"Manhandled" was how Mississippi State University Head Baseball Coach Chris Lemonis described his team's performance against the University of Arkansas Razorbacks this weekend. The teams came into the game ranked third and second in the nation, respectively, by D1 baseball polls. The Razorbacks would hold true to their ranking, but as for the Bulldogs' performance, suboptimal was certainly one way to describe it.
In the first game of the weekend, Arkansas set the tone about as early as possible, with two back-to-back solo home runs in the top of the first inning. MSU's junior starting pitcher and Huntsville, Alabama, product Christian Macleod, however, held on tight until giving up a first pitch solo home run again in the fourth inning. Before the inning was over, the score sat at 5-0, with Arkansas leading.
MSU would rattle off a single run in the fifth, but the pitching simply could not thwart the Arkansas hitters. In the top of the 7th frame, MSU gave up another two runs, which sat the score at a firm 7-1. The Razorbacks would tag on another run in the top of the ninth, and the Bulldogs simply could not cover their losses, only tagging on one more run. The final score sat at 8-2 with an Arkansas win.
When asked after the game about his team's performance, senior center fielder Rowdey Jordan kept it simple.
"It just wasn't our night."
The next night was not either.
Sophomore pitcher Will Bednar started off the game hot, striking out the first two batters he faced. MSU hitters matched his intensity with a three-run first inning, and the Bulldogs appeared to be back on track.
Bednar kept up the momentum and only allowed a single solo home run all the way up until the fifth inning. The Razorbacks' batters ended the fifth inning with two home runs and 4 runs scored due to a plethora of fielding errors coupled with a tiring arm from the Bulldogs' Saturday starter. After the fifth, the Razorbacks took the lead 5-4, and it was only downhill from there for MSU.
Theodore, Alabama, product and senior right fielder Tanner Allen cracked off a solo home run shot in the bottom of the fifth for the Bulldogs, but that ended the scoring for MSU. The Arkansas pitching staff shut the Cardiac Kids of Dudy Noble out for the remainder of the game, and all the while cemented their lead, pushing it to 11-5 before the last out in the bottom of the ninth stopped the onslaught.
MSU came out swinging this game, but even Head Coach Chris Lemonis remarked on the decline in intensity as the game went on.
"We let them back in the game … but it's an early season," Lemonis said.
Tanner Allen mentioned advice from MSU baseball great Jake Mangum after the game.
"You never want to get swept, and certainly not at home," Allen said.
The Bulldogs attempted to prevent the sweep the next day.
Freshman Jackson Fristoe, a resident of Paducah, Kentucky, drew the start on the mound for the Bulldogs on Sunday. Fristoe pitched a solid four innings of ball, totaling seven strikeouts before he would be pulled late in the fourth frame by Coach Lemonis. MSU went on to score two runs in the bottom half of that frame and made the score 6-2. Later on in the sixth, a pair of solo shots brought the Bulldogs within two, but MSU did not manage to score for the remainder of the game. At the end of the ninth inning, the score sat at 6-2, which completed the first sweep at Dudy Noble Field by Arkansas against the Bulldogs since 2010.
During the post-game press conference, Tanner Allen was asked what he planned to do as an obvious team leader.
"I think we kind of got woken up this weekend … some guys were pressing, but we're going to be just fine," Allen said.
He made sure to stress that the season is still very young and this MSU baseball team is nowhere near done.
The Cardiac Kids of Dudy Noble look to get back to their winning ways this week, as they play Mississippi Valley State in a midweek game before facing the University of Kentucky Wildcats in another SEC series this next weekend.