“Statistics lie” is one of the oldest adages in sports.
And it certainly applies to No. 2 ranked Mississippi State, whose pitching entered this weekend’s series at No. 10 LSU with a SEC-leading 2.24 earned run average.
Again, that’s a deceiving stat because the Bulldogs’ arms are better than that.
A night after the Tigers had just four hits off two MSU pitchers in a 6-1 loss in the series opener Friday night, LSU managed just five hits off three Bulldogs hurlers in a 3-0 shutout Saturday night in Alex Box Stadium that clinched the series for the visitors from Starkville.
MSU sophomore righthander starter Will Bednar blanked LSU (15-5, 0-2 SEC) through five innings – he has yet to allow a run this season – while giving up just three hits and striking out seven. Relievers Preston Johnson and Landon Sims pitched two innings each with Sims giving up two hits as that duo hung the last four zeroes in the Tigers’ run column.
“We’ve got some young players who need to learn how to win games,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I keep telling them the difference between winning and losing in this league is razor-chin. When you have opportunities, you have to take advantage of them.”
LSU’s two best scoring chances vs. MSU (16-3, 2-0 SEC) came in the first and eighth innings.
Tigers’ right fielder Dylan Crews led off the game with an infield single and advanced to second base on a throwing error by MSU shortstop Lane Forsythe. LSU first baseman Tre’ Morgan then lined a single over a leaping Forsythe’s head into left field.
Crews had to hesitate before he continued on to third base.
So, with runners at first and third base, the worst possible scenario for LSU played out. Tigers’ third baseman Cade Doughty struck out followed by MSU’s Bednar inducing LSU left fielder Gavin Dugas to ground into an inning-ending double.
It was the last time the Tigers had a runner at third base until the LSU eighth. LSU trailed just 2-0 at that point when Dugas grounded out to end the inning stranding runners at second and third base.
After LSU’s first-inning threat, Bednar retired 11 straight batters including a string of five consecutive strikeouts. He gave up a two-out single in the LSU fifth to Tigers’ freshman shortstop Jordan Thompson and then issued a walk to sophomore second baseman Collier Cranford before striking out catcher Alex Milazzo to end the inning and his night’s work.
Bednar exited after throwing 49 strikes in his 74 pitchers and was darned near perfect.
“Will is such a confident kid, just going on the road and being able to pitch in his first SEC game,” MSU coach Chris Lemonis said.
Bednar had to be on his game because LSU starter Landon Marceaux was matching him pitch-for-pitch. Marceaux pitched a seven-inning two-hitter, yet got tagged with the loss when MSU scratched across the first run of the game in the fifth inning.
Marceaux led off that inning by walking MSU catcher Logan Tanner, who advanced to second base on Bulldogs’ first baseman Josh Hatcher’s sacrifice bunt.
Then, in one of the game’s key plays, a fielding error by LSU’s Thompson off a grounder by MSU left fielder Brayland Skinner moved Tanner to third.
From there, Forsythe’s sacrifice fly to center field scored Tanner for a 1-0 lead before Milazzo ended MSU’s threat by throwing out Skinner who was caught stealing.
If the Tigers thought they were about to find renewed life at the plate when Bednar was pulled to start the LSU sixth, they were sadly mistaken.
Crews, the only LSU player to get two hits and the lone Tiger to reach third base, said he and his young teammates aren’t doing the little things required to win hotly contested SEC games.
“We’re leaving runners on bases, we’re not getting guys over (baserunners from first to second base on sacrifice bunts, getting hits when we should be getting hits,” Crews said. “It’s going to come together soon.”
LSU tries to avoid being swept Sunday when the third and final game of the series starts at 2 p.m.
The Tigers will start junior right-hander AJ Labas (0-0, 3.10 ERA, 20.1 innings pitched, 27 strikeouts, 3 walks) against MSU junior righty Eric Cerantola (0-1, 6.97 ERA, 10.1 innings pitched, 12 strikeouts, 7 walks).
Considering Cerantola has allowed eight runs this season, the most of any MSU pitcher, it seems the Tigers may actually produce enough runs to win.
But here’s a stat that really doesn’t lie.
In MSU’s current 9-game win streak, the Bulldogs have outscored opponents 68 to 5.