Mississippi State's Lineup Has Developed Into One Of College Baseball's Best
STARKVILLE, Miss. — Mississippi State’s offense has been relentless this spring. The Bulldogs scored 36 runs in an Opening Weekend sweep against Youngstown State and hasn’t slowed down since.
Entering this weekend, Mississippi State ranked fourth in the nation in scoring at 9.4 runs per game. Its lineup again went to work Thursday in the series opener against Louisiana State, producing 11 hits, six for extra bases, against Preseason All-American Zack Hess. It was enough for a 6-5 victory to open a key series between two SEC West Division rivals.
The ball was flying at Dudy Noble Field on Thursday, as the second-ranked Bulldogs (24-3, 5-2 SEC) crushed three home runs. They’ve been proficient at getting to their power all season and have 29 homers as a team and are slugging .509 in their first 27 games. Both are significant improvements on last year’s team, which hit 45 homers in 68 games and slugged .403.
Sophomore third baseman Justin Foscue hit two home runs Thursday and now leads the team with nine this season. His second home run came right after senior right fielder Elijah MacNamee crushed his fourth of the season, a moon shot that seemed to sail out of the whole stadium.
Foscue and MacNamee are at the center of the powerful heart of the order for Mississippi State. Its two- through six-hole hitters all have at least three home runs this season. And with senior center fielder Jake Mangum hitting leadoff, it makes for a tricky lineup to navigate for opposing pitchers.
“This lineup is deadly one through nine,” Foscue said. “I don’t understand how you can pitch around us. Can’t pitch around me because you got (Dustin Skelton) right behind me. Can’t pitch around Mac because I’m right behind him. And then the three guys ahead of Mac you’re not going to pitch around them.
“One through nine, it’s deadly.”
That Mangum is hitting .398/.449/.537 with 15 stolen bases is not particularly surprising. The senior will likely end his career as the SEC’s all-time hits king. MacNamee established himself as a middle-of-the-order presence last season when he led the Bulldogs with eight home runs.
But the work of sophomores Foscue, shortstop Jordan Westburg and first baseman Tanner Allen, outfielder Rowdey Jordan and slugger Josh Hatcher has been a critical development for the lineup. They all played last season—Allen started all 68 games—but they are now being asked to take on larger roles. And, so far, they’re thriving.
Westburg has taken over at shortstop and is the team’s second-leading hitter at .377/.477/.651, trailing only Mangum. He has been especially hot of late, producing five straight multi-hit games and going 12-for-22 with six doubles and three home runs in that stretch.
Coach Chris Lemonis said Westburg made an adjustment in his approach after the Florida series two weeks ago that has paid big dividends.
“He’s able to get to some more pitches,” Lemonis said. “I think it was more in the box. He hasn’t really changed his swing, just his approach a little bit.”
Foscue has made significant strides in the last year. As a freshman, he played in 58 games and hit .241/.332/.353 with three home runs. He hit better during the summer in the Perfect Game League but didn’t have a great performance in fall ball.
Lemonis, who was hired away from Indiana late last June, was straight with Foscue at the end of the fall.
“I just told him, ‘You don’t scare me when you hit,’” Lemonis said. “It was a lot of backside stuff. He really went in the cages and worked in the offseason. When he came back in spring training that’s when balls started jumping out to the pull side.”
Lemonis said Foscue has since told him his comments made him mad. That anger and a drive to improve seems to have fueled his breakout.
Foscue said he’s worked hard to better get to his raw power, working to change his bat plane and improve his approach at the plate.
“Last year, I didn’t utilize (my power) enough like I should have,” he said. “I was missing pitches. This year I’m not missing pitches. That’s what I worked on in the fall and the spring is when they make a mistake, I better hit it or I’m not going to get another one.”
While the top of the lineup is going strong, Mississippi State also has solid depth it can turn to if it wants to play matchups. Hatcher has gotten hot of late and is working into the lineup more. Jordan has found ways to contribute, especially with his speed.
It all makes for a complete lineup, one that ranks among the best in the nation.
“We have some guys we can play in there,” Lemonis said. “The first probably five or six never changes, but those last couple guys and with Rowdey, it gives us some more length.”
It’s a lineup no pitcher relishes facing right now, as Mississippi State closer Cole Gordon can attest. He said the only way to attack the Bulldogs is to trust your best stuff and play strength on strength.
But Gordon isn’t looking to try that himself any time soon.
“Scrimmages were enough for me,” he said. “I’m really glad I came here.”