Bulldogs' once struggling bullpen shows improvement in sweep of Ole Miss


Ben Portnoy





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OXFORD -- While the No. 5 Mississippi State starting pitching contingent of redshirt junior Ethan Small, freshman JT Ginn and senior Peyton Plumlee has been rock solid over the past three weeks, the bullpen has left much to be desired. 


That changed against then-No. 11 Ole Miss in Oxford this past weekend. 


After Small held the Rebels to three hits and zero runs in five innings Friday, senior Jared Liebelt trotted out of the bullpen at Swayze Field. 


Liebelt had not pitched more than two innings since an April 7 appearance at Tennessee. But Friday he tossed four innings of three-hit ball to shut down the Rebels and steal game one of the three game set. 


Saturday and Sunday were more adventurous for the MSU relievers, yet still wildly productive. The Bulldogs (42-10, 18-9 SEC) used six pitchers in relief of freshman Ginn during an 8-5 game two win, while game three saw freshman Brandon Smith and senior closer Cole Gordon combine for 1 1/3 innings of work. 


All told, the seven MSU relievers surrendered two runs on 10 hits in 9 2/3 innings against the Rebels. 


"They're in some tough situations right now," MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. "We're in SEC play so you're facing good hitters and we talk about short memory and handling it." 


Though the weekend offered a glimpse MSU's potential bullpen depth, the group has battled consistency issues for much of the season. 


Of note, Gordon has allowed just two hits his last 4 1/3 innings, but surrendered 16 runs in the 20 innings prior. 


Redshirt junior Trysten Barlow has been equally puzzling. He has allowed 12 runs in 21 1/3 innings pitched -- including a 2-run, one inning outing against Memphis earlier this month. 


Power pitching junior Colby White has shown flashes of stardom, including a perfect inning against Ole Miss Saturday in which he struck out the side. That said, he allowed four ninth inning runs to No. 7 Georgia two weekends before. 


Liebelt has been the most prolific of the group with just 14 runs allowed in 40 1/3 innings pitched -- the most innings of any non-starter on the roster. 


"They're fine," Lemonis said. "We've had a couple guys have a tough outing or two but that's going to happen in this league." 


Tonight's midweek finale against Louisiana Tech (32-20, 15-12 C-USA) - which begins at 6:30 at Dudy Noble Field -- and a three game series with South Carolina (26-25, 7-20 SEC) beginning Thursday will offer onlookers another chance to analyze the MSU bullpen. Lemonis said Sunday he expects to use a plethora of arms against the Bulldogs. 


"All in all, we've just got to get moving for this weekend and get ready for the tournament and get this thing geared up for the postseason," Plumlee said Sunday.


Ben Portnoy reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @bportnoy15.


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