STARKVILLE, Miss. - An eight-run first inning kickstarted a season-best 21-hit performance as Mississippi State routed Auburn 15-8 in a Southeastern Conference baseball game played Saturday afternoon at Dudy Noble Field.
With the victory, the Bulldogs snap a six-series losing streak in conference play. The Bulldogs last won a weekend series on April 18th of last season by taking two of three contests against Tennessee. The Maroon and White last won the first two games of a weekend series in 2009 at Ole Miss. A win Sunday would give MSU its first weekend sweep the College World Series-participant Bulldogs took all three from this same Auburn club in 2007.
With its third straight win against a ranked opponent, the Bulldogs improved to 17-6 overall and 3-2 in league play - good for sole possession of second place in the Western Division standings. Auburn lost its third straight, falling to 14-9 and 2-3.
"We have scored 22 runs in back-to-back games," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "Last Sunday (a 9-8 win at No. 2 Vanderbilt) was huge for us. Coming back on a staff like Vanderbilt has given us the confidence that has propelled us to this weekend. I thought we hit the ball well today."
While the Bulldogs only managed nine runs in the entire Vanderbilt series last weekend, the Bulldogs had that many on the scoreboard with two outs in the second inning Saturday afternoon. The Maroon and White batted 13 and scored eight in the opening at-bat - the second-best half-inning of the 2011 campaign.
"The confidence carried over from yesterday," MSU senior shortstop Jonathan Ogden said. "When you win a Friday night game in this league, it can set the tone for the entire weekend. We came to the ballpark ready to play today."
The Bulldogs also continued a mighty fine theme established in the series opener. In a 7-6 win Friday night, MSU scored all seven of its runs with two outs in three different innings. On Saturday, the Bulldogs tallied 13 of their 15 runs with two outs. Ironically, the Bulldogs again scored in three at-bats Saturday. The monster first inning included six two-out runs.
"We have really been focusing on hitting line drives and ground balls," Cohen said. "For the most part, we did that today. When you score runs early, then all you have to do is ask your pitcher to throw strikes and be a competitor."
Chris Stratton (4-1) did just that. While earning the win, Stratton threw 118 pitches in 7.1 innings of work. The sophomore right-hander allowed five hits and four runs (three earned), with five strikeouts and four walks. Evan Mitchell completed the eighth inning. Hunter Renfroe did not retire a batter while being touched for all four runs in the AU ninth inning. Caleb Reed got a double play ball and strikeout to close out the victory.
In the first inning, Nick Vickerson and Ryan Collins started things with back-to-back singles. After a sacrifice-bunt, Cody Freeman slapped a two-run single to center field. C.T. Bradford followed with a hit. Daryl Norris hit a ground ball, forcing Freeman out at third base.
A walk to Jaron Shepherd loaded the bases. The Bulldogs then followed with five consecutive base hits. A three-double by Ogden landed just inside the left field foul line. Adam Frazier followed with an RBI-single, chasing AU starter Will Irvin (3-1).
Vickerson and Collins then both added their second hits of the inning - an RBI-double by Vickerson scored Ogden and an RBI-single by Collins scored Frazier.
After Auburn plated an unearned run in the second inning, the Bulldogs put things away with a five-run second inning. This time Auburn got two of the first three batters in the inning, before the Bulldogs tacked on five two-out runs.
Norris reached on a one-out single. A base hit by Ogden placed runners on the corners. Frazier followed with an RBI-single. An infield error extended the inning and scored another run. Collins followed with an RBI-single and Jarrod Parks added a two-run double.
Auburn touched Stratton for three runs on three hits in the fifth inning. In the home half of that at-bat, Ogden hit his fourth home run of the season - a two-run, two-out shot to left center field.
The 21-hit total was the most the Bulldogs collected since having the same hit total in a 22-17 home loss to Kentucky in 2009. Those are the two best offensive afternoons in Cohen's three seasons as head coach.
Collins had a season-high four hits. Norris and Ogden each had their second three-hit game of the season, while Frazier had his first as a Bulldog. Vickerson, Parks and Bradford had multiple hits. Ogden had a career-high five RBIs.
Auburn finished with 11 hits, including two each by Bobby Andrews and Cullen Wacker.
The Bulldogs and Tigers conclude their weekend set with a 1:30 p.m. first pitch Sunday. Auburn is scheduled to start junior right-hander Derek Varnadore (3-0, 3.09 ERA), while MSU is scheduled to start junior left-hander Nick Routt (0-0, 2.70).