FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – First-inning pitching difficulties did in the Mississippi State baseball team again Sunday afternoon.
The 16th-ranked Bulldogs walked three in the first inning and allowed three runs before recording an out at Baum Stadium. The early cushion would be enough for No. 11 Arkansas to take a 3-1 Southeastern Conference victory on Easter Sunday.
With the series-clinching victory, Arkansas improved to 21-8 overall and 6-3 in league play, while MSU fell to 23-8 and 3-6. The Razorbacks have now five straight series from the Bulldogs.
“We are not pitching well enough in the first inning,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “Our bullpen is as great as anybody in the nation. We will find the right guy. (Regular starter) Jacob Lindgren not being able to start (due to injury) really hurt us today. We were also without (catcher) Mitch Slauter (due to illness).
“That is not an excuse. We just simply have to keep people from scoring in the first inning. We have to find a way to get off to better starts.”
MSU pitching has allowed 35 runs in nine conference games this season. Of those 35 runs, 10 have scored in the first inning. In five of their last six conference games, the Bulldogs have allowed a first-inning score by the opponent.
Ben Bracewell drew his first start of the season for the Bulldogs. Bracewell (0-1) failed to get an out, allowing two walks and two hits in the first inning. Ross Mitchell entered in relief. Mitchell walked in a run and then got a double play ball, which pushed the Razorbacks’ lead to 3-0.
The early offense would be more than enough for the Arkansas trio of Randall Fant, Jalen Beeks and Colby Suggs. Fant (2-0) allowed four hits over six innings of work. Beeks threw two innings, while Suggs (three saves) worked around a leadoff error to record a scoreless ninth inning.
“It is really disappointing,” Cohen said. “The defense did an exceptional job. Nobody in the country played any better defense than we did this week. You just can’t walk people. We have to manufacture things and find pitchers who will challenge the strike zone.”
Mitchell threw 6.1 innings in relief, allowing four hits with two strikeouts and two walks. Chad Girodo retired the only batter he faced, while Jonathan Holder faced four batters in 1.1 innings of relief work.
The Bulldogs broke up the shutout on Wes Rea’s second home run of the season in the fourth inning. Rea had two of MSU’s five hits. Hunter Renfroe was hitless as his 15-game hit streak ended.
Jake Wise had two of Arkansas’ six hits.
MSU remains on the road for a 6:30 p.m. start Tuesday against South Alabama. Conference play returns to Dudy Noble Field next weekend when Florida comes to town. The Bulldogs and Gators are scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday (Cox Sports and CSS) and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.