm up, he was officially in the game as the pitcher. Neff retreated and Henderson took the blame. 

 

"I just forgot to tell Neff that I told Cole to go in," Henderson said. "That's 100 percent on me, got excited about the ball game. Nothing more than that." 

 

Gordon ultimately pitched the final two innings in scoreless fashion. 

 

The two may meet again soon. MSU beings the SEC tournament 4:30 p.m. Tuesday as the 9 seed against LSU; the loser is out of the tournament but the winner advances to the double elimination bracket, where top-seeded Florida will be the first team it faces, on Wednesday. 

 

Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson

 

 

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