After faltering in its series opener against No. 2 Vanderbilt Friday, No. 4 Mississippi State had to contend with the likely No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 MLB draft in an effort to even the series.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, the projected top pick didn’t live up to his billing in a 7-4 MSU win Saturday in Nashville.
Rowdey Jordan led off the game by taking Leiter’s second pitch of the game deep to give the Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead. The first four MSU (29-9, 11-6 SEC) batters reached base and the Bulldogs extended the advantage to 2-0 after an RBI single from Luke Hancock in what amounted to a strenuous 28-pitch inning for the Vanderbilt standout on the mound.
The two runs allowed in the frame tied for the most runs Leiter has ever allowed in any inning in his collegiate career. MSU’s two runs and three hits also matched its total from the series opener Friday. Vanderbilt (30-7, 12-5) got a run back in the bottom frame off MSU starter Will Bednar after Enrique Bradfield Jr. walked, stole two bases and scored on a sacrifice fly.
Both starters limited all damage until the top of the fifth inning when Logan Tanner’s clutch two-out bomb against Leiter provided some-much needed insurance. Tanner launched a two-run shot — and also his bat in the air — over the left field wall and blew a kiss to the Vanderbilt dugout as he put MSU up 4-1. Leiter finished the night pitching five innings and allowing four runs on six hits while walking three and striking out eight batters.
Bednar was cruising until the sixth inning when the first two hitters of the inning reached. The Saturday starter bounced back from his worst outing of the year against Ole Miss last week to toss five innings of one-run ball, striking out eight batters while allowing three hits and three walks.
MSU reliever Preston Johnson pulled a tightrope act in relief of Bednar, inducing a double play and a strikeout to complete a scoreless sixth inning. The Bulldogs added three insurance runs in the top of the seventh off a Tanner RBI double, a Scotty Dubrule fielder’s choice RBI and a Brayland Skinner RBI single to extend the advantage to 7-1.
MSU closer Landon Sims was brought on in the bottom of the seventh with one out and runners on first and second to preserve a six-run lead. Sims, who entered Saturday’s contest with a dazzling 0.37 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 24.1 innings, allowed both inherited runs to score and one of his own. Although Vanderbilt cut the deficit to 7-4, Sims struck out the next two batters to escape the frame. Sims worked a scoreless eighth and ninth inning to seal the victory for the Bulldogs.
MSU will try to take the series in the rubber match at 1 p.m. Sunday in Nashville.