May 10, 2014 12:10:22 AM
STARKVILLE -- Mississippi State continued the offensive blues at Dudy Noble Field.
In this version of MSU's disappointing offensive performance in front of the home fans, the Bulldogs left the bases loaded in each of the final two innings of a 4-2 defeat to start the weekend series against Tennessee.
In a critical road series for both teams jockeying for positioning in Southeastern Conference and NCAA Regional fields, the Volunteers got gifts from Mississippi State's pitching and defense to lead them to a 4-2 victory.
Tennessee (29-18, 11-14 in SEC) set the momentum of the game thanks to three unearned runs in the fourth inning thanks to MSU's inability to block pitches in the dirt from Trevor Fitts and left-handed Jacob Lindgren. The Volunteers got its final two runs off wild pitches and those would prove to be difference in the game.
"I really think they gave us some run tonight and we took advantage of those opportunities," Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said. "I have a lot of respect for (MSU coach) John Cohen and how he teaches his kids to defend but if they're going to struggle, you have to make them pay."
Cohen couldn't have agreed more with Serrano's assessment of the early collapse from the pitcher-catcher battery early in the game.
"We're going to look in the rear view mirror tonight and realize we let this one slip away from us," Cohen said.
By the end of the game, a frustrated Cohen had to watch his team leave the bases loaded in the final two innings and fail to score a single run. According to Bill James' sabermetrics statistics for a baseball game, teams are supposed to at least score one run 88.2 percent of the time with the bases loaded and nobody out. That's the scenario No. 21 MSU (31-19, 14-11 in SEC) gave itself in the eighth inning but three strikeouts later and Tennessee had all the momentum.
"We've got to lift our club up right there by being men and saying 'I'm going to get the job done with the game on line' and we just didn't do it," Cohen said.
Tennessee reliever Andrew Lee was able to keep the Bulldogs off the scoreboard in eighth with swing-and-miss fastballs off a classic four-seam fastball. Lee got his third save of the season and after the final strikeout of MSU senior Derrick Armstrong in the eighth, Lee pumped his fist toward a incredibly excited Volunteers dugout.
"That's not exactly how I would've drawn it up and I was getting nervous to be honest when the bases got loaded and I had no margin for error," Lee said. "I just needed to pound the strike zone with fastballs knowing they weren't very good all night at the plate. I didn't go to anything special."
MSU got run scoring hits from C.T. Bradford and Seth Heck but the 4-9 hitters in the Bulldogs order were a combined 3 of 20 with 10 strikeouts.
Friday night's series win was Tennessee's first win at Dudy Noble Field since 2010 and in the last two days of the weekend will go for its first series win in Starkville since 2004. It also marked just the second time the Volunteers have opened up a league series with a victory.
Volunteers right-hander Hunter Martin made sure MSU's putrid stretch of offense at home continued by controlling the Bulldogs lineup for two runs on six hits over 6 1/3 innings in his third quality start of the 2014 season.
"We haven't had too many chances to get a Friday night win this season and you can't get a sweep unless you win the first one," Serrano said. "I just decided to go with my best guys for key outs after Hunter gave us a special effort on the mound. I leave the park knowing I tried everything reasonable to get this win."
Freshman first baseman Nathaniel Maggio knocked a run-scoring single to right field to plate the first two runs of the game. Maggio came to Starkville hitting .318 (7 of 22) over his last 10 appearances but was just a paltry .194 in SEC play over 62 at-bats.
Both teams will play game two of the weekend series at 5 p.m. on Comcast Sports South as Tennessee will run out senior Nick Williams (5-4, 3.73) against MSU ace left-hander Ross Mitchell (7-4, 2.12).
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