STARKVILLE — Cade Smith knows Mississippi State’s pitching rotation is far from settled just two weekends into the season.
“You still have to show up every day to compete,” Smith said. “Everyone is still trying to earn a place. There is no comfort right now. Everyone still shows up on the pitch every day, and who knows? Someone else might have that spot on Sunday.
For now, though, Sunday remains Smith’s day to take the mound — maybe for good.
The sophomore got his second straight start as No. 7 Mississippi State (4-3) beat Northern Kentucky (1-5) 7-2 at Dudy Noble Field .
Smith struck out seven and allowed just one unearned run in five solid innings, allowing just three hits along the way.
“He’s got good gear and he’s positioned well right now,” coach Chris Lemonis said. “He throws with a lot of confidence.”
Smith was backed by seven runs over three innings as the Bulldogs won for the second straight day after losing Game 1 of Friday’s series, 7-6.
Brad Cubest and Luke Hancock hit two-run homers in the third and fourth innings, respectively, after rookie Aaron Downs’ two-run single led to a second three-run.
Mississippi State has 20 hits in its last two games following Saturday’s 10-1 win over the Norse, and Cumbest said the Bulldogs need to keep rolling.
“We have to keep piling day upon day,” Cumbest said. “It will lead to a better team.”
Combest said MSU played without energy in each of its three losses: Feb. 18 and 19 against No. 12 Long Beach State and Friday against NKU.
When Mississippi State is focused, however, it’s not easy to defeat the Bulldogs on their home turf.
“If we dial in and play good baseball, it’s going to be tough to beat,” Cumbast said.
Such was the case on Sunday as MSU scored five quick runs against NKU starter Kaden Echeman in 2.2 innings. Matt Corder opened the scoring in the second with a left-line single before Downs sent a hard-hit grounder down the middle to drive home a pair of runners.
The Heritage Academy freshman went 2-for-4 that day, hitting the ball hard – albeit on the ground – in every appearance on the board. Downs, who came to Heritage from Pella, Iowa, made his first appearance of the season on Sunday.
“It’s fun to see him there,” Lemonis said. “He worked hard and they worked a ton on his swing. He had great success. »
Lemonis hailed a strong showing from the “big three” in the middle of the Bulldogs’ roster. Kamren James, Hancock and Logan Tanner had five hits in all, including Hancock’s two-run shot to right field from reliever Tyler Murphy.
Hancock was charged with an error in the fifth inning that allowed NKU to score their first run on a sacrifice fly by Treyvin Moss. The Norse also scored in the eighth on a walk and a pair of singles against rookie Brooks Auger.
For the second week in a row, Brandon Smith took over on the mound for Cade Smith, pitching two scoreless innings. The Richland product retired three batters and allowed no hits.
“I thought Brandon Smith was really good today, coming out of the bullpen and sinking that fastball,” Lemonis said.
Mikey Tepper was shaky in a scoreless ninth as Mississippi State continues to sort out its bullpen mix. Lemonis said he’s felt better about his rotation than his relief corps so far, but things can change.
“Every day is new to us,” he said. “Since I’ve been here it’s probably my newest team, and we’re just trying to figure it out. There’s been different line-ups. It’s about different plays. We have good players; we have to just figuring out how to put our best team there.
Mississippi State hosts Grambling State (2-4) at 4 p.m. Tuesday before facing Southern Miss (5-2) at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Pearl.
Theo DeRosa reports on Mississippi State sports for The Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @Theo_DeRosa.