March 23, 2019 10:58:02 PM
By Slim Smith
For the second day in a row, Mississippi State put up crooked numbers in the first inning Saturday in its SEC series with Auburn.
Unlike Friday night, this time the Bulldogs made it stand up, thanks largely to the pitching of freshman JT Ginn and the hitting of sophomore shortstop Jordan Westburg.
The Bulldogs routed the Tigers, 15-2 , before 12,343 fans, the 18th-largest crowd in Dudy Noble Field history. The win evened the series at a game apiece. No. 2-ranked MSU (21-3, 3-2 in the SEC) and No. 12 Auburn (20-3, 4-1) will decide the series today at 1 p.m.
Ginn ran his record to 6-0, giving up two runs on three hits while Westburg led a 20-hit Bulldog attack with three hits, a run-scoring sacrifice fly and five RBIs.
His final hit, a laser-shot homer over the left center field wall in the eighth, traveled an estimated 409 feet, the second-longest homer of the season for the Bulldogs.
After squandering a 5-0 lead in a 6-5 loss to the Tigers in Friday's opener, the Bulldogs came out swinging angry, scoring five runs in the first, then breaking the game open with two runs in the fifth, another run in the seventh and a coup-de-grace seven-run outburst in the eighth.
"That was the mindset," said Westburg. "We understand that losing is part of the game, but. ... We wanted to let them know that wasn't our best baseball."
The Bulldogs hit up and down the lineup and then some. Ten players collected hits, led by senior center fielder Jake Mangum, who went 4-for-6 to raise his average to .425. Gunner Halter had three hits, as did Rowdy Jordan, who was batting just .160 coming into the game. Jordan "got off the interstate, raising his average to .209 with a 3-for-5 day and a pair of RBI.
"We've had Rowdy's back all year," Westburg said. "We knew it was going to start picking up and I think that's what we're seeing now."
Westburg continued his vicious hitting.
"He's just a big, strong, physical kid," said Bulldogs coach Chris Lemonis. "His exit (velocities) are usually in that 100-to-110 (miles per hour) range every time he hits it. He's really talented."
As it turned out, Ginn got a lot more support than he needed.
Aside from a hiccup in the second inning - a single, a double and an RBI groundout - Ginn dominated the Auburn batters. He left after a lead-off single in the eighth.
"It's just unreal watching him," Westburg said. "Just watching how the ball moves, how he goes about his business, how competitive he is. It's a one-in-a-million talent."
"There's not much more I can say," Lemonis said. "He's very poised, has plus stuff, just a great competitor."
Ginn threw just 87 pitches and struck out "only" six batters, but Auburn hitters rarely made good contact, instead chopping at Ginn's pitches, which Westburg said moved "like the ball was on a joystick."
"I had good command of my fastball very early," Ginn said. "I got some early contact and a lot of ground balls and that kept my pitch count low."
He also brought his typical swagger, dancing across the foul line with a shoulder shimmer after each inning.
"I love it," Westburg said. "I'm all for showing emotion on the baseball field. I'm all for playing with a little bit of an edge. It's an intimidation factor for him, I believe."
Ginn said his demeanor is just his nature.
"I don't know," he said. " I just like to go out there and have fun. It keeps me kind of loose. You know, do your thing. That's all."
In Friday's series opener, the Bulldogs jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, and led 5-0 through five innings before Auburn touched up MSU starter Ethan Small and two relievers for two runs in each of the sixth, seventh and eight innings to hand the Bulldogs a deflating, 6-5 loss.
Colby White (1-1), the third of four MSU relievers, was charged with the loss. Small pitched six innings, striking out seven while giving up two runs on three hits.
Auburn got homers from Steven Williams and Rankin Woley in a nine-hit attack. Justin Foscue had a double and two RBIs while Westburg doubled and singled and was the only Bulldog with a multi-hit game. State had seven hits, but only four of them came in the game's final eight innings.
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