By MATTHEW STEVENS
Not much that occurred at Dudy Noble Field made a lot of sense Friday night.
The evening involved tiebreaker scenarios that still exist, a five-run desperation comeback by Mississippi State and a long-awaited dominant effort on the mound by junior right-hander Devin Jones.
Throughout the three-hour ordeal that saw the Bulldogs pull out a dramatic 6-5 victory over LSU thanks to scoring the final five runs of the contest culminating in a bases-loaded line shot by senior Jaron Shepherd that ricocheted off the LSU second baseman’s glove to send the 4,126 home happy.
“They never gave up,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “In fact, I think out players were trying to get the crowd going and everything going for us. And they did.”
To complete the confusing evening for both clubs, Shepherd admitted after the game he was trying to hit a fly ball and by failing to do so, he hit the pitch so hard it took a deep bounce toward a drawn-in LSU defense.
“I was just trying to get something in the outfield,” Shepherd said. “He had a pretty good sinker and I was just trying to stay beneath. It got down to two strikes and I just wanted to put something in play.”
After seeing its 5-0 lead in the third gradually demise in the middle of the game, LSU attempted to nail down its second-straight victory over the weekend in Starkville by asking sophomore closer Matty Ott to get a six-out save. It was only the fourth time Ott (1-3) was asked to go longer than the final inning of play this season.
Instead the Tigers (35-20, 12-17) will be at home watching the SEC Tournament for only the second time since 1985.
“There’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves,” LSU head coach Paul Mainieri said. “We have one game left. Obviously we’re not going to the SEC tournament now and we’ll have to come to grips with that and put our hopes on an NCAA bid.”
After cruising through the first frame with no problem, MSU began to nibble singles through the LSU infield on Ott and suddenly catcher Cody Freeman walked to the plate as the game’s winning run. The senior hit a chopper through the middle that easily scored pinch runner Sam Frost from third but LSU center fielder Mikie Mahtook kicked the ball around for his first error of the 2011 season.
Mainieri then elected to walk the league’s leading hitter in Bulldogs Jarrod Parks to set up the game-ending at-bat for Shepherd.
On a night where all eight senior players were honored before the beginning of the contest, the collative unit produced nine of the 12 hits and were involved in four of the runs. Shepherd, Freeman and senior designated hitter Trey Johnson all had multi-hit games.
The most shocking events may have been the consistent relief appearance for Jones. The Eupora native, who had been kicked out of both the closer role and the Friday night starter role in his last two SEC seasons at MSU, had his longest relief outing of his career. The right-hander allowed just five hits over 5 1/3 innings of work that included five strikeouts in 85 pitches.
“The biggest thing was come on the mound with confidence,” Jones said. “It wasn’t – I didn't want to throw strikes anymore. It was I’m going to throw strikes (so) put me in.”
Two of those punch outs came with arguably the SEC’s best power hitter at the plate in Mahtook as Jones, who has publicly admitted to a confidence problem, said Friday night he loved how his slider matched up with the league’s leading home run hitter last summer in the Cape Cod League for the country’s best college-aged talent.
“I played him this summer and he didn’t like the slider very much,” Jones said. “(There) wasn’t any way I was going to throw him my second best pitch.”
After removing him from the starting rotation in early April and watching him give up three runs Thursday, Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson still had what can only be classified as a gut feeling by going to the right-handed power arm again.
“Butch and I thought he might be really effective today because when he’s coming off a outing like yesterday he doesn’t feel so much adrenalin,” Cohen said. “All he did was pitch.”
With the victory, Mississippi State is now in a three-way tie for the Western Division lead with Alabama and Auburn at 14-15 marks in conference play. The Bulldogs can clinch a spot in the league tournament today with a victory in the season finale or become scoreboard watchers specifically a pair of seven-inning doubleheaders in Fayetteville, Ark., between Ole Miss and the Razorbacks.
A win against LSU today (2 p.m.) can match the league win total mark of John Cohen’s first two seasons in Starkville with 15 victories.