STARKVILLE — There will be a time Vanderbilt pitcher Tyler Beede will laugh about his Friday night in Starkville.
It won’t be any time soon.
The No. 21 Mississippi State baseball team touched one of the nation’s top pitchers for 11 runs and recorded just eight outs against him en route to a 17-2 victory against No. 6 Vanderbilt at Dudy Noble Field.
“Scores like this just don’t happen like this in the Southeastern Conference,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “We were in this situation a little bit last Friday (in a 7-1 loss to Georgia in Athens, Ga.) and our kids were a little bit embarrassed. Vanderbilt will be different the rest of the weekend.”
MSU (16-8, 3-1 SEC) rocked Beede (4-2) and mistake-prone Vanderbilt for six hits and 11 runs (five earned) in 2 2/3 innings. In all, MSU had 14 hits and capitalized on five errors. In its first three losses, Vanderbilt (19-4, 2-2) had given up 15 runs. MSU had that many in the seventh inning.
“Some of those mistakes were forced just by where they happened on the field,” Cohen said. “What happened there was our pressure guys were able to make contact and Vanderbilt just didn’t field it the way they’re expecting to do so every game.”
Catcher Zach Randolph was the only starter who didn’t score a run. Right fielder Cody Brown and third baseman Matthew Britton were the only starters who didn’t have a hit.
MSU junior shortstop Seth Heck, who has started the last 14 games, reached base five times, including two hits and two walks. The transfer from Tacoma (Wash.) Community College had four RBIs and is second on team with a .333 batting average. Since March 1, Heck is hitting .357 with eight walks, eight runs, eight RBIs, two stolen bases, and two doubles.
Brett Pirtle led the Bulldogs with three hits, while Derrick Armstrong and Wes Rea had two hits and two RBIs, and Demarcus Henderson had two hits. Randolph added three RBIs.
“On the off chance you’re a person that still doesn’t believe hitting is a contagious act, tonight kind of reinforced that idea again,” Heck said.
Eleven of MSU’s first 15 batters reached against Beede. The last time Vanderbilt gave up 17 runs in a game was a 18-6 loss in the second game of the 2008 season.
Beede lost all confidence after failing to touch first base on a wheel play in the opening inning and losing his footing in the infield grass on a bunt in the second. By the time Vanderbilt pitching coach Scott Brown pulled Beede, the junior’s ERA had jumped from 0.84 to 3.11.
“We were really hunting the fastball tonight because what really separates Beede from the rest of the country is his changeup,” Cohen said. “That’s what makes him so good and allows him to get strikeouts. When he doesn’t get swing-and-miss action, teams feel like they can really attack him.”
After losing the SEC opener last weekend, MSU is off to its best conference start since 2006. The Bulldogs are 10-4 in their last 14 games against top-20 opponents. The last time MSU scored that many runs against Vanderbilt was 1997. The 17 runs were the most by MSU against a SEC opponent since April 19, 2009, vs. Kentucky.
“The 17-2 doesn’t mean anything to me because it could be 1-0 and it’s a win all the same for us,” Cohen said. “You have to find a way to capture the same emotion and same level the rest of the series.”
With the large cushion to work with in his first career SEC start, Preston Brown (3-0) rolled 15 ground ball outs. In his team-leading third quality start of the season, Brown went eight innings and allowed seven hits and two runs, both earned. He has surrendered four earned runs in 32 innings this season. In Brown’s first three starts, MSU scored 16 runs. Seeing his offense score four runs in the first helped calm his nerves.
“That big lead really made it easy for me to find the strike zone and let my fielders work,” Brown said. “I guess I’d be lying if I said I didn’t relax after all those runs.”
Brown’s 97-pitch performance left room for Brandon Woodruff to pitch the ninth. As a result, MSU’s bullpen will be rested for the final two games of the series. A weather alert last weekend forced MSU to play Georgia in a doubleheader on Saturday. The change forced the Bulldogs to shuffle their pitching rotation and gave Brown a chance to pitch in his team’s home SEC opener.
“If you’re not going to throw a 94-96 mph fastball with a unbelievable breaking ball, then your identity has to be about quick pitch innings and engaging your defense,” Cohen said. “That’s what Preston did tonight, and the only way you do those things is shoving it in the strike zone.”
The series finale will be 1:30 p.m. today.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
The Dispatch Editorial Board is made up of publisher Peter Imes, columnist Slim Smith, managing editor Zack Plair and senior newsroom staff.