STARKVILLE — Tanner Leggett sat down in front of the microphone for his postgame media session and began it with four words.
“Let’s knock this out,” the Mississippi State senior infielder said.
It was fitting after Leggett did the same to yet another baseball just an hour before. Coming off the bench to play shortstop for the Bulldogs on Tuesday against Arkansas–Pine Bluff, Leggett tucked a ball inside the left-field foul pole for his team-leading second home run of the season.
It was the perfect time for players like Leggett to shine as Mississippi State (2-2) took down UAPB (1-3) by a score of 17-1 on the seven-inning run rule Tuesday. The Bulldogs went up 8-0 in the first inning and played 16 position players and three different pitchers in the rout of the Lions.
“It’s always a hard game to manage, especially when it gets big that early,” Mississippi State coach Chris Lemonis said. “But we got a lot of guys in the game. We got to see a lot of guys play.”
Among them, Leggett was perhaps the most impressive, going 2 for 3 with a team-high three RBIs in the blowout win. Four other Bulldogs, including backup outfielder Brayland Skinner, each drove in two runs.
But Leggett’s second home run in just six at-bats caught the attention of the small crowd that attended the game, which was moved up Monday afternoon to 11 a.m. because of forecasted storms later in the day.
An inning after Leggett’s solo blast, backup second baseman Davis Meche went deep to right-center. Neither player stands 6 feet tall — both are among the four MSU position players under that mark.
“It’s a running joke that the two smallest guys in the dugout are leading the team in home runs,” Lemonis said.
Leggett is no stranger to big hits after his walk-off single against Texas sent Mississippi State into the College World Series final. The former Northwest Mississippi Community College player said he was “on cloud nine” for a while after the Bulldogs beat Vanderbilt for the national title.
Then he got back to business, shortening his swing and simplifying his approach at the plate.
“The homers are coming, but it works out for me,” Leggett said.
It should work out for the Bulldogs, too, with Leggett possibly presenting another offensive option anywhere on the diamond. Leggett may be listed as an infielder, but he said his defensive position doesn’t matter.
That’s good news for Mississippi State with Leggett’s defensive skill on display Tuesday. Leggett might not have the glove of starting shortstop Lane Forsythe, but he played like it: In the sixth inning, minutes after his home run, he ranged deep into the hole to throw out UAPB’s Kacy Higgins at first base.
“I’m more pleased with the defense,” Lemonis said of Leggett. “Two home runs is great, but the defensive plays were really special.”
Mississippi State as a whole went without an error while a trio of pitchers combined to allow just five hits. Jackson Fristoe allowed a solo home run in four innings, striking out six; left-handers Andrew Walling and Pico Kohn made their first appearances in the maroon and white.
Kohn, a freshman from Verbena, Alabama, struck out three and allowed one hit in two innings.
“He’s good, man,” Fristoe said of Kohn. “I like him a lot. He’s got a funky delivery. He’s really good. I think he can be one of our best guys this year.”
The Bulldogs could have gotten a lot less from Kohn and Co. given the final score. Mississippi State had innings of three and four runs, not to mention its eight-spot in the first inning. MSU sent 13 men to the plate and every starter reached base in the interminable frame.
It was a far cry from the offense that was held to one hit Friday and just three runs Saturday in losses to Long Beach State. The quality of the opponent wasn’t the same, either, but the Bulldogs will take it.
“It was a rough Friday — better Saturday,” Leggett said. “We stick to the script. It’s a stubborn mindset. Our hitters, we’re ready, and we’re going to continue to build this year.”
Mississippi State will host Northern Kentucky (0-3) this weekend at Dudy Noble Field, beginning at 3 p.m. Friday.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.