Houston pitches Mississippi State into super regionals

Published 9:29 am Monday, June 6, 2016

STARKVILLE — A forgotten man in the regular season, Zac Houston is turning into one of Mississippi State’s most important ones in the postseason.

The junior right-hander struck out 10 batters in six innings, and reliever Ryan Rigby worked the last three innings to complete a two-hit shutout as Mississippi State beat Louisiana Tech 4-0 Sunday night to win the NCAA Tournament’s Starkville Regional.

Houston, a midweek starter and reliever who only had one outing longer than four innings during the regular season, has allowed one earned run in 14 2/3 innings in two postseason starts so far.

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“Zac went out there with a purpose tonight,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. “He struck out 10 of the 23 he faced and that is pretty dominant. (Rigby) was dominant.”

Mississippi State (44-16-1) advanced to the super regional round for the sixth time in the program’s history. It will host the winner of the Lafayette Regional — either Louisiana-Lafayette or Arizona — in a best-of-three series next weekend. Game times and dates will be announced late Monday, after all of the regionals have concluded.

The Bulldogs won all three of their games in the regional.

“This was a big regional with three really good teams in it and we were excited to win it,” said Mississippi State designated hitter Brent Rooker, who drove in two runs and was named the regional’s MVP. “We talked in the locker room after the game that winning a regional was not our goal. Our goal was to win a national championship and we haven’t accomplished that yet.”

Rooker walked and later scored on a fielder’s choice in the third inning for Mississippi State’s first run. He had an RBI single in the fourth inning and a sacrifice fly in the fifth.

Gavin Collins also singled in a run in the fourth inning, and the 4-0 lead was enough for the Houston-Rigby tag team.

Houston retired 18 of the 24 batters he faced and didn’t allow a runner past second base in the first six innings. He finally ran into trouble in the seventh, loading the bases with no outs on two walks and a single.

Houston gave way to Rigby at that point, and the sophomore right-hander got out of the jam. He struck out the first two batters he faced, then got Bryce Stark to fly out to center for the final out.

“You load the bases, you’ve got no outs and the guy strikes out the first two and gets a lazy fly ball into center,” Houston said of Rigby. “I can’t really put it into words but, yeah, I had some emotions flying. It was awesome.”

Rigby retired all nine batters he faced, striking out four of them. His three-inning stint was more than Cohen had hoped for after Rigby threw 32 pitches in another relief appearance on Friday night.

“The ball just came out of his hand really, really well,” Cohen said. “I think we would’ve had to have a crowbar to get it out of Rigby’s hand tonight, because he was just feeling it. All of our kids are competitive, but he’s on a different level in terms of the way he competes.”

Louisiana Tech (42-20) had won two elimination games to reach the regional final, including a 6-2 victory over Cal State Fullerton earlier Sunday.

The Bulldogs from Ruston ended their day more than 10 hours after it began at Dudy Noble Field, thanks to playing the doubleheader and a 2 hour, 10 minute rain delay that pushed the start of the game against Mississippi State back to 8:44 p.m.