STARKVILLE • Friday’s opener to the Starkville Regional did not start off the way Mississippi State had planned.
But the end result was exactly the way the third-ranked Diamond Dogs drew it up.
MSU starting pitcher JT Ginn was pulled prior to the fourth inning after experiencing arm stiffness and allowed Southern’s stacked lineup to get into the Bulldogs’ bullpen early.
The Jaguars took the lead in the fourth and tied it again in the seventh, but it was State that advanced in the winner’s bracket with an 11-6 victory in front of 8,826 at Dudy Noble Field.
“It was a little bit of everything today,” said MSU coach Chris Lemonis. “We took the lead, lost the lead, they tied it back up – it was a lot of emotions.
“Our fans were unbelievable. I felt like the dugout was rocking at times.”
State faces the Central Michigan tonight at 6 after the Chippewas defeated Miami 6-5 on Friday night. Junior left-hander Ethan Small (8-2, 1.80 ERA) will take the hill for the Bulldogs.
Tensions ran high Friday afternoon as Southern scored three runs in the top of the fourth off freshman reliever Brandon Smith to take a 4-2 lead. Lemonis then turned to seniors Jared Liebelt and Cole Gordon to stabilize things on the mound for the final 5 1/3 frames.
Aside from a two-run homer that Liebelt allowed to Johnny Johnson that briefly tied the game 6-6 in the seventh, the back end of the Bulldogs’ bullpen did their jobs. Gordon pitched the final two shutout innings, giving up a hit and a walk while striking out six.
“I just knew I had to come in and make pitches,” Gordon said. “That game was back and forth the whole day. That’s a really good offense and they showed it all day.”
Mississippi State’s offense proved it was prone to a big inning as well. The Diamond Dogs had five hits and scored four runs in the fifth inning, added three more runs in the seventh to retake the lead and tacked on two more on a home run by Rowdey Jordan in the eighth.
Jordan led MSU’s 12-hit attack going 4 for 5 with a double, homer and three RBIs.
“Putting good swings on pitches was what was working for me today,” Jordan said. “I was seeing the ball deep and putting a good swing on it and that’s what led to a 4 for 5 day.”
Justin Foscue, Dustin Skelton and Josh Hatcher were all 2 for 4 with Hatcher delivering a two-run double in the fifth and Foscue hitting an RBI double in the third.
Jordan Westburg also came up clutch with a two-run single in the seventh that gave the Bulldogs the lead for good.
Lemonis stated after the game that Ginn’s removal was merely precautionary but doesn’t expect him to pitch again in this regional.
“He was sore and then we got into that long inning and it just tightened up on him a little bit,” Lemonis said.