June 17, 2019 10:20:09 AM
OMAHA, Neb. -- Ahead of Sunday's wild win over Auburn, redshirt junior Ethan Small received a text message.
It was from Mississippi State pitching great Eric DuBose.
Nearly 22 years ago, DuBose strode off the mound as the MSU single-season record holder in strikeouts with 174.
With Small sitting just six strikeouts shy of his decades-old mark entering the night, DuBose offered him a few words of encouragement and that he was eager for Small to surpass his number.
In his fifth inning of work, Small did just that -- mowing down Kason Howell on three pitches to set the single-season record at 175.
Small added one more strikeout on the ensuing at-bat, dispatching of Auburn leadoff man Judd Ward.
"It's pretty special," Small said. "I definitely didn't think it would ever happen."
Take 'em while you can
While the Bulldogs escaped with clutch hitting down the stretch Sunday, MSU's matchup with Auburn was not without flaws.
State stranded 11 runners on the night and finished 5-for-18 with runners in scoring position.
Twice the Bulldogs left the bases loaded.
The first opportunity came in the bottom of the fifth inning.
Walking toward the plate, senior Elijah MacNamee turned toward his dugout.
After narrowly holding up on a 1-2 pitch, he pounded his chest with his left hand and returned to the batter's box.
But rather than deliver a critical hit, he fouled off the ensuing 2-2 offering for a pop-up between first base and home plate. Inning over.
Sophomore Jordan Westburg earned the second bases-loaded chance.
After junior Gunner Halter squirted an RBI single past Auburn second baseman Ryan Bliss, Westburg stepped to the plate with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. He lined to right field on the second pitch he saw to end the frame.
The issue of plating runners has been one of the few glaring issues for MSU of late.
In its three-game run in the SEC tournament, the Bulldogs hit a meager .146 with runners in scoring position. Most notably, MSU finished 4-for-26 in that category during a 6-5, 17-inning win over LSU May 22.
The Bulldogs made do Sunday, but the issue persists.
Who's up next?
MSU coach Chris Lemonis said Sunday he has not decided who will start on the mound when the Bulldogs take on No. 2 seed Vanderbilt Tuesday night.
Senior Peyton Plumlee is the most logical candidate. He started Game 2 of the Starkville Super Regional, allowing just one run on two hits in 6 2/3 innings pitched.
Freshman JT Ginn is also squarely in the mix, though he has not started a game since enduring arm soreness in the fourth inning against Southern University in the opener of the Starkville Regional.
Lemonis said last week if the Stanford series had extended another day Ginn would have seen action.
MSU is expected to announce its intentions at Tuesday morning's practice.
Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch.