How LSU baseball's bullpen led the way in series sweep over Mississippi State
For the first time in three years, LSU baseball has a winning record against SEC competition.
The Tigers (23-9, 7-5) accomplished the feat on Saturday after their second consecutive road victory over Mississippi State (18-15, 4-8) in Starkville, as LSU's bullpen held a one-run lead through the final four frames, winning 4-3. The victory came after a dramatic 5-2 win on Friday when the Tigers came back from a 2-1 deficit in the ninth inning.
LSU completed the series sweep Sunday, scoring five runs in the fifth inning on its way to a 13-3 win. Before the weekend, the last time the Tigers had a winning record in conference play was March 2019.
For Mississippi State, it was the first time the Bulldogs have been swept at home in SEC play since facing Arkansas in March 2021. After that series, MSU won six of its next eight series, including four sweeps, to end the regular season, eventually claiming the first national title in its history.
But this weekend it was the LSU bullpen that drove the series sweep, allowing just two runs and striking out 21 batters in 14 innings pitched across three games. Here are four takeaways from the unit's performance against the defending champions.
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Depth has been the key to bullpen success
Freshman Sam Dutton has likely moved to the rotation full time after starting the last three Sunday SEC matchups and pitching well in all of them. In his starts, Dutton has allowed just three earned runs in 10⅓ innings pitched.
With Dutton — who had allowed just one earned run in 9⅓ innings pitched out of the bullpen — now in the rotation, it has tested the depth of LSU's relief unit — one that they've passed with flying colors.
The Tigers have seven relievers who have made at least seven appearances with an ERA below four, and four with an ERA under 2.80. Against Mississippi State, LSU's bullpen surrendered just nine hits despite using eight different pitchers.
LSU doesn't have the strongest rotation, meaning that the Tigers will continue to need the innings and quality their bullpen can provide.
Paul Gervase's big Saturday
Paul Gervase entered Saturday's game with a jam on his hands.
Mississippi State had two runners on with only one out in the eighth inning. The margin for error for Gervase was razor-thin, as LSU led by just one.
But, in one of the biggest moments of the season, Gervase got out of the jam. He forced No. 2 hitter Kamren James to fly out, allowing both runners to advance to second and third. Gervase then struck out Luke Hancock to end the frame.
The right-hander went on to finish off the game in the ninth, striking out the side and maintaining LSU's one-run lead.
The performance was a continuation of what's been a strong season for Gervase. The redshirt junior has a 2.79 ERA and 34 strikeouts in 19⅓ innings pitched.
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Mississippi State's offense struggles to produce with runners on base
In large part thanks to LSU's bullpen, the Bulldogs' offense struggled mightily to produce hits with runners on base.
Across the three-game series, Mississippi State went 8-for-52 at the plate with runners on base and had just one hit with runners in scoring position in the final two games of the series.
The problem for Mississippi State wasn't getting on base. The Bulldogs had 29 hits and five walks in the series. But instead, it was moments like in the eighth inning of Saturday's matchup against Gervase that sunk Mississippi State in the series.
Riley Cooper's turnaround
After a rough start to his LSU career, Cooper has become one of LSU's most reliable relievers since the start of SEC play.
The left-hander has allowed just a run in 9⅔ innings pitched, striking out seven batters and giving up just five hits. His ERA on the season has dipped to 3.00 after surrendering five earned runs and 13 hits in his first seven appearances.
A sophomore, Cooper reunited with coach Jay Johnson at LSU after spending his freshman campaign at Arizona. He had a 4.88 ERA in 31⅓ innings pitched for the Wildcats.
Koki Riley is a recruiting and high school sports reporter for The Daily Advertiser and the USA TODAY Sports South Region. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.