CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas (WTVA/MSU Athletics) - No. 21 Mississippi State rode a two-home run performance from Josh Hatcher and some late insurance runs to a 7-4 victory over UC Santa Barbara in the opening round of the Kleberg Bank Challenge at Whataburger Field.
Victory was not assured until Blake Smith got three straight outs (two by strikeout) after the Gauchos had loaded the bases on three singles with no outs in the home half of the ninth inning.
“We would have liked to play a cleaner game, however, that was still a great win,” MSU head coach Gary Henderson said. “(Konnor) Pilkington competed well today. Blake was great there in the ninth inning but the biggest thing was scoring twice in the top half of the inning. What our offense did in that at-bat was outstanding.”
Hatcher got the Bulldogs off on the right foot with an opposite-field home run in the first inning.
The true freshman then became the first Bulldog with two home runs in a game this season with another opposite-field shot to kick start a four-run fourth inning.
Hunter Vansau reached on a dropped third strike. Luke Alexander and Tanner Allen followed with back-to-back doubles. Elijah MacNamee then plated two more scores with a two-out single.
Andrew Martinez hit a two-run home for the Gauchos (1-4) in the fifth inning.
UCSB then scored twice in the eighth inning to make things tight again.
In the ninth inning, Jake Mangum and Hatcher had back-to-back RBI-singles to give Bulldogs some breathing room in the bottom of the ninth inning.
MSU finished with 10 hits. Hatcher had three hits, while Mangum and Alexander each had two hits.
Tommy Jew, Eric Yang and Jason Willow each had multiple hits for the Gauchos, who finished with 10 hits.
Pilkington (1-1) allowed five hits and no earned runs in five innings of work to gain the win. Cole Gordon and Jared Liebelt each pitched, before Smith closed down his first save.
MSU now turn its attention to Saturday when the Diamond Dawgs will take on Nicholls State at 2 p.m. from Whataburger Field.