by Matt Sefcovic (@MattSefcovic)
Two of the SEC heavyweights met in the first weekend of conference play and did not disappoint in front of nearly 5,000 fans for each game. The Bulldogs proved to be the better team this weekend, holding LSU to just 16 hits over the three-game series, seven of them coming in the final game, the only game the Tigers won. Although Mississippi State Head Coach Chris Lemonis made changes to the weekend rotation, the Bulldogs pitching staff showed why they are one of the best in the country, striking out 31 batters over the three-game span.
Christian MacLeod (W, 2-1) was dominant on Friday night for the Bulldogs, setting the tone for the weekend, allowing just one run in six innings on the way to a 6-1 victory. MacLeod never gave LSU a chance to gain any momentum, allowing just three hits and two walks before turning things over to the bullpen. Brandon Smith (S, 1) tossed the final three innings for Mississippi State, surrendering just one baserunner. Brayland Skinner led the way at the plate for the Bulldogs with his first home run of the season, adding two more hits and 3 RBI on the night. Jaden Hill, the Tigers Friday night starter, struggled for the second time in his last three outings, giving up six runs in 7.1 innings, although three runs came in the 8th inning. LSU never could get their offense on the same page, recording just four hits for the game.
Coach Lemonis made a change to the Saturday rotation and sat Jackson Fristoe after the freshman began the season with a 2-0 record and 1.59 ERA during his first four starts. Will Bednar (W, 1-0) started in place of Fristoe and looked just as impressive as MacLeod on Friday. Bednar and fellow LSU starter Landon Marceaux (L, 2-1) battled it out in a pitchers duel that saw a total of nine hits for the game. MacLeod gave up just three hits in five innings while striking out seven before the bullpen closed the door for the final four innings. Preston Johnson and Landon Sims threw two innings apiece to complete the shutout against the Tigers, taking the second game 3-0 and securing the series win. Marceaux picked up the loss even though he did not give up an earned run, allowing just one unearned run in the fifth inning. Tigers Freshman Dylan Crews continued his hot streak as the only player in the game with multiple hits and raised his average to .403 after Saturday’s contest.
After dropping the first two games, Sunday suddenly became very important for LSU to avoid the sweep. The Tigers offense came alive, outscoring the Bulldogs 8-3 after scoring just one run in the first two games combined. Brody Drost and Gavin Dugas led the way for the Tigers at the plate, each of them with a home run and 2 RBI. AJ Labas (W, 1-0) got his first win of the season after six strong innings of work, allowing just two runs on four hits in six innings. Ty Floyd and Devin Fontenot (S, 2) closed out the final three innings for the Tigers. Bulldogs starter Eric Cerantola raised his season ERA to 7.71 after allowing two runs in 1.1 innings to start the game. Many wonder how much longer Cerantola will remain in the weekend rotation as he continues to struggle this season. Fristoe (L, 2-1) took his first loss of the season after giving up the go ahead home run to Dugas in the sixth.
If this series was any indication on how the SEC is going to play out this season, it is going to be a wild ride. Both teams have a ton of upside and can make deep postseason runs, but Coach Lemonis has the Bulldogs in a really good position with the stable of arms he has in the bullpen. It would not surprise me to see Mississippi State end up in Omaha yet again.
Following the weekend, Mississippi State remained at number three in the College Baseball Nation Top 50, while LSU fell one spot to #12.