A good enough game that could by mutual agreement of the two coaches could be cut short. As soon as reliever C.C. Watson got a called strikeout to end the top of the seventh, the Diamond Dogs left the dugout for cheers and handshakes. Mississippi State's fifth-consecutive victory improved them to 19-6 on the season, while the visiting Bulldogs left 3-19.
Yes, they knew that latter record. Still, "At this level no matter who you're paying you've got to come out ready to play," said DH Trey Johnson. "Because anybody can sneak up o you at any time. So we talked about playing our game."
If this was State's game, then it's a style worth maintaining. The home Bulldogs racked up just a dozen base hits, four of them for extra bases; but by combining that with 10 walks and plenty Alabama A&M wildness they parlayed everything into a 18-run romp.
And it might have been much more, Coach John Cohen figured. After all, his team didn't score in the first whole inning.
"You can't hide that a team is struggling," Cohen said. "But this is playing against the game, not competing against an opponent. And early on we fell into that trap of not being able to execute some things offensively. But we pitched and defended it well."
Very well. Starter Graveman (3-0) used the opportunity to post a hitless four full frames with just 39 pitches required to sit all the dozen other-Dogs he faced. Graveman struck out three and walked none in as efficient an outing as could be asked.
"I haven't been out there for a couple of weeks because we haven't had a midweek game," he said. "It felt good, I felt fresh. The two-seamer was really working so we stuck with it, and from then we got a lot of ground balls and our defense did a great job. And everybody that came in after did a great job also."
Everybody being the three MSU moundsmen that got an inning each. Freshmen Victor Diaz allowed the first A&M hit with a strikeout, and classmate Luis Pollorena had two fannings against a hit before veteran Watson took care of the seventh. He did walk one and plunk another but steadied to strike out the last three batters.
All State pitchers also received excellent support, particularly from the starting infield of SS Jonathan Ogden and 2B Adam Frazier who made a series of outstanding plays on not-so-easy grounders. The only Bulldog miscue came late as 1B Daryl Norris had to charge a slow roller and made an errant throw back to the bag. Nothing came of the sixth-inning incident as Pollorena shot down the next A&M batter with a called strikeout.
Offensively a long list of MSU Dogs were involved in the victory, and in his first start of the season Johnson accounted for what proved the winning RBI. That came in the second as with bases loaded without a hit (error, walk, walk) Johnson drew a full-count free pass of his own to force C Cody Freeman across. Nine-hole hitter CF Jaron Shepherd doubled in a pair and RF Ryan Collins drove in two more with his base hit for a 5-0 lead that was more than enough.
All his came off A&M opener Demarcus Steward (0-2) who ended up charged with no less than nine runs, though on just four hits. Righthander Steward's issues weren't as much MSU batting as his own lack of command, with eight walks issued against three strikeouts in 3.1 total innings.
The home Dogs scored ‘just' once in the third inning, a RBI single by Frazier plating Freeman. They really blew everything open in the fourth, again with help. With runners on corners and an out Steward wild-pitched in LF Nick Vickerson and issued a final walk before Eric Brandon could be summoned from the bullpen. But his stint would be short and painful as Freeman doubled to score runner Demarcus Henderson. Another wild pitch plated 3B Jarrod Parks, before Norris singled in Freeman.
The big knock came from sub-swinger Taylor Stark as with bags loaded and a 11-0 lead already he lined a drive into the leftfield corner. By the time the ball came back Stark had made third for his first college triple and three had scored in front of him.
Alabama A&M sent James Brown to the mound for the Bulldog fifth, and he began with two walks and a one-out plunking. Frazier scored new SS Sam Frost with a base hit, Johnson doubled in two more, and new LF Hunter Renfroe's fly ball brought Frazier home with the last run of the shortened day.
Johnson finished with two runs and three RBI for his evening. "I was looking forward ot getting out there and helping my team any way I can." Freeman led the hit parade going 3-of-4 with one RBI but scoring all four times he reached. Collins and Frazier each had a pair of hits, or as many apiece as the whole A&M order combined.
Cohen and A&M Coach Ed McCann, who the MSU skipper knew from the other's years at Centenary, had agreed to a shortened contest since each had a conference series to prepare for. "Ed is a very good coach, he's going to get that thing turned around," Cohen said, glad the other Bulldogs had been willing to come a day later just to get the game played somehow.
"We wanted to get some kids involved, get some freshmen out there and get some different guys on the mound. From that perspective we got accomplished what we wanted," Cohen said. "The issue is you've got to jump right back into a caliber of baseball Friday that is highly competitive."
State leaves campus tomorrow morning for Athens and their next SEC series, at a Georgia team that has a sub-.500 overall record but is 3-3 in league play and coming off a home series success against LSU. And as Cohen noted, those Eastern Division Dogs have played one of if not the toughest non-conference schedule in the country, as well as coped with some team tragedy. Thus the weekend looms large in the plans of both clubs, especially a State squad riding the momentum of four-straight SEC wins.
"It's a big series for us this weekend," said Johnson. "We're ready for it and we're ready for Georgia and expecting good things."