The final out was called as the disappointment from the 10,029 fans could be heard from the Sanderson parking lot as Mississippi State University (20-3, 2-2 SEC) lost its third game of the year to Auburn University (20-2, 4-0 SEC) by a score of 6-5 Friday night.
“I thought we played hard tonight; I don’t fault our guys,” head coach Chris Lemonis said. “We just came up on the other end of it. Our bullpen has been our strength and I’m sure it will be our strength tomorrow.”
However, the bullpen was MSU's weakness in their loss in the first game against Auburn. MSU’s starter Ethan Small threw five scoreless innings with just two runs coming in the sixth. The two runs in the seventh and the two in the eighth were the bullpen's responsibility.
While part of the loss could be blamed on the bullpen, it was also the offense's inability to add runs to their four-run start. They would only score a run after the first inning, and Lemonis said a big part of their offensive struggle was due to the Auburn pitching staff.
“I thought that was the key to the game for us and for them,” Lemonis said. “They were able to hold us and get a hold. We don’t take advantage of it. If you score a run or two and extend that game out, then they probably go to a guy they do not want to use. Instead, they leave their guys in there and keep it close.”
Ethan Small, a redshirt junior pitcher from Lexington, Tennesee, said he found comfort in the early run support of the Bulldogs who scored four runs in the first inning of play. MSU would get out to a 5-0 lead after five innings, but were unable to hold on to the lead.
“It has been something that has usually been lacking until later innings, so that was nice early on,” Small said. “It is baseball, I feel like I have said that a few times this year, but we will be fine. This is probably the same story as the Southern Miss loss, we will be fine.”
In the University of Southern Mississippi series, MSU lost the first game in extra innings 1-0, but bounced back and won the final two games to win the series.
“I would say we aren’t really used to losing this year, so everyone is kind of mad about it,” Small said. “I think we will carry that into tomorrow and play well.”
Small said when a team loses the first game of a series, it presents a challenge for them to win two straight games to win the series.
“It means you have to show up tomorrow, and put it behind you,” Small said. “Tomorrow is a new day and our team is good enough to beat that team, just whoever plays better is going to take it.”
MSU will play Auburn in the second game of the series at 2 p.m. Saturday with a special flyover before the first pitch as part of their Salute to Service festivities. Lemonis said his team will have to move on from the loss and play hard in order to win the second game.
“The good thing about our sport is that just 12 hours later, we will be right back out here playing,” Lemonis said. “We have a really good ball club, and there is another really good ball club in that other dugout. In our league, you have to have short term memory and be able to come out and play hard.”