MSU baseball ends bizarre three days in Hoover with questions heading into NCAA tourney

 

Mississippi State senior Jake Mangum has four hits in his last 35 at-bats, including a 2-for-14 performance at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Alabama.

Mississippi State senior Jake Mangum has four hits in his last 35 at-bats, including a 2-for-14 performance at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Hoover, Alabama. Photo by: Dispatch File Photo

 

Ben Portnoy

 

 

HOOVER, Ala. -- Mississippi State freshman pitcher JT Ginn enjoyed an ice cream out on the concourse of Hoover Metropolitan Stadium roughly one hour before his start against No. 16 LSU Friday. 

 

With the 93-degree heat beating down, the sweet, cold treat was well warranted. Yet Ginn was far from cool and collected in his 2 1/3 innings of work in a 12-2 run-rule loss to LSU that eliminated the Bulldogs from the Southeastern Conference tournament. 

 

Ginn looked poised for a stellar start through the first two innings, retiring six-straight batters -- four by way of a strikeout. 

 

Then came the third. Ginn was shelled, recording just a single out while allowing five runs on four hits before being yanked for redshirt junior Tyler Spring. 

 

It was Ginn's poor start and ultimate shellacking at the hands of LSU that put a cap on a truly bizarre week of baseball for the Bulldogs. 

 

"We've just got to regroup," MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. 

 

The Bulldogs (46-13) ended their week with a whimper rather than a bang, with the sting of Friday's rout following the insanity of Wednesday's 17-inning win and a wasted 11-strikeout night from redshirt junior Ethan Small in a 1-0 loss to No. 2 Vanderbilt Thursday. 

 

Still, Lemonis contends the stumbles in his team's last two games aren't as worrisome as they may appear. 

 

Twice this season MSU has been romped by Southeastern Conference foes -- once being a home series loss to LSU and the other a sweep at Arkansas. Between the two matchups, the Bulldogs were outscored 53-23. 

 

After losing two of three at home to LSU, MSU won eight of its next nine games -- including a series win at Tennessee. 

 

The same domination was seen following a listless performance in Fayetteville as the Bulldogs won 13 of their next 15 games, sweeping No. 7 Georgia and handing No. 13 Texas A&M its only home series loss of the year. 

 

"We've bounced back from (losses) all year long," Lemonis said. "Last time we played LSU at home we had two tough games like this and came back and played great after it. We'll be fine." 

 

This isn't to say all is right in Starkville. Most notably, senior Jake Mangum and sophomore Jordan Westburg continue to struggle at the plate. 

 

Mangum finished the week 2-for-14, and is now 4-of-35 over his past seven contests. 

 

"The last seven games have been brutal for me," he said. "Very humbling, but there's never a better time to get hot than right now." 

 

Westburg's trip to Hoover was similarly rough, as he finished 1-for-15 over the three games. He is now 8-for-57 in the month of May while his average has dropped from .385 on April 3 to .294. 

 

There's also the issue of hitting with runners in scoring position. MSU was a combined 6-for-41 with runners in scoring position during the SEC tournament. The Bulldogs were a similarly disastrous 13-for-66 with runners on base. 

 

"We've got six days to get right -- that's a long time in baseball days, I can tell you that," Mangum said. "Having one day off in the regular season is a huge deal for us. Now we have six days off to fine tune our swings, fine tune our mental approach at the plate." 

 

Entering the week, it was fair to question what MSU had to play for. 

 

As co-champions of the SEC West and a No. 3 national ranking in D1baseball.com's latest poll, the Bulldogs had all but locked up a national seed with little space to move up a line in the NCAA tournament bracket. 

 

"It's tough, but the SEC tournament isn't our preseason goal," Mangum said. "You have to go home and get right and we're going to need a big crowd Friday night."

 

Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.

 

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