Mississippi State clinches first series win against LSU since 2006
By JAMES MORAN
Tiger Rag Associate Editor
Alex Lange made just one mistake Saturday night, yielding only a single earned run to high-powered Mississippi State in a complete game effort that stands as his strongest outing of the season thus far.
Unfortunately, once coupled with another hard-to-fathom defensive error, that proved to be one mistake too many.
LSU ran into a buzz saw in the form of Lange’s counterpart, Austin Sexton, whose three-pitch mix handcuffed the Tigers for 7.1 innings of one-run ball. The Bulldog right-hander held his own in a duel with Lange, and an unearned run provided the difference as LSU fell 2-1 in a tidy affair at Alex Box Stadium.
“I thought that was the best game Alex has thrown all year,” shortstop Kramer Robertson said. “He was dominant out there. Deserved to win, and normally, nine times out of ten, when he pitches like that, he’s going to win.
“It was a pitcher’s duel, and they just scratched one more across than we did.”
Buoyed by Lange’s brilliant effort, LSU hung around and had chances to pull even in both the eighth and ninth innings only to leave the tying run at third base twice.
Centerfielder Jake Fraley broke up the shutout with a run-scoring ground ball in the eighth, but catcher Jordan Romero then flew out to shallow left with the tying run 90 feet away.
Then, in the ninth, Robertson doubled into the right-center field gap to put the tying run in scoring position with one out. But Bryce Jordan grounded out to second and Chris Reid lined out to short to end the game.
“We’re a hit short,” Mainieri said. “We had our chance there and couldn’t quite get the big hit.”
That inability made a hard-luck loser of Lange (4-3), who allowed just four hits and issued a season-low one walk. He’d yet to complete seven innings in any start this season prior to Saturday night.
Lange seemed to get stronger as the game went on, and his most masterful escape act came in the eighth after Jake Magnum laced a one-out triple down the right-field line.
Lange came back to blow away Kruger on a high fastball and froze Lowe on a nasty curve to keep the deficit at two. He then fanned the first two hitters of a clean ninth inning to finish with seven punchouts.
“I felt like this was one of my better commanded games,” Lange said. “Breaking ball was good. I thought my changeup was good. I was locating to both sides of the plate. Kind of settled into a groove there and I felt good.”
Designated hitter Jack Kruger got Mississippi State on the board with a solo home run in the first inning off Lange. Kruger turned on a 94 mph fastball and belted it off the back wall of the left-field grandstands.
“I went in and he got the barrel to it,” Lange said. “It happens. Solo homers aren’t going to beat you. Walks will. We showed that tonight.”
Lange settled in from there, freezing Reid Humphreys on a hard-breaking curveball to end the inning frame with his first strikeout. He retired 15 of the next 16 men to come to the plate following the home run.
The Bulldogs tacked on a second run in the sixth courtesy of a bizarre error charged to Greg Deichmann at first base. Umpire Darrell Arnold ruled Deichmann’s foot came before Robertson’s throw arrived on Magnum’s routine bouncer to shortstop.
Kruger followed with a hard single to right and Lange issued Nathaniel Lowe his lone free pass of the evening to load the bases. Humphreys brought home Magnum with a sac fly — would have been more if not for Fraley’s diving catch in center — before Lange fanned Brent Rooker to limit the damage.
“We didn’t play the defense for him that they did for their guy,” said Mainieri, adding Deichmann’s foot was ‘six inches’ off the bag. “Basically we lost the game because our first baseman didn’t keep his foot on the base on a routine play on a perfect throw. That ends up being the winning run.”
Deichmann added: “I thought I did (hold the bag), honestly, but the call is what it is.”
Meanwhile, Sexton (4-2) faced the minimum while breezing through three innings and didn’t allow his second hit until Kramer Robertson’s leadoff single in the fifth. He also issued a two-out walk to Jordan Romero in the fourth.
To make matters worse, the first two base runners to reach via base hits were promptly erased trying to steal second base on botched hit-and-runs.
LSU stranded singles from Antoine Duplantis (his second of the evening) and Bryce Jordan in the sixth and seventh innings, respectively. The Tigers wouldn’t put a man in scoring position until the eighth inning.
“He just threw a bunch of junk up there,” Mainieri said of Sexton. “Changeups and breaking balls, and it just took us a long time to adjust to hi. We knew that’s what he was, but then you get up there thinking you’re going to get a fastball to hit, and you never get it.”
“He kept us off balance,” Robertson added.
The result clinches Mississippi State’s (27-12-1, 10-7 SEC) first series victory over LSU (26-13, 9-8 SEC) since 2006, and its first since Paul Mainieri took over in Baton Rouge.
LSU will look to salvage the weekend series and avoid a sweep Sunday with John Valek III on the mound. First pitch is scheduled for noon.
– Beau Jordan was out of the lineup due to an unspecified stomach illness. Breannan Breaux started in his place in left field until Jordan got a pinch-hit single in the eighth inning.