Apr. 2—STARKVILLE — Christian MacLeod and the Mississippi State pitching staff bounced back in a big way on Thursday night.
No. 8 Mississippi State beat Kentucky, 8-1, at Dudy Noble Field to start the three-game series. Game 2 is on Friday at 6 p.m. MacLeod, who allowed five runs on four home runs last week against Arkansas, was back to his normal self.
He pitched six shutout innings, allowed only two hits and struck out 11 Kentucky batters. He allowed no walks and pitched a career-high 95 pitches, 65 of which were strikes. Between a two-out double in the second inning and a two-out single in the sixth, MacLeod retired 12 straight batters.
“He commanded the fastball really well tonight but I think he had his best breaking ball of the year, which he needed against some of their really good hitters,” head coach Chris Lemonis said. “Man, when he has all three pitches going like that, he’s really tough to hit.”
Brandon Smith, Houston Harding and Stone Simmons pitched behind MacLeod and allowed only one unearned run on three combined hits in three innings.
Smith, who also allowed five runs last Friday against Arkansas, entered directly behind MacLeod and pitched 1.2 innings. He allowed two hits and the lone run of the game, which was unearned.
The run scored on a wild pitch following a one-out error by Lane Forsythe and an infield single.
“I thought he was not good at all against Arkansas,” MacLeod said of Smith. “Tonight, his stuff was pretty good. We make an error and they hit through the shift. The biggest pitching mistake he made was throwing the ball up the backstop, which we can’t do. I thought he was really sharp tonight.”
Harding faced one batter and forced a groundout, and Simmons pitched the ninth inning and struck out two batters.
While the pitching staff bounced back from last weekend’s abysmal showing, the hitters stayed in a slump.
The Bulldogs recorded only six hits and left 11 base runners on base while going 1-14 with runners in scoring position.
Mississippi State stranded eight base runners across the first four innings of the game, including three in the first inning after loading the bases with no outs. But despite stranding so many base runners, the Bulldogs led 3-0 after the fourth inning.
Luke Hancock hit a sacrifice fly in both the first and third inning to score two runs, and Kamren James walked with the bases loaded to put MSU up 3-0.
MSU’s biggest hit of the game came in the bottom of the eighth inning. MSU took a 5-1 lead following back-to-back Kentucky errors, and James stepped up to the plate and hit a bases-clearing double to put Mississippi State up, 8-1.
That was MSU’s only hit of the night with a runner in scoring position.
“I think it’s just hunting your pitch and not missing it,” James said of hitting with runners in scoring postition. “In this league with runners on base, they’re not going to give you a cookie right down the middle. I think trying to hit early in the count and really trying to focus on getting your pitch is huge.”