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Bulldogs Take First Step In Exorcising The Demons Of The Past Two Seasons

Updated: Mar 18

(Mississippi State University Athletics photo)

By Colton Watson

In 2021, Mississippi State did something that had never been done, when they finally dogpiled in that historic baseball town of Omaha, NE, to bring home the school’s first National Championship.

In 2022 and 2023, Mississippi State did something no one thought was possible any longer, when they failed to make the SEC Tournament in consecutive seasons.

In 2024, Mississippi State did something that hasn’t been done in 21 years—taking a series from the LSU Tigers in the comfort of State’s own ballpark. The bitter rivals had much to say to each other, the crowd, and the officiating crew all weekend; but when the grill smoke cleared, the Dawgs tamed the Tigers with a run-rule thumping in Sunday’s rubber match and sent LSU back to the bayou licking their wounds.

The series win was more than just another notch in the belt for Bulldog head man Chris Lemonis, who, just two years removed from reaching the mountaintop, still came into this pivotal season with "or else" expectations from most.

The pair of decisive wins, sandwiched around a single-run loss that could have easily turned into a sweep of epic proportions, was a STATEment. It was a return to the culture that Ron Polk and Co. spent decades instilling into the very genome of Mississippi State baseball, a lineage that fell far from the family tree the past two seasons.

Scanning the roster, 23 of the 35 players who have appeared in a Mississippi State game this season were a part of at least one of those forgettable seasons; and perhaps those guys’ memories have been short, as the approach and the attitude in the Dawg dugout is night-and-day different from a season ago.

That much was evident on Sunday, when State went 8 for 13 at the plate with runners in scoring position and 8 for 15 with two outs. Impressively,18 of their 41 hits on the weekend were of the two-out variety, as they tagged an LSU pitching staff, who arrived with piles of media hype, for 33 runs in 26 innings. State brought up LSU’s staff ERA by a whole run, and increased their batting average allowed by 20 points in just three games.

Headlined by Friday starter Luke Holman’s 24.0 scoreless innings, LSU boasted four Tiger hurlers with ERAs of 0.00 coming into the weekend but left with only one—Aiden Moffet, whose mark was not at risk when he did not appear in any of the three games.

Hunter Hines had a monstrous weekend that included three towering home runs and two intentional walks on Sunday, both leading to him crossing home plate safely later in the inning, courtesy of a teammate. Dakota Jordan, another usual suspect in the Bulldog batting order, had a three-run bomb on Sunday, his 10th that is tied for second in the SEC.

But State didn’t win the series by simply riding their workhorses. The approach at the plate was effective from top to bottom in State’s lineup. Only 4 position players recorded hitless games this weekend across 27 combined starts. All nine starters recorded base hits on Sunday, and eight of nine Bulldogs found base knocks in Friday’s 10-4 win.

State pitching was gutsy all weekend long as well. LSU averaged six runs across the three games, but that fails to capture how State stepped up in big moments, especially where the bullpen is concerned. With usual Friday night starter Nate Dohm temporarily on the shelf, Evan Siary drew the series opener nod and gave up three earned runs in 3.0 innings. From there, lefthanded freshman two-way phenom Nolan Stevens threw 5.2 innings of one-hit, one-run baseball against the reigning national champions.

Influenced by a tight strike zone, starter Khal Stephen was far from his best on Saturday, allowing five runs before yielding to Gavin Black in the third inning. Black gave up four more himself, but from that point on, four Bulldog arms combined for 6.2 innings of scoreless relief that enabled the Dawgs to nearly come all the way back from a 9-1 deficit.

A controversial two-out base runner cut down at home plate, that was reviewed and stood without a clear definitive view of the ball, was the difference in LSU’s 9-8 Saturday win to force the rubber match. Transfer Karson Ligon and returner Tyson Hardin navigated the tricky middle innings before junior college call-up Cam Schuelke and freshman Luke Dotson each got a high-leverage ninth-inning out on Saturday.

In Sunday’s rout, Tyler Davis took care of the last two innings by allowing just one hit and no runs after BHP Jurrangelo Cijntje (saint-juh) lost some command in the fifth frame of his start.

The viable bullpen options available to State, and the fortitude to get the job done in high-intensity situations, were not a part of the recipe for State the last two years, as many decent starts to ballgames were squandered by walks, errors, and hit batters. Much of the credit for the turnaround rests on the shoulders of newly minted pitching coach Justin Parker.

State’s ERA, batting average allowed, and walk totals are well below the 2023 team’s marks. And while we’re at it, a single harmless Friday error was all State suffered all weekend, to go alongside LSU’s six total botches—a microcosm of who wanted it more on the opening weekend of SEC play.

A year ago, State treated its home crowd with two run-rule losses and the wrong side of a series sweep at the hands of a top-five team in the first home conference series of the season. Inconsistent and insufficient improvement from that point forward meant the Bulldogs either sat at home or shipped out to the summer leagues in mid May, while their SEC counterparts duked it out in Hoover and the NCAA Regionals. There were a few bright spots, but just not enough to even make the SEC Tournament threshold we'd come to take for granted.

There’s a long way to go in the 2024 season. No one can say for sure if State or anybody is locked into a postseason spot or, perish the jinxing thought, hosting position at this point in the year.

But some things are for certain. This year’s team looks quite different from the last two teams to wear the M over S. A 15-6 record might be a touch below where Chris Lemonis and his team set their sights at the beginning of the season. But, dominating the national champions and getting the first home series win against LSU since before half the roster was born is a sure sign State is trending in the right direction. For a team determined and committed to get back in the postseason conversation, this weekend was the first big step.


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