BILOXI – Thousands of folks wearing maroon and white flocked to the gates at MGM Park on Wednesday afternoon at the same time the NCAA issued a major press release that triggered a chain reaction of epic proportions.
It stated upcoming men’s and women’s basketball tournaments would be closed to the public from start to finish. No fans, from first four to Final Four.
The outbreak of the virus COVID-19, more commonly known as coronavirus, has affected the attendance of sporting events around the world in recent weeks. Professional soccer games in Italy were halted altogether earlier this week.
The NBA announced the suspension of the rest of the season just minutes after Wednesday’s baseball game ended. Shock waves localized when Mississippi State Athletics issued a statement in compliance with the SEC’s orders minutes after the game.
It stated that every on-campus sporting event for at least the remainder of the month – including this weekend’s baseball series against Arkansas and next weekend’s NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament at Humphrey Coliseum – will be limited to student athletes, coaches, event staff, essential team and conference staff, credentialed media and immediate family members of the participating teams.
Despite the hysteria taking over much of the country, especially in the world of sports, all anybody seemed to care about for a couple nights in Biloxi was baseball.
No. 17 Mississippi State and No. 3 Texas Tech tangled for the second time in as many days, and there were plenty of people in the ballpark to see it. A whopping 6,029 of them, to be in fact.
They came in droves and packed themselves tightly together to watch Mississippi State complete the two-game sweep of Texas Tech with a 3-2 victory.
While the game was in its latter stages, the Mississippi State Department of Health reported the Magnolia State’s first presumptive case of the virus. A man from Forrest County is believed to have contracted it.
Total attendance for the two tilts, taking place some 60 miles or so south of Forrest County, amounted to 11,781. Mississippi State head coach Chris Lemonis checked his phone minutes after Wednesday’s win and saw the fallout that has occurred in the sporting community.
“We’re looking at it. We’re seeing it. We’re concerned,” Lemonis said. “I’ve really never dealt with anything like this. I don’t think anybody has in our generation.”
The show still went on for Mississippi State, and it was a good one for the maroon and white.
Wednesday’s game was more of a pitcher’s duel than Tuesday’s 6-3 result. MSU senior Carlisle Koestler only allowed one run in five innings. He needed 45 pitches to get through the first two innings but came back to get through the next three with just 24.
“They were doing a good job about battling me and I was kind of falling behind in the first innings,” Koestler said. “I started getting ahead after the second inning, so that kept my pitch count down.”
Senior Riley Self relieved him and pitched two perfect innings – six up, six down – on just 22 pitches.
“Any time you can get a guy coming out of the bullpen to fill it up like that and not give away any free passes, that’s good,” Koestler said. “He did a good job.”
On the Texas Tech (16-3) side, sophomore righty held Mississippi State (12-4) in check by hurling 90 pitches over his six innings of work. The only Bulldog run that came across on Dobbins came on a mini rally in the third. Junior Rowdey Jordan doubled, junior Jordan Westburg moved him to third with a single and junior Josh Hatcher brought him home on a ground out to first.
The Red Raiders tied the game at one run apiece on an RBI double off Koestler in the fifth. Hatcher broke the tie with his second RBI of the game on a rocketed double off the fence in right field. Jordan was the run scorer again as he reached on a single and stole second to put himself in scoring position.
Hatcher is now hitting .311 on the season as he has transitioned to the No. 3 spot in the batting order in the wake of junior Tanner Allen’s hand injury.
“I’m feeling really, really good,” Hatcher said. “I’m in a really good spot. I’m comfortable up there. I’m feeling really good with my swing.”
Texas Tech walked junior Justin Foscue, who was 0-for-3 on the night but entered the game leading the team with a batting average of .340, on four pitches. It wasn’t intentional but, but pitching around the zone didn’t pay off for the Red Raiders. Designated hitter Luke Hancock ripped a double down the third base line. Hatcher scored to increase MSU’s lead to 3-1.
Hancock isn’t a regular in Mississippi State’s lineup. He had only played in eight of the Bulldogs’ 15 games leading into Wednesday. The lefty brought a .182 batting average into the game, too. None of that mattered when he popped onto his feet at second base to strum his air guitar in the direction of the MSU dugout.
