Mississippi State junior catcher Dustin Skelton went 3-for-5 with an RBI in the series finale of the Bulldogs’ three-game sweep of Ole Miss. (Photo: Trevor Birchett, Trevor Birchett/MSU Athletics)
OXFORD – There is a “Solo Cup Race” at Swayze Field in the middle of the fourth inning during every Ole Miss home game. People dressed in party cup costumes race down the first-base line, and the winner gets a prize.
The powder blue cup won Sunday. What happened mere minutes before then prevented the team whose jerseys are the same color as the winning cup from emerging victorious in a far more meaningful event.
A nine-run fourth-inning powered No. 6 Mississippi State to an 11-5 victory over No. 14 Ole Miss. The Bulldogs (42-10, 18-9 SEC) completed a series sweep of the Rebels (32-20, 15-12) at Swayze Field for the second-straight time in Oxford. The Rebels hadn’t been swept at home since the Dogs took all three games in 2017. Mississippi State hadn’t won six-straight games in Oxford since the Dogs did so in three two-game series from 1948-50.
“We came in here with one goal in mind: win the first one,” MSU junior catcher Dustin Skelton said. “Then if we can win the first one, we can win the second one. If we can win the second one, we can win the third one. It just going out there and getting after them each and every day to the best of our ability.”
All nine of Mississippi State’s runs in the fourth came with two outs. Skelton started the rally with a single. Nine at-bats later, Skelton drove in the ninth and final run of the inning with an RBI single.
Senior third baseman Marshall Gilbert, freshman catcher Luke Hancock, sophomore second baseman Justin Foscue and sophomore left fielder Rowdey Jordan all had RBI hits in between Skelton’s singles. Sophomore shortstop Jordan Westburg and sophomore first baseman Tanner Allen got credit for driving in runs by simply drawing walks.
Everything that could go wrong for Ole Miss, well, went wrong. Mississippi State had a lot to do with it.
“We kind of get hot like that,” MSU head coach Chris Lemonis said. “We have a lot of really good hitters that can build on each other.”
Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco tried to do damage control by pulling freshman starting pitcher Gunnar Hoglund after he gave up the first run in the frame. Hoglund’s last move on the mound was an intentional walk of MSU senior center fielder Jake Mangum to load the bases.
Junior left-hander Zack Phillips came in, and he’s the one who issued the run-scoring walks to Westburg and Allen. That’s all he contributed on the day as he was pulled for sophomore right-hander Max Cioffi.
Lemonis countered Bianco’s call to the pen by sending freshman catcher Luke Hancock, a left-handed hitter, to the batter’s box in place of freshman Brad Cumbest. Hancock delivered with a 2-run single. He was immediately pulled from the game for sophomore Josh Hatcher, who took over for Cumbest in right field.
“There’s moments in the game where the game is won and lost,” Ole Miss catcher Cooper Johnson said. “There’s a couple pitches, a couple at-bats that are detrimental to the game whether you win or lose. Not a lot of people in the stands see it, but there are moments where you have to make pitches. If you don’t make pitches, you will lose the game. Or you can win the game with one swing of the bat. We just didn’t make that pitch today or this weekend.”
Ole Miss held a 2-1 lead before the fourth-inning, similar to the way the Rebels led 4-2 before the Bulldogs’ six-run seventh inning that changed the course of Saturday’s game. Ole Miss was competitive for most of the series, but the Rebels couldn’t get the necessary effectiveness from their bullpen to stave off a series sweep.
Mississippi State’s pitching, meanwhile, was solid in all three games. Sunday, senior Peyton Plumlee picked up his fifth win of the season by throwing 7.2 innings of solid baseball. Sunday’s outing was Plumlee’s longest as a Bulldog since he pitched 8.0 innings against Indiana State on Feb. 25, 2017.
Plumlee was much better than his final line suggests. He finished four earned runs, but two of them came across the plate while he wasn’t even on the mound. Westburg misplayed two grounders on plays that were ruled singles in the eighth inning, and Ole Miss subsequently scored two runs.
Plumlee wanted to get the the final out of the eighth more than any other out he recorded all day. When Westburg juggled the ball in his glove on what ended up being the second single of the inning, Plumlee ran off the mound in frustration before Lemonis came out to take the ball from his hand.
“It’s always frustrating whenever you’re trying to finish out a game and they hit an in-between ball like that,” Plumlee said. “That was just me really wanting to finish out the inning. It wasn’t anything with anybody on our team. It was more for myself. When you get a ball like that, everybody starts to crumble a little bit. But I think we held our composure pretty well and ended up sticking through the game.”
The Rebels had a chance to have a two-out rally akin to that of Mississippi State’s in the fourth, but sophomore right fielder Anthony Servideo flew out to center with two runners on base to end the threat. Had Servideo hit it over Mangum’s head or put a tad more power on the ball to take it out of the park, the game would have tightened considerably.
“It was a really bad weekend for us,” Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco said. “It’s a shame. There was so much riding on the weekend. You’re playing your arch rival. And you really play awful.”
But such was the theme of the weekend. Mississippi State made the plays and had the big innings that shaped the series, and Ole Miss didn’t. It brings the Bulldogs to the brink of securing a national seed in the NCAA Tournament and probably prevents the Rebels from getting their shot to host a regional.