STARKVILLE, Miss. — There were plenty of fans among the 8,826 at Mississippi State’s Dudy Noble Field on Friday afternoon holding their collective breath for the majority the opening game of the Starkville regional.
The No. 4-seeded Jaguars weren’t supposed to be in the game by the seventh inning, but there they very much were, tied at 6 with Mississippi State — until the Bulldogs rallied for a hard-fought 11-6 victory.
But Southern was in position most of the ballgame after watching J.T. Ginn, the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year, exit in the fourth inning with arm soreness.
The Jaguars pounced, taking a 4-2 lead.
The Bulldogs eventually brought out the bats out and staved off the pesky Southern offense. After the Jaguars tied it at 6 with a two-run home run in the seventh inning from Johnny Johnson, the Bulldogs scored three runs in the eighth and added a two-run home run from Rowdey Jordan in the eighth to put it away for good.
Afterward, a few things stood out to Southern coach Kerrick Jackson. The biggest was a couple of errors committed by his defense, which had to play well if the Jaguars were to pull off an upset.
Southern also walked seven batters, and one of its two errors came in the seventh inning on a tailor-made double play, leading to a three-run inning for State.
“We didn’t play clean. We talked about being able to throw strikes, play defense and having quality at-bats,” Jackson said. “That’s the beauty of our game: If you do those things consistently, you can play against anybody. When you give extra outs, it’s tough to beat the best of teams and the tough to beat the worst of teams.”
In the loss, the Jaguars (32-23) had 11 hits against MSU’s pitching staff. Javeyan Williams and Ashanti Wheatley had three hits each, and Williams had two doubles. Tyler LaPorte had two hits and an RBI as he remained among the top five nationally in hits with 95 this season.
The lineup couldn’t figure out MSU’s Cole Gordon, who entered and struck out six batters in the final two innings. One of them was Wheatley to start the ninth. That was when Jackson felt his team’s chances of winning were fleeting after the right fielder started 3 for 4.
“I think we did pretty decent. We left some guys on base,” Wheatley said. “It’s a little disappointing, but we’re going to come out (Saturday) and give our best.”
It wasn’t until the final out that Southern was truly done, however. They took a punch and delivered one back time and time again, beginning when Ginn exited the ballgame.
The freshman had been efficient with just 32 pitches and one unearned run through three innings, but he left with some tightness in his arm.
Freshman Brandon Smith entered, and the Jaguars immediately tagged the newcomer with a three-run inning in the fourth to take the 4-2 lead. They came back and hit one of MSU’s best relievers with the two-run home run in the seventh from Johnson to even it up.
Jackson got 2⅔ innings from left hander Jerome Bohannon III to start the game. Bohannon gave up two hits, two runs and five walks. Connor Whalen came in to pitch the final two innings, but he gave up his first runs of the season as State scored five runs in the last two frames.
Southern will play again at noon Saturday.
Jackson will throw his top starter, Eli Finney, who enters with a 6-2 record, a 4.45 ERA and 64⅔ innings.
“That guy has been phenomenal," Jackson said. "He’s horsed it up for us and had some really big innings for us. If he can come out, throw strikes and do what he can do, we’ll put ourselves in position to win the game.”