OMAHA, Neb. – Mississippi State freshman JT Ginn sat at his locker and kept to himself in the depths of TD Ameritrade Park on Wednesday night.
Serenely staring at the floor, he looked as calm as ever despite just witnessing the 6-3 loss to Vanderbilt that put his Bulldogs on the brink of elimination in Omaha.
Ginn was 24 hours away from the biggest start of his freshman season at State, one in which he was named the SEC Freshman of the Year and the National Freshman of the Year by Perfect Game.
Ginn sounded equally as confident as he was calm when asked to answer a few questions about the day that lay ahead of him.
"It's every kid's dream to get to play in the College World Series," Ginn told the Clarion Ledger. "It's an honor to be here. It's been a great experience so far, and hopefully we can play a good game tomorrow and keep it going."
That, the Bulldogs didn't. They lost, 4-3, to Louisville in a game the Cardinals walked off with a win in the bottom of the ninth. The defeat eliminated Mississippi State from the College World Series, but Ginn had nothing to do with that. He was as good as head coach Chris Lemonis could have hoped for.
Ginn pitched 6.0 scoreless innings. It was one of his best outings of the season when his teammates needed him to deliver the most. Had the team given him more than two runs of support while he was on the mound, Mississippi State might still be alive and getting ready to play Vanderbilt on Friday night.
The freshman was locked in from the start, and he needed to be. The Mississippi State offense continued a theme from its two previous CWS games and struggled to string together hits. Ginn needed to keep the game as low scoring as possible to give MSU a chance to survive and advance.
On the second pitch of his night, Ginn was greeted with a hot chopper back to the mound. He fielded it cleanly and tossed it to sophomore first baseman Tanner Allen for an easy out. Ginn got the next Louisville batter to ground out to first on his very next pitch. It was a sign of things to come.
Ginn made the Cardinals ground out 11 times. He only had two strikeouts, but he didn't need to fan hitters when he was effectively sitting them down by forcing them to make contact. He only issued one walk as well.
Ginn didn't allow a lead-off batter to reach base until the sixth inning. That was the frame in which Louisville got a runner into scoring position for the first time all night, too. The Cardinals got their man to second but only by way of a sacrifice bunt.
Junior catcher Dustin Skelton gunned that runner down when he tried to steal third, and Ginn finished the frame with a full-count ground out. When he walked off the field, it was the last the fans saw of him. His day was done after 81 pitches.
"I just tried to go out there and compete and make pitches when I needed to, and the defense played great behind me, and Dustin Skelton, he called a hell of a game tonight, and he made a bunch of big plays for me," Ginn said.
The 81 pitches were the most Ginn has hurled since he racked up 86 in a 6.0-inning outing against South Carolina on May 17. Lemonis was asked why he didn't run Ginn out to the mound in the seventh – an inning in which Louisville scored two runs off senior reliever Jared Liebelt – but he said there was zero chance Ginn was coming back out of the dugout.
Ginn has dealt with soreness in his throwing arm for the latter half of the season. Thursday was his first start since May 31, when he pitched 3.0 innings in Mississippi State's first Regional game against Southern. He had to be yanked early as a precautionary measure.
"We came into the game thinking five innings or 75 pitches, and he was a little more efficient so we went to 80," Lemonis said. "He's pitched at about 80 all year long if you look at his numbers. Maybe twice or three times he's gone over 80. Because of the last couple weeks, we had set that predetermined before the game.
"As big as this is, it's not bigger than JT's career, so the player always comes first."
Ginn actually went over 80 pitches in 10 of his 17 starts this season, but Lemonis was righ in this regard: Ginn's career is much more important than any single game. He's in line to be Mississippi State's Friday night starter next season. He finished the year with an 8-4 record and a 3.13 ERA. He had 105 strikeouts and just 19 walks.
Mississippi State was three innings away from getting a shot to play Vanderbilt again because of the way Ginn performed in the highest-pressured situation of his young career. If it's any indication of what he can do for the Bulldogs in 2020, then Lemonis and pitching coach Scott Foxhall are in good hands.
Contact Tyler Horka at email@example.com. Follow @tbhorka on Twitter. To read more of Tyler's work, subscribe to the Clarion Ledger today!