Mississippi State’s Dustin Skelton lines a double down the right field line in the Bulldogs’ 6-2 win over Stanford Saturday in Game 1 of the NCAA tournament Super Regional round at Dudy Noble Field. Skelton finished with two doubles and two RBIs Photo by: Chris McDill/Special to The Dispatch
June 9, 2019 12:16:04 AM
STARKVILLE -- Redshirt junior Ethan Small let out a roar.
Leaping off the mound at a sold out Dudy Noble Field, Small had just fanned Stanford designated hitter Will Matthiessen.
With a confident strut and his head slightly tilted downward, he headed to the dugout one final time.
Anchoring the MSU (50-13) pitching staff, Small delivered a six-inning, 117-pitch outing in Saturday's 6-2 win over Stanford (45-13) in game one of the Starkville Super Regional.
"He's just such a competitor," MSU coach Chris Lemonis said. "It doesn't matter if his stuff is good, great, he still wins."
While the final stat-line reflected his season-long dominance, the first-round pick of the Major League Baseball Draft was relatively shaky in the early going.
Small quickly worked himself into a bases loaded jam in the first inning after allowing a single and a walk. A fielding error from third baseman Marshall Gilbert also extended the frame.
On the ensuing at-bat, Stanford first baseman Andrew Daschabach roped a high fly ball to center field. There, senior Jake Mangum leapt against the wall and robbed a potential-grand slam with the webbing of his mitt for little more than a sacrifice fly.
"My neck almost snapped trying to turn around and watch it," Small said. "It was a great catch though. I wasn't sure how far (the ball) was going to go and then when he made it I was pretty fired up."
A Duke Kinamon groundout ended the frame one batter later.
Small finished his night with eight strikeouts, moving him into fifth place on the all-time SEC single-season list with 168 overall. He also now ranks No. 1 in the NCAA in the category this season.
"I was just kind of embracing it and looked up at the crowd and just listened to it one last time coming off," he said of leaving the mound at Dudy Noble for the final time. "Really special moment."
At the plate, junior catcher Dustin Skelton and sophomores Josh Hatcher, Tanner Allen and Jordan Westburg recorded multi-hit games.
Skelton has now recorded two or more hits in four of his past five games.
Hatcher plated the first MSU run of the night in the second inning with an RBI single to left-centerfield to score Skelton from second.
Skelton continued the early-inning flurry with a two-run double in the third inning to score Westburg and sophomore Justin Foscue.
"That's where my swing plays," Skelton said of the right-centerfield gap. "So I just need to let the ball travel, stay in my legs and hit it that way."
The Bulldogs added another three runs in the fourth. Hatcher scored the opening run of the frame on a grounder from Westburg coupled with a throwing error from Stanford shortstop Tim Tawa.
Allen recorded his second hit of the night with an RBI single up the middle to bring Gilbert home.
MSU coach Chris Lemonis turned to junior Colby White, senior Jared Liebelt and Cole Gordon in relief of Small.
White lived up to his recently adopted nickname, "Night-Night Colby White," tossing a scoreless seventh inning. The sixth round MLB draft pick painted as high as 97 miles per hour on the outfield radar gun while striking out two of the five batters he faced.
Liebelt was roughed up a bit in the eighth, surrendering one run on three hits in just one inning of work.
Gordon got the nod in the ninth inning, recording two of his three outs via strikeout to close out the victory.
MSU now moves one victory away from a return trip to the College World Series. Game two of the three game set against the Cardinal is scheduled for 8 p.m. today.
"It's about staying in the moment," Lemonis said. "I know it's easy to talk about Omaha and everything else, and obviously that's the goals of this program, but we've got a good team in the other dugout."
Junior Jack Eagan was taken away in an ambulance following a midgame non-athletic injury. MSU Athletics confirmed that he was taken to a local hospital and his parents are with him.
"It was a tough five, 10 minutes for our team," Lemonis said fighting through tears. "Just a group of guys that care a lot about each other so when you see one go down like that it was tough on everybody."
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