Loss for words: Success leaves Bulldog MacNamee speechless

MSU baseball coach Gary Henderson (20) talks with his players.
Staff Writer

Elijah MacNamee usually isn’t one to have to search for words.

The Mississippi State junior outfielder typically is eloquent and willing to provide insightful commentary on just about any question.

After Mississippi State polished off a three-game sweep of top-ranked Florida on Saturday though, that wasn’t the case.

“I’m kind of speechless right now,” MacNamee said. “Coming in against the No. 1 team in the nation, everyone was saying, ‘I hope (MSU gets) one.’ Our mindset was that we’re taking all three.”

Indeed, the Bulldogs won every game against the powerhouse Gators. State rolled to a 13-6 victory on Saturday. That followed a 6-3 win Thursday and a 12-4 triumph on Friday.

“It’s a good weekend and we’re obviously really proud of our kids,” MSU head coach Gary Henderson said.

“Good” is an understatement. Prior to this weekend, Florida hadn’t lost a regular season series since April 7-9 of last season. The Gators hadn’t been swept since last March.

Florida had 19 straight regular-season-weekend-series wins before the Gators showed up this weekend in Starkville. MSU resoundingly put that streak to rest.

The recipe for the Bulldogs to win on Saturday was similar to what it was on Thursday and Friday. The MSU bullpen was solid and the bats were full of life.

Offensively, the Bulldogs (31-24, 15-15) were on fire from literally the first pitch. MSU leadoff man Jake Mangum drilled the first offering he saw from Florida starter Jackson Kowar over the wall. That tied the score at 1-1 after the Gators had struck first in the top of the inning. Later in the frame, it was MacNamee coming through with State’s next big blow when he drilled a three-run homer down the left-field line for a 4-1 lead.

“I think when you get two home runs in the first inning and you’ve scored four runs in 10 or 11 pitches, I think that’s a pretty good statement that the kids have shown up,” Henderson said.

Still, Mississippi State’s plight to the sweep wasn’t without adversity. Florida (41-15, 20-10) showed plenty of fight despite its rocky start.

The Gators got a pair of runs in the second on a two-run shot by Deacon Liput.

While MacNamee and Luke Alexander got those runs back for the Bulldogs in the third with run-scoring hits, Florida tied the score at 6-6 with a Cal Greenfield two-run homer in the top of the fourth and an Austin Langworthy RBI single in the top of the sixth.

From then on though, Mississippi State took control. The Bulldogs reclaimed a lead at 7-6 in the home half of the sixth when Rowdey Jordan came to the plate with the bases loaded. Jordan hit into a double play, but pushed across the go-ahead score.

MSU then put the game away in the eighth. The Bulldogs sent 10 batters to the plate and scored six times. Tanner Allen and Hunter Stovall each drove in runs with a bases-loaded walk and a single respectively. MacNamee polished off a six-RBI afternoon with a two-run double. Justin Foscue also drove in a pair with a single.

It just continued MSU’s recent offensive surge. State outscored the Gators 31-13 total this weekend and the Bulldogs have scored 49 total runs in their last four SEC games. Since the calendar turned to May, MSU is averaging 8.8 runs per game this month – a span of 10 contests.

“I think we’re playing some of our best baseball of the year,” Henderson said of the offense. “(Florida is) the No. 1 team in the country and we just won three games so you have to be pretty pleased with where we are.”

The weekend sweep was also made possible by the impressive work out of the MSU bullpen. Riley Self threw 2.2 perfect innings on Thursday. JP France hurled 4.2 innings on Friday allowing just a run and four hits. Saturday saw more heroes in relief. Blake Smith pitched 1.2 innings without allowing a run. The biggest performance out of the pen came from Cole Gordon who pitched the last two frames, didn’t allow a run and struck out four.

“What’s good to see is there are plenty of guys performing out of the bullpen,” Gordon said. “It’s not just one or two. It’s the whole bullpen.”

An improving offense and strong bullpen absolutely bodes well for Mississippi State moving forward. It’s a future that, in the short term, will include the SEC Tournament starting with a 4:30 p.m. game in Hoover, Alabama, against LSU on Tuesday. In the long term, State’s journey now almost certainly includes an NCAA Regional somewhere.

None of that was certain at all coming into this weekend’s series against the Gators. After the Bulldogs broke out the brooms and swept Florida away though, there is still plenty of baseball left to play for MSU.

“That was quite the showdown the last three days,” MacNamee said. “That was awesome.”