Pollorena Pitches, Timely Dog Hits Top Gators

Luis Pollorena takes catching ceremonial first pitches seriously anyway. But when en route to the bullpen for warmups he saw the little girl who would be throwing it, a childhood cancer patient just as he himself once was, well… "I wish I would have done it, just walking by her and what she told me, I told her the game was for her."

In fact Friday night's game was for all Bulldogs. And if Pollorena had to hand-off his pregame role he certainly made up for it by throwing the first real pitch then another 78 in a 7-3 win over Florida. Mississippi State improved to 25-8 and 4-6 SEC by taking the series opener, while the visiting Gators are 14-17, 4-6.

Pollorena, who moved into the weekend rotation just last weekend, made his second SEC start a winner. Shaking off a long first inning and fast run, he stranded two more Gators that frame and kept Florida's free swingers to a single score through five innings. "He was phenomenal, pounding the zone and staying on a string," said 2B Brett Pirtle from his vantage point.

"It was just getting into a rhythm," Pollorena (5-1) said. A different one than last week when he also allowed a first-inning run but responded by picking up his pace. It left him short of snap in the later innings and led to a loss. "From the third inning last week my velo went down and my command. The plan this week was to stay 87, 88 tops." Which Pollorena did for six complete innings with two runs on six Florida hits, two walks and four strikeouts.

That didn't hint at how effective he truly was after the brief initial flurry. From the second-through-fifth the Gators managed just two modest hits off Pollorena and no fly balls at all. "It takes him for whatever reason a little bit of time to get to the bottom of the strike zone," Coach John Cohen said. "But to his credit he came back the second inning on and did a really nice job."

A job completed by Ross Mitchell and Jonathan Holder in the final three innings. Pollorena was able to exit with a decision pending too because the Bulldog offense broke through after a couple of innings looking at Gator starter Jonathon Crawford. The righthander absorbed five of State's runs on six hits, though only two of the scores were earned due to defensive breakdowns. He also got himself in trouble by walking five Bulldogs.

Last week Crawford (1-4) had gotten his first win by shutting down Ole Miss. Scouting that tape gave Mississippi State good clues though. "We knew he had a little control issues," RF Hunter Renfroe said. "Ole Miss came out swinging at him and he got a complete game. But we got a good gameplan, take pitches and make sure pitches are up."

In all Dogs collected ten total hits, including a solo home run by Renfroe off reliever Parker Danciu in the sixth inning. The 3-4-5 slots of State's order all had a pair of safeties with four RBI and four runs scored.

"We had to pick and choose what we wanted and not go out of the zone too much," said Pirtle, batting in the four-slot. "Everybody got pitches they wanted and we got him out early." Not too early, though, as Crawford worked around a first-inning walk and left the bases loaded in State's second."

Florida also had that fast lead as Pollorena walked the second Gator faced, then was tagged by Taylor Gushue for a RBI-double. With two on corners it took a slick barehand grab and quick throw by 3B Sam Frost to keep the damage at one run after a 27-pitch frame. That stop would set a tone for the evening as Bulldog defenders made big play after big play, such as when Pirtle robbed a two-out, one-on hit in the second.

Crawford's evening collapsed in the Bulldog third. With one out Renfroe reached on a tough-hop error by the Gator first baseman. It hurt as Pirtle got around on a fastball and drove it hard, the only question being would it land fair. It caught the left stripe and rattled into the corner allowing Renfroe to score from first without a throw home.

"You can't understand how big that was, to get a run like that," said Renfroe. "That's probably what kick-started the game." Because 1B Wes Rea chipped a little single behind second base for Dogs on corners, and CF C.T. Bradford loaded it up by walking. C Mitch Slauter didn't have to swing for a lead; he watched a pitch go off the UF catcher and allow Pirtle to come across. Then Slauter walked to re-load every base. Frost lifted a fly ball that scored Rea from third base; and LF Jacob Robson ripped a grounder errored at shortstop for a 4-1 score as Bradford came home.

"It was just momentum," Pirtle said. "He was pitching well and then I got a hit, Wes got a hit, it all broke open and he started trying to do too much against us."

The margin also allowed Pollorena to go aggressive. "They were patient the first time around and seeing where I was. Once we came in Coach said get ahead, they want to see where you're at especially after last week with 130 pitches. It was dead-on." In a key stretch Pollorena sat nine of ten faced. He also got a little more margin in the MSU fourth.

DH Alex Detz doubled down the rightfield line, and Renfroe was all-but-intentionally walked. It looked like a bunt situation with no outs but Pirtle was swinging and flew to center advancing Detz all the same. Rea took three balls but didn't want to walk. He swung at something out of the zone, then on 3-1 made contact. His liner cleared the shortstop's glove for the single and RBI. Third baseman Zack Powers made a do-or-die stop of Slauter's sizzler to keep it 5-1.

Meanwhile MSU's defense was frustrating Florida, including good glovework by the pitcher. Pollorena covered on a push-bunt attempt as Rea made a highlight-video reach, sweep, and flip with his glove in the same smooth motion. It took Gushue getting another double, leading off the sixth, to show Pollorena was starting to leave things up, and a two-out single made it a 5-2 scoreboard. Another single should have had a pair on but Powers tested Renfroe's arm…and was shot down at third base to end the inning.

"I had momentum going to third anyway! I knew I kind of had a chance, but Coach Cohen and them were OK with it, he was out!" To rub it in, Renfroe came up an out into the bottom of the frame and unloaded opposite-field for his 10th home run of the season.

Reliever Mitchell took the hill for an in-order seventh inning. But consecutive doubles to open the eighth, including the third by Gushue, had the margin down to 6-3 with no outs. State didn't hesitate calling for Holder. It was the right move against the middle of the order as he rolled a grounder, got a fly ball, and fanned Powers on three swings to keep it a three-run lead.

Danciu allowed the last run as well. In the eighth Detz walked and Renfroe singled. Pirtle was obviously bunting and Florida playing for it, yet his dump was so well-placed he made base with the infield single to load all posts. So a fly ball by Rea, which might have been foul but the Gators didn't dare let drop just in case, scored pinch-runner Kyle Hann from third for the final MSU margin.

Holder's 2.0 innings outed all six-faced with four strikeouts. "Holder was Holder," Cohen said. He got his ninth save of the season and now has 18 career, putting him fifth already on the all-time MSU chart. For Florida, Gushue wasted an outstanding evening with the bat as all three of hits were doubles.

"It's a good win. We just need to carry the momentum on to Saturday and win that," Pirtle said. Which would give the Bulldogs their first SEC series success of the season, something very much on MSU minds.

"We've got KG (RHP Kendall Graveman) coming in tomorrow, we know he's going to pound the zone and get some ground balls for us," said Renfroe. "And we have that one win out of the way, one more and we get the series."

Graveman (3-2, 2.43) gets the ball for the 3:00 start, while Florida trusts LHP Danny Young (1-2, 3.12) to even up the weekend.

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