"I was pleased," said Maholm of his performance. "I came out and walked a couple but I felt like I got my slider back after not having it the past couple of weeks. And I threw it pretty well."
Auburn (27-8, 9-4 SEC) struck early, parlaying three singles and a hit batsman into a 1-0 lead. Karl Amonite was hit by a pitch and later scored on Josh Bell's two-out single to left. The Auburn burst was curtailed in the inning when Hunter, the Bulldog center fielder, threw out Auburn's Bobby Huddleston at home plate.
"That was the ballgame," said Polk. "If I was (Auburn coach) Renfroe I would have probably sent him too. Joseph Hunter has a big-league arm. Even a guy with a big-league arm still had to be accurate."
The Bulldogs threatened in the third, loading the bases when Thomas Berkery singled and Brandon hit the next two batters. The Auburn ace worked out of the jam, retiring the next two Bulldog batters on fly balls.
Brandon was not as fortunate in the fourth when he walked Matthew Brinson and hit Brad Corley with a pitch to open the frame. The runners advanced on a Brent Lewis groundout, Craig Tatum tied the score with a run-scoring groundout to third and Berkery drove in another run with his second single of the night.
Maholm shut the Tigers out until the sixth inning when Bell tied the game with a two-out home run over the right-center field wall. It was the fourth home run of the year for the Tiger catcher and the first allowed this season by Maholm.
"He hit a low and away fastball," said Maholm. "It was where it was supposed to be. He did his job and hit it out. I put it there so I wasn't mad about it."
State used a two-out rally to regain the lead in the bottom of the sixth. With two batters retired, Berkery became the fourth Bulldog batter hit by Brandon. Hunter then followed with his fourth triple of the season, scoring Berkery. Matthew Maniscalco sent Hunter home with a single to right, ending Brandon's stint on the mound and giving the Bulldogs a 4-2 lead.
"I think the hits batsmen were Brandon's downfall," said Polk. "If Berkery doesn't get hit, we are still playing. Hunter drives the ball in the gap, which scored Berkery from first base, then Manny gets a key hit."
Jonathan Papelbon delivered two innings of shutout relief, retiring six of the seven batters he faced, three on strikeouts, to earn his team-leading third save.
"(Jonathan) Papelbon hadn't thrown in two weeks," said Polk. "We were somewhat concerned with that, but (Papelbon) is such a competitor. I thought he did a great job. He pumped strikes in there and gave us some easy outs."
Maniscalco, Berkery and Hunter had two hits each for pace the Bulldogs' seven-hit plate performance. Auburn out-hit the Bulldogs, getting two hits each from Huddleston and Bell.
State and Auburn continue their Super Bulldog Weekend series Saturday at 3 p.m., with sophomore Alan Johnson (4-1, 3.18) matching up with Auburn sophomore southpaw Arnold Hughey (4-2, 3.21).
MISSISSIPPI STATE 4, AUBURN 2
AU 010 100 000 --- 2-9-0
MSU 000 202 00X --- 4-7-1
WP - Paul Maholm (6-1). LP - Eric Brandon (2-2). HR (AU) Josh Bell (4). Attendance - 7,354 (paid), 6,035 (actual). T - 2:26.
Paul Maholm, Jonathan Papelbon (8) and Craig Tatum. Eric Brandon, Chris Dennis (6) and Josh Bell.
"You go out against a team like that and you try not to let them score too many. And, hopefully, our offense will put up some runs, which they did. I was happy when we put up those two extra runs toward the end."
You appear to be very confident on the mound.
"I go out there every week thinking that I'm going to win. There is no doubt in my mind. I go out there confident and I think the rest of the team kind of catches on to it."
What did you know about Auburn coming into the game?
"We knew coming in that they would be a good-hitting team. They did exactly what we expected them to. (Bobby) Huddleston and (Josh) Bell are great hitters. They have a bunch of fast guys. Hopefully, we can control them all weekend."
"The guys in front of me, Thomas Berkery, Joseph Hunter, were getting on base. It is so much fun to hit with guys on base."
What did you hit that drove in the 4th run of the game?
"It was a fastball away. He had thrown me four consecutive sliders and he bust me in 3-1 with a fastball, which is a great pitcher's pitch. He was trying to bust us in to get us off the plate. Then he tried to go away, the first pitch all game that they tried to go away from me. I just tried to poke it the other way."
When did they call you in the bullpen, letting you know you might be coming in?
"Coach Rock called down in the sixth inning telling me to start getting warmed up. They called in the seventh inning and said that he has reached his limit and we are going to throw you out there."
Since you hadn't pitched in a while, were you not totally comfortable out there at first?
"I warmed up a lot, more than I would have in the past. I took a lot of time to make sure I could throw all of my pitches for strikes."
Talk about your throw to home plate that got the man at home.
"That was probably the one player on their team that was slow. I came up and knew that I had a chance to get him."
Tonight was the biggest crowd of the season. Did it make you nervous playing in front of so many fans?
"I don't really pay much attention to the crowd, but it's fun having this many people here. I wish there were this many people here every game."
You really show a lot of athletic ability in centerfield.
"I have just been blessed. God blessed me with a lot of ability. I thank Him every day for what he has given me. I can't take any of the credit because it all goes to him."
Did their pitcher surprise you at all with the way that he threw tonight?
"He was a good pitcher. I don't think any pitcher is going to dominate our team. He made some mistakes and got some timely hitting."
There were a lot of scouts out there tonight. Does that ever bother Maholm?
"He's used to it. Every Friday night there's 15 or 20 scouts out there. Last year, there were not that many because he wasn't draft-eligibility. Paul's not the type guy who is going to light up a radar gun. He is not a 91-92 type guy. Never had been, never will be, but he is a command guy, a competitor and a lefthander. I think they see what they like. Some clubs might not like him because he doesn't throw hard enough, but I think he is a good college pitcher and that's all I care about right now. Hopefully, he stays healthy and goes to the next level.
"The good thing about Paul is you never know if he is behind or ahead. He could be giving up 20 runs or we could be 20 runs ahead and you just don't see the change in his body language. That is the mark of a very mature kid."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.