By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State simply has no flair for the dramatic.
Then again, not many clubs against second-ranked South Carolina have been in a comeback mode either.
The Gamecocks got an early lead thanks to the bottom of their order and relied on their pitching staff to close out an 8-2 victory Friday night in front of 3,182 irritated fans.
“We weren’t very efficient on the mound as they were and weren’t as efficient defensively,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “We did not have good at-bats against one of the best guys in our league.”
South Carolina is now 24-0 when leading after six innings and 14-0 when they score more than six runs in the game.
Evan Marzilli and Robert Beary, the eight and nine hitters in the South Carolina (30-7, 13-3 in Southeastern Conference) lineup, contributed four RBIs on two swings to give the defending national champions a lead they never relinquished throughout the two hour and 46 minutes contest.
“We’ve got hitters throughout this lineup (and) we know that,” Marzilli said. “All I did tonight was stay short on a 3-2 pitch and caught it pretty well.”
After a booted ground ball hit directly at senior shortstop Jonathan Ogden, South Carolina’s Robert Berry gave Carolina the lead on a double deep in the right-centerfield corner to give the visitors a 3-1 advantage.
Two innings later, Gamecocks left fielder Evan Marzilli silenced the MSU faithful at Polk-Dement Stadium when he turned on a change-up from Bulldogs starting pitcher Chris Stratton and hit it deep over the right field wall to make it 5-2 on the scoreboard.
“We’ve been swinging it pretty consistently tonight and I was pleased with that certainly,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said. “That 3-2 changeup that Marzilli hit was big blow for us no doubt.”
Marzilli, a sophomore from Rhode Island, came in with the starter’s worst batting average at .245 but safely reached base in his first three at-bats.
“I think every SEC fanbase has a rowdy left field fan area and I got my fair share of heckling tonight,” Marzilli said. “I usually get the Yankee stuff and I got a little bit of that tonight too.”
Stratton (4-4) was beat around again in the Friday night role for five earned runs off nine hits in just five innings of work. The sophomore from Tupelo has an 8.25 earned run average in two starts since being given the top rotation spot.
“He’s elevating pitches and getting behind in counts,” Cohen said. “When he’s doing that, he’s very generic. You can not be generic in this league.”
After a shaky first two innings where he gave up two runs on two hits, South Carolina ace Michael Roth (9-1) allowed just one more hit in his final 4 1/3 innings with a Mississippi State player failing to get past second base for the rest of the evening.
“People are going to say he wasn’t as good tonight but looking at the box score, who’s going to know he wasn’t sharp?,” Tanner said.
Roth, who came into Starkville leading the league in wins and earned run average, used his multiple arm angles and confusing breaking pitches to four strikeouts. The last time the junior gave up more than two earned runs in an appearance was May 10, 2009 at Tennessee.
“I have never been fighting it as much as I was tonight as I was struggling with pretty much all my pitches,” Roth said. “My stuff wasn’t there as much as I wanted it so when I put myself in jams, I had to locate it whether it was my fastball or off-speed pitches.”
The only offensive pop came off the bat of Ogden after the 5-foot-9, 168-pounder put his seventh home run into left field lounge to make it a 3-2 deficit for the Bulldogs (23-15, 6-10) but another hit wasn’t achieved by an MSU batter until the fifth frame.
“There’s a reason why Roth is 9-1 because he throws three different pitches for strikes, throws them with confidence and it’s hard to see it out of his hand,” Cohen said. “When you pitch against him, it has to be a low-scoring game and we weren’t able to do that tonight.”
The 8-9-1 spots of State’s lineup (Daryl Norris, Taylor Stark and C.T. Bradford), all true freshmen, went a combined 1-for-8 with a run scored against South Carolina pitching Friday evening.
The loss keeps Mississippi State in the ninth spot in the Southeastern Conference and 1.5 games behind Auburn for the final qualifying spot in the league tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Mississippi State will turn to junior southpaw Nick Rout (0-2, 4.91) tonight for a 6:06 p.m. contest as South Carolina will try to clinch the series with sophomore right-hander Colby Holmes (3-1, 4.19).