STARKVILLE — Chris Lemonis knows time is winding down for the Mississippi State baseball team to make a run.
“We’ve been saying it all year, but the sandglass is emptying out,” Lemonis said after Friday night’s game against Florida. “You better take advantage of it.”
Maybe that sense of urgency is why the Bulldogs (25-21, 9-13 Southeastern Conference) appeared to rush things at the worst possible moment in an 8-6 loss to the Gators (27-18, 9-13 SEC) at Dudy Noble Field.
Trailing 8-5 with the bases loaded and one out in the bottom of the eighth inning, MSU seemed poised to cash in on a single and two straight walks by Florida pitching.
Instead, RJ Yeager grounded out to shortstop on the second pitch he saw. Kamren James went after the first pitch and popped it into right field, ending the inning.
The Bulldogs got one run. They needed more.
“I was hoping those at-bats would be a little bit longer knowing that we have somebody kind of melting down on the mound out there,” Lemonis said. “We let them right back into it or let him off the hook a little bit. We have to do a better job there.”
That’s been characteristic of the 2022 season, and it was the same old story Friday as Mississippi State came up short of a big comeback in the series opener.
The Bulldogs found themselves trailing 6-0 by the second inning and 7-0 by the fifth, but they rallied to pull within two runs on Yeager’s RBI grounder.
But MSU went down 1-2-3 in the ninth inning, letting Florida escape with the victory.
“Coming back from 7-0 is hard, especially Friday night in the SEC, but I thought our pitchers battled,” first baseman Luke Hancock said. “I thought our hitters battled the entire game. We were just one swing away — one pitch away, maybe.”
Hancock’s groundout to third base plated a run in a three-run seventh inning as Mississippi State pieced runs together against the Gators bullpen. James’ RBI fielder’s choice scored the inning’s first run, and Logan Tanner added a two-out single.
But Hunter Hines struck out looking to end the threat, and the Bulldogs managed just one run from there.
They scored just twice against hard-throwing right-hander Brandon Sproat, striking for two runs in the fifth. Lane Forsythe went the other way for an RBI hit, and Yeager added a sac fly.
Sproat struck out five in his six innings of work, mowing down the Bulldogs until Forsythe walked in the third inning for MSU’s first baserunner.
“He had some really quick innings early on,” Lemonis said of Sproat. “I think once we saw him a second time, we had a little bit better approach and the stuff came down a little bit. It was just really good from their side early.”
The same was true at the plate as Florida jumped on Mississippi State’s Brandon Smith from the get-go.
Catcher BT Riopelle drove in a whopping six runs for the Gators, lining a two-run single up the middle in the first inning and smashing a three-run home run in the second.
Smith got through 4 2/3 innings before coming out of the game when Jac Caglianone hit a line drive off the Bulldogs pitcher. Smith was no worse for wear, but his day was done.
The right-hander came in with just eight walks all year and issued five more Friday, following up an excellent start at Missouri with a bit of a clunker. Smith was charged with seven runs.
“I just didn’t think he was very good today,” Lemonis said. “I don’t know why. He was probably as good as I’ve ever seen him last weekend, and this was one of his poorer starts.”
Mikey Tepper allowed just one run over 2 1/3 innings, and Jackson Fristoe was dominant with two scoreless innings and four strikeouts to finish the game.
But the Bulldogs’ offense couldn’t climb the mountain.
“We should win that game,” Lemonis said. “I thought (Florida) played really good and we were down, but that sixth, seventh, eighth, we had opportunities. If we’re going to win games, we have to take advantage of it.”
Instead, Mississippi State finds itself with plenty of work to do and even less time to do it.
“We know we only have just a few weeks left to go,” Hancock said. “We have to do something special here in the next few weeks.”
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.