Bulldogs break free in rivalry win

 

Ben Portnoy

 

 

PEARL -- For a team that ranks first in the Southeastern Conference in batting average last week, Mississippi State has been in a funk. 

 

The No. 9 Diamond Dawgs mustered 10 runs in three games against Arkansas this past weekend as they were swept in Fayetteville. 

 

The slump persisted through the early stages of Tuesday's Governor's Cup win over No. 19 Ole Miss at Trustmark Park in Pearl. 

 

With Rebels starter Zack Phillips carrying a no-hitter into the fifth inning, senior center fielder Jake Mangum sent a message to his squad. 

 

"Jake brought us together as a team and just said, 'Guys, we can't wait for somebody to be the dude. Be the dude yourself,'" sophomore Justin Foscue recounted. 

 

Sophomore Rowdey Jordan responded, belting his fourth home run of the season into the Ole Miss bullpen to tie the score at one. 

 

Foscue furthered the cause in the sixth inning. He sprayed a fastball up in the zone toward the right field corner off Ole Miss reliever Max Cioffi. 

 

Outfielder Chase Cockrell leapt in desperation but undershot the ball and sophomores Tanner Allen and Jordan Westburg crossed the plate to give MSU a 3-1 lead. 

 

"I did not hit that well," Foscue admitted postgame. "I think it was shaded toward right-center and I'm just lucky that that got down. I hit it in the right spot." 

 

He was awarded the Governor's Cup most valuable player award for his 2-RBI night. 

 

Junior catcher Dustin Skelton added another run two batters later with a sac fly to right field to score senior Elijah MacNamee. 

 

"I thought we strung together some really good at bats," MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. "That's what we've been missing lately is not the home run or the doubles, just good at-bats." 

 

The offensive output continued in the seventh inning. 

 

After senior Marshall Gilbert scored on a fielder's choice, Allen singled through the middle to score senior Jake Mangum. 

 

A throwing error from Ole Miss catcher Cooper Johnson on the play then scored Westburg and moved Allen to third, granting MSU a 7-1 lead. 

 

MSU added one more run in the eighth when Mangum scored sophomore Josh Hatcher on a sac fly. 

 

"We struggled all weekend," Foscue said. "Just to get eight runs, it shows that we're a good offense and we can still do this whenever we can." 

 

On the bump, senior pitcher Peyton Plumlee did his best JT Ginn impression, tossing four innings of three-hit ball while striking out three. Thirty-four of his 60 pitches were thrown for strikes. 

 

The start was a staunch contrast to his previous outing at Arkansas. Plumlee lasted just two innings, giving up five runs on three hits. 

 

"I thought he was really good all night long and it's a good bounce-back for him," Lemonis said.  

 

MSU also got quality innings from juniors Trysten Barlow, Colby White and senior Jared Liebelt in relief. 

 

The trio gave up just three hits and struck out 4.1 innings of work. 

 

"It brings our confidence up a lot," Barlow said of the bullpen. "This past weekend at Arkansas we were a little shaky but now going into Georgia we feel a lot better." 

 

Tuesday marked the Diamond Dawgs' largest margin of victory in the Governor's Cup since a 15-6 victory in 2001.  

 

MSU has now won the event four straight times -- the longest streak since Ole Miss won five in a row from 2002 to 2006. 

 

The Diamond Dawgs are now 23-1 in nonconference and 33-9 overall with the victory as Tuesday's win did not count as an SEC game. 

 

The teams will meet again during a three-game weekend set May 10-12 in Oxford. 

 

"Our kids, they were ready to play," Lemonis said. "I give them a lot of credit. They know this is a big game for everybody so it was exciting. It was fun." 

 

 

Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.

 

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