Whenever asked about Mike Papierski, LSU’s serially under-appreciated former catcher, Paul Mainieri used to remark that nobody notices a team doesn’t have a good catcher until balls start rolling to the backstop with regularity.
It’s only one game, but those words rang prophetic on Friday night.
LSU lost a Southeastern Conference game in which the go-ahead run scored on a pass ball charged to Hunter Feduccia for the second time in a week. The gaffe put Mississippi State ahead 2-1 and the Bulldogs went on to even the series with a 4-1 win at Alex Box Stadium.
“It’s been a problem for us most of the year, pass balls and wild pitches,” Mainieri said. “It’s just the basic fundamentals of the game, a pitcher throwing a ball and a catcher catching it, but we’ve had trouble with that.”
An unintentional intentional walk issued by LSU starter Caleb Gilbert loaded the bases for Mississippi State in the bottom of the fourth. Light-hitting catcher Marshall Gilbert stepped into the box with two outs, but a first-pitch slider from Gilbert bounded through Feduccia’s glove to plate the go-ahead run.
Receiving and transferring the ball has been a worsening problem for Feduccia of late. LSU catchers were charged with seven pass balls all of last season, and only four of those were Papierski. Feduccia now has six in 25 games.
“It’s been perplexing,” Mainieri said. “He played so well during fall practice, and it just seems like his confidence is shaken right now. You’ve just got to keep working with him. He’s the best we’ve got.”
The mistake was magnified by the fact that LSU couldn’t muster much of anything in the way of offense against Mississippi State southpaw Ethan Small. The sophomore utterly dominated over eight innings of four-hit ball and struck out nine against just one walk.
“He just had us completely off-balance,” Mainieri said. “He was in total command and he was outstanding. We just didn’t have the answers for him tonight.”
Denied a chance at clinching the series, LSU (17-11, 4-4 SEC) will now play its third rubber match in as many weeks to begin the SEC season while Mississippi State (14-14, 2-6 SEC) vies for its first conference series victory.
The scoring started with a couple of big flies despite a stiff wind that was gusting in from center field all game long.
Third baseman Josh Foscue ambushed a first pitch fastball from Gilbert for a long solo home run to put Mississippi State on the board in the second. Beau Jordan answered with a longer solo shot to even the game at 1-1 in the bottom half of the frame, his career-high fifth of the season.
Gilbert managed to prevent further damage after the pass ball in the fourth, but another defensive miscue helped manufacture a run in the fifth. Second baseman Austin Bain booted a potential double play ball, and the Bulldogs scored on a fastball that squirted through Feduccia’s legs.
Mississippi State loaded the bases again in the sixth before chasing Gilbert with an RBI infield single off down the third base line off the bat of Luke Alexander. Gilbert took a tough-luck loss having allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits with six strikeouts in 5.2 innings.
“Hats off to Gilbert, he did a really good job of keeping us in the game,” Jordan said. “He did well enough for us to win this game. This one stings because, with a pitching performance like that, we’ve got to score four runs. It’s not that hard.”
Small put the game on cruise control once given a lead. LSU managed just two hits against him after the third inning and never made him throw a single pitch with a runner in scoring position.
Game three of the series is set for a 2 p.m. first pitch Saturday. LSU will turn to freshman Ma’Khail Hilliard (5-1, 0.92 ERA) while Mississippi State is expected to start right-hander Jacob Billingsley (2-1, 3.96 ERA).