May 24, 2019 10:37:11 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- One night after batting 4-for-26 with runners in scoring position against LSU, Mississippi State again failed to cash in on ample opportunities in a 1-0 loss to No. 1 seed Vanderbilt Thursday in the SEC tournament's third round.
The Bulldogs (46-12) finished a dismal 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and were an equally abysmal 1-for-16 with runners on base.
"A little frustration maybe out of the offense but they're competing," MSU coach Chris Lemonis noted after the game.
The setback knocked Mississippi State out of the winner's bracket, and the team will face LSU today in an elimination game and a rematch of Wednesday's 17-inning affair. First pitch is set for 6:30 p.m.
On Thursday against Vanderbilt (47-10), back-to-back singles from freshman Luke Hancock and senior Marshall Gilbert put runners on first and second with one out in the fifth inning. Senior Jake Mangum and sophomore Rowdey Jordan promptly wasted that chance as both struck out to end the frame.
The sixth inning brought an eerily similar scenario. Sophomore Justin Foscue singled to centerfield and moved to second on a wild pitch. Then junior Dustin Skelton and sophomore Josh Hatcher both struck out to end the inning.
The seventh brought more of the same. After sophomore Jordan Westburg was hit by a pitch, Hancock moved him over to second with a bunt toward the pitcher's mound. Gilbert also boarded the bases when he was hit by a pitch.
First it was Mangum with a chance to break out the dramatics. As his walk-up song "Your Love" by The Outfield blared over the Hoover Metropolitan Stadium loudspeakers, the gathered maroon-and-white-clad fans rose to their feet in support. Instead of delivering, Mangum reverted to his recent 4-for-32 funk over the past six games -- watching a questionable strike at his knees pass by for second out of the inning.
Jordan was then offered an opportunity on the ensuing at bat but grounded out to second to end the threat.
Asked postgame whether there was anything different Lemonis would like to see out his offense he kept his answer succinct.
"Yeah, some more hits," Lemonis said.
Among those MSU batters struggling the most is Westburg. He finished the night 0-for-3 with a hit by pitch. Westburg is now 8-for-55 in the month of May -- bringing his average down from .385 in early April to .297 following Thursday's loss.
In an effort to combat his hitting woes, Lemonis moved Westburg to the No. 7 hole and shifted Jordan into his place at No. 2 against the Commodores.
While the offense sputtered, redshirt junior Ethan Small looked the part of the SEC Pitcher of the Year. Small tossed seven innings of three-hit ball, allowing just one run on an RBI infield single in the bottom of the second to Julian Infante.
"There's always pressure in this league and facing a lineup like that you know you're going to have to make your pitches," he said. "Just really working on it and trying to get better and that's kind of what happened."
After burning seven pitchers out of the bullpen against LSU Wednesday, MSU turned to senior Peyton Plumlee in relief Thursday. Plumlee didn't allow a hit and walked one batter in one inning of work.
Lemonis said the outing served as his bullpen session ahead of a scheduled start Saturday should the Bulldogs advance.
Freshman JT Ginn is slated to start against LSU tonight. The Tigers downed Auburn 4-3 in walk-off fashion Thursday afternoon -- scoring the tying and winning runs on a wild pitch and a throwing error in the bottom of the ninth.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.