- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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HOOVER, Ala. -- The way Mississippi State starting pitcher Chris Stratton threw from the hill at Regions Park, LSU getting two runs was an accomplishment. But a pair of runs in the fifth inning wasn’t enough for the Tigers as they fell to Mississippi State in the second round of the SEC baseball tournament, 3-2.
“Stratton is really good,” said LSU coach Paul Mainieri. “He’s clearly not only one of the best pitchers in the SEC, but one of the best pitchers in the country. I have a lot of respect for the kid. He’s very good.”
Stratton has faced LSU a number of times in his career and came out on top more often than not.
“I’m about ready for him to go into professional baseball so we don’t have to face him anymore,” Mainieri.
LSU first baseman Mason Katz, who was 1-4 against Stratton, put it simplest: “He’s got a bright future.”
When Stratton finally exited in the seventh inning, the Mississippi State bullpen did nothing to let up from the mound. Caleb Reed and Jonathan Holder finished off the game without allowing a single base runner.
“It was just a matter of going up against a good pitching staff,” Mainieri said. “Mississippi State’s team earned run average is like 2.6. They’re leading our league and they demonstrated it today. They’ve got good arms.”
The Tigers had an opportunity to tie the game in the seventh inning when JaCoby Jones laced a pitch into left field, but Demarcus Henderon laid out for the ball and made a highlight reel grab. After the game, Mainieri said if that ball would have fallen in things might have ended differently.
“That was obviously a tremendous play by him,” Mainieri said. “If he doesn’t make that catch we have someone in scoring position and, like I said, if it goes all the way to the wall, who knows what happens.
“Sometimes that’s the difference between winning and losing; a great play like that.”
Katz said the result of the game was as basic as running into a streaking team at the wrong time, pointing out that LSU has been in Mississippi State’s position before as well.
“That team’s hot right now,” Katz said. “We know what it’s like to play a team like that. Last year we got really hot at the end and played really well, and two years ago we came in as the eighth seed and were hot and ended up winning the tournament.
“We’ve lost the first game before. We’re going to battle back and wipe this one off and come back tomorrow.”
Katz said ending up in the losers bracket doesn’t change anything “mentality wise.” If anything, he was perked up for the potential of playing more baseball.
“We go out and focus at one game a time now,” Katz said. “If we have to play one game more, so be it. Hopefully that just means we get to stay here a little bit longer and play more baseball.”
Said Mainieri: “Now we have to win four in a row -- just a game a day. It’s not a hurdle that’s beyond our capabilities.”
LSU will face Ole Miss on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. CT.
6dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough