STARKVILLE — Von Seibert stared at his bat as if there were a hole in it.
After striking out to end Saturday’s 4-3 loss to No. 19 LSU at Dudy Noble Field, the Mississippi State designated hitter held it up briefly.
Then he turned and walked slowly back to the dugout.
Seibert’s strikeout against Paul Gervase for the final out in the ninth inning was unique. It capped a 1-2-3 inning for the Bulldogs — the only frame all day where they didn’t leave someone on base.
Mississippi State (18-14, 4-7 Southeastern Conference) continued its woes with runners on, going 1 for 15 with runners in scoring position as LSU (22-9, 6-5 SEC) clinched a series win in Starkville.
“We just aren’t driving in the runs,” MSU coach Chris Lemonis said.
Mississippi State sure had its chances: two baserunners in the first inning, three in the fifth, two in the eighth.
But every time, the Bulldogs’ rallies fizzled out.
MSU struck out 15 times against six LSU pitchers, three of whom the Bulldogs saw in Friday’s game. Those strikeouts came at critical times: Hunter Hines with two on and one out in the first inning, Matt Corder with the bases loaded in the third and Luke Hancock with men on the corners in the eighth.
In the ninth, facing a one-run deficit, all three Mississippi State hitters went down swinging.
“If we put balls in play against them, we’re going to get a couple cheapies, but we’re striking out in those opportunities,” Lemonis said.
For the second straight game, that made the difference between a win and a loss for the Bulldogs. The two contests were rather similar in that regard: MSU left eight men on base Friday and a whopping 12 Saturday in closely contested defeats.
And just like Friday, Mississippi State pitching was good for eight innings and suspect for the other. This time, though, the Bulldogs got their difficulties out of the way early.
Parker Stinnett spotted LSU a 3-0 lead three batters in, giving up an infield single and a walk before Jacob Berry hit a three-run home run to right.
With two out, Stinnett walked Jordan Thompson and gave up a hit to Josh Pearson. Keeping Stinnett’s struggles last week at Arkansas and Jackson Fristoe’s travails Friday in mind, Lemonis quickly summoned Brandon Smith out of the bullpen.
“I just wasn’t going down that trail we went down last week,” Lemonis said. “When he started to come off the tracks, we couldn’t put our team through that again after last night. We knew we were going to go to Brandon if Parker wasn’t good, and I just didn’t think he was good enough there early.”
But Smith was the exact opposite, providing the stable long relief innings the Bulldogs badly needed. He escaped the jam in the first with a three-pitch strikeout and delivered six strong innings, practically a start of his own in relief.
Smith gave up just four hits on the day, striking out four as he pitched into the seventh inning.
“I feel like I came in in a tough situation, and I just feel like I gave it my all out there,” he said. “In those situations, when you can come up big for your team, it’s pretty special.”
But it was Smith who was tagged with a hard-luck loss by giving up a solo home run in the sixth inning. Thompson took him deep to right on the first pitch of the frame.
The homer put LSU back on top after Mississippi State rallied to tie the game. RJ Yeager led off the first inning with a solo shot, and the Bulldogs added a run on an error.
Kamren James’ fourth home run of the season snuck inside the left-field foul pole to equalize things in the fifth inning.
But it was the end of the line in terms of MSU’s offensive production. Three strikeouts ended the fifth after the Bulldogs put men on second and third with nobody out, and the hosts could never break through.
Yeager was left on third base to end the sixth. Kellum Clark was stranded at first in the seventh. And Hancock’s strikeout in the eighth left James at first and Matt Corder at third.
Lemonis emphasized his team’s struggles to advance or score runners with zero or one out rather than bringing them home from third base with two away.
“I’m on the guys right now about playing winning baseball — doing the little things in the game that help you win and take pressure off of you,” he said. “We’re not right now.”
On Saturday, that cost the Bulldogs again. Cade Smith (4-1, 3.00 ERA) will again be tasked with helping Mississippi State stave off a sweep at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.