Bulldogs can't get key hit, title hopes take hit

The Bulldogs celebrate Ryan Gridley's home run.
Staff Writer

Aspirations of winning an Southeastern Conference Western Division championship took a hit on Thursday night for Mississippi State.
The Bulldogs watched those chances grow slimmer in a frustrating evening against No. 5 LSU and its ace pitcher Alex Lange. A solo home run by Ryan Gridley in the top of the first was MSU’s only production as twice it had the bases loaded against Lange and couldn’t come through.
In the end, the Tigers (37-17, 19-9) did enough to take a 3-1 victory.
“I thought LSU played their A game (Thursday night) with their ace on the mound,” State head coach Andy Cannizaro said. “We just weren’t able to step up to the plate and pick up a big hit with runners in scoring position. We’ll be ready to play (today).”
Konnor Pilkington and Peyton Plumlee did enough to keep the Bulldogs in the ball game on Thursday. Pilkington threw six innings with six hits, two runs and four walks. Plumlee had one off his best relief appearances in several weeks with three innings of one-run ball striking out two batters.
Everything looked good for MSU right away on Thursday night when Gridley led off the bottom of the first inning with a solo home run into the Left Field Lounge. Lange settled down from there.
Konnor Pilkington, however, would have to labor.
Heading into the fourth with that 1-0 lead still intact, Pilkington was struggling to put away batters and loaded up the bases with no outs on two walks and a base hit. A sacrifice fly tied the game and, with two outs and a 3-2 count, nine-hole hitter Zach Watson gave the Tigers a lead on a single that just got past Gridley’s glove.
Pilkington had to throw 83 pitches in the first four innings and trouble was setting in as Lange was working strong on the mound for the Tigers.
Finally in the sixth, MSU gave Lange some trouble. Hunter Vansau got a hit and Josh Lovelady and Luke Alexander walked with just one out to load the bases and get the Dudy Noble Field crowd into it. After the third strikeout of the game from Tanner Poole failed to move runners, Hunter Stovall flew out to right field and the Bulldogs missed their chance.
It felt like deja vu in the very next inning for MSU. The bases were loaded yet again against Lange as State got a hit and two more walks.  Lovelady came up looking to break through but instead struck out on three pitches and Lange escaped clean.
“We did a great job of getting into scoring position against Alex,” Cannizaro said. “We just weren’t able to pick up the big hit (Thursday).”
That was MSU’s last chance of the day as the Tigers padded their lead in the eighth with a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1. Closer Hunter Newman finished the Bulldogs off in the ninth and the Tigers took game one of the series.  
Lange was the difference for the Tigers as he worked seven innings surrendering six hits and just one run while striking out 11 batters. MSU (34-20, 17-11) struck out 14 times as a unit led by three from Poole.
Gridley had two hits in the game with the lone run driven in on his homer. Rooker also added a two-hit day for the Bulldogs who managed just six hits as a team.
MSU left 12 men stranded and were 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position and 0-for-13 with men on base. 
The loss guarantees that LSU will have at least a share of the SEC West Championship. For MSU to get that distinction and to get the No. 2 seed in the SEC Tournament, it's got to win the next two games and take the series against the Tigers.
That first chance comes Friday night at 6:30 p.m. as Jared Poche’ (8-3, 3.16 ERA) of LSU will matchup with freshman Denver McQuary (2-2, 3.89) for game two.
Gridley said that the team isn’t feeling any pressure as they look to rebound.
“A lot of people (in the stands) might put a lot of pressure on themselves, but we don’t do that,” Gridley said of the SEC West race. “We’re calm as can be and we’re ready to go.”