Ethan Small delivers a pitch in the first inning of Mississippi State’s 24-7 win over South Carolina Thursday at Dudy Noble Field. Despite giving up single runs in the first and second innings, Small settled down to improve his record to 8-1 on the season. Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
May 17, 2019 10:38:53 AM
As the smoke from the left field loungers' grills at Dudy Noble Field slowly trickled across the outfield bleachers in the fourth inning Thursday, the sounds of bagpipes pierced the night.
The melodic squeaking followed the tune of "Amazing Grace." Though the song is more befitting of a funeral, it was rather on-point as MSU scored 16 unanswered runs between the third and fifth innings to down South Carolina (27-26, 7-21 SEC) by a score of 24-7 Thursday night.
"I thought we had some good at-bats early (but) just didn't have a lot to show for it," MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. "And being able to separate in that game was huge."
The 24 runs were the Bulldogs' most in SEC play since a 21-run outburst against Ole Miss in 1994.
The Bulldogs (44-10, 19-9) did much of their damage Thursday by way of home runs. Junior catcher Dustin Skelton belted a 408-foot grand slam in the fifth inning to cap off the 16-run streak.
Freshmen Landon Jordan, and Brad Cumbest and sophomore Josh Hatcher also notched home runs of their own.
Jordan's sixth-inning blast and Cumbest's long ball in the eighth were each player's first career homers.
"It felt like a dream," Jordan said of watching his ball sail over the fence. "It's something I've always dreamed of and it was awesome."
Hatcher finished the night 2-for-3 with an RBI and three runs scored. It was his first multi-hit game since March 28 against LSU.
"You've just got to know your name is going to be called and when it is you have to be ready to go," Hatcher said.
MSU also got production from its usual suspects. Sophomore first baseman Tanner Allen finished the night 5-for-5 with four runs and three RBIs.
Classmates Justin Foscue and Rowdey Jordan each recorded multi-hit games, while Jordan added three RBIs on the night.
MSU ace Ethan Small was a bit shaky in the early going of Thursday's win. After striking out the South Carolina leadoff man in the first inning, TJ Hopkins belted a double to left center. Andrew Eyster followed with a double of his own, scoring Hopkins and putting South Carolina ahead 1-0.
Eyster struck again off Small in the third inning, plating Hopkins with his second RBI double of the night.
"I felt good, but I felt so good it kind of felt off a little bit and then from there it was just a fight to really figure out my release point," Small said.
With a slight refocus, Small retired the final seven batters he faced. He finished the night giving up just two runs on three hits while striking out seven in five innings of work.
Small is now 8-1 with a 1.94 ERA in 88 innings pitched. He also climbed to fifth on the MSU single-season strikeouts chart.
"His velocity was really good, he probably had his best velocity early," Lemonis said. "But he just couldn't command as much as he normally does so he fell behind. But he kept us in there."
MSU has now won 12 of its past 13 games heading into next week's SEC tournament.
"I think we're catching it right in stride," Hatcher said of the team's momentum. "We're where we need to be offensively, defensively and pitching right now. It's all coming together."
Small and senior Jake Mangum were named Dick Howser Trophy semifinalists Thursday afternoon.
The award is voted on by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, the Dick Howser Trophy Committee and the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce.
Hunter Renfroe, Dakota Hudson, Brent Rooker and Chris Stratton each earned semifinalist distinctions during their time at MSU.
Finalists will be announced June 6.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.
3. Small breaks MSU single-season strikeout record COLLEGE SPORTS