“I was in that role last year,” Hatcher said of Hancock’s service as a reserve player. “It’s not easy. A lot of people think it’s easy. It’s not easy… But he’s a really good player. What he showed tonight is what we see every single day.”
Texas Tech got a run back in the eighth off freshman Jared Shemper to cut the deficit to 3-2. Senior righty Spencer Price came on in the top of the ninth for the second night in a row to try to close the game out. And he did just that to keep his perfect 0.00 ERA intact and give MSU another huge win over the Red Raiders.
Mississippi State looks to keep things rolling as SEC play begins against Arkansas at Dudy Noble Field this weekend. It won’t be the home field advantage the Dude normally provides because of the lack of fans, but Lemonis said his team will still go out and play it hardest.
“What they tell us to do, we’ll do it and be ready to go,” Lemonis said. “We definitely love playing in front of our fans. That’s the hardest part. We just have to do what’s asked of us to do.”
MSU senior righty Carlisle Koestler improved to 1-1 in his start. Texas Tech trotted out sophomore righty Hunter Dobbins, who took a no decision.
Mississippi State’s starting batting order was as follows.
- Junior Rowdey Jordan (CF)
- Junior Jordan Westburg (SS)
- Junior Josh Hatcher (1B)
- Junior Justin Foscue (2B)
- Sophomore Luke Hancock (DH)
- Freshman Kamren James (3B)
- Sophomore Brandon Pimentel (LF)
- Freshman Logan Tanner (C)
- Sophomore Brad Cumbest (RF)
How it happened
Top 1: Koestler gave up a lead-off infield single that nearly made it through the hole into left field. He forced a fly out to center and the runner at first was caught stealing. Koestler then issued two walks before a ground out to second ended the inning.
Bottom 1: Jordan and Westburg grounded out. Hatcher singled, and Foscue lined out to left on a full count.
Top 2: It wasn’t the cleanest of innings for Koestler again. He allowed another leadoff single. He got three straight outs from there, but he needed a lot of pitches to do it. He sat at 45 pitches through two frames.
Bottom 2: Hancock led off with a single. After two strikeouts, Tanner worked a walk to put two on with two out for Cumbest. The big sophomore from Hurley lined out to first to end the threat.
Top 3: Koestler finished the frame in 1-2-3 fashion and only needed five pitches to do so.
Bottom 3: Jordan started the inning with a double and Westburg followed with a single. A fielder’s choice ground out to first brought Jordan home to give MSU a 1-0 lead. Foscue flied out and Hancock grounded out.
Top 4: Koestler had another quick inning in retiring three of the four batters he faced. Two of the Red Raiders went down swinging.
Bottom 4: Tanner slapped a two-out single to center, but that’s all Mississippi State had working in the inning.
Top 5: Texas Tech led off with a single and worked the runner over to second with a bunt. A two-out double brought him home to tie the game at 1-1. A ground out ended the threat.
Bottom 5: Mississippi State went down in order despite starting the frame with the top of the lineup.
Top 6: Senior righty Riley Self relieved Koestler on the mound. He pitched a 1-2-3 inning on just 12 pitches.
Bottom 6: James and Pimentel each had two-out singles, but Tanner struck out swining to end the inning. Dobbins recorded his fourth and fifth strikeouts in the inning as he upped his pitch count to 90.
Top 7: Self pitched another 1-2-3 inning and needed only 10 pitches this time around.
Bottom 7: Jordan singled to left with one out. He stole second to put himself in scoring position. Westburg struck out, but Hatcher rocketed a double off the fence in right to give Mississippi State a 2-1 lead.
Foscue was walked on four pitches, and Hancock made Texas Tech pay with a double of his own to bring Hatcher home. Mississippi State took a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning.
Top 8: Right-handed freshman Jaxen Forrester gave up a run with a walk, a wild pitch and a single. He also recorded two strikeouts to minimize damage and preserve Mississippi State’s lead even though it was cut down to one run, 3-2.
Bottom 8: Mississippi State worked Cumbest into scoring position, but the Bulldogs couldn’t get the insurance run as Westburg popped out in the infield to end the inning.
Top 9: Senior Spencer Price came on to try to close the game out, and he did. He retired all three batters he faced to secure the win for Mississippi State.