"I thought the pitching for both teams was, for the most part, outstanding this weekend," said MSU coach Ron Polk. "For the most part, the defense was good. Neither team hit a flip all weekend. I think a lot of it was because our pitching and South Carolina's were really sharp. Hernandez came out of the bullpen today and did an admirable job for South Carolina.
"We were on the road against a very nice ballclub. You have to be happy with a win but you look back and say if we could have gotten a couple of more base runners on. But Bondurant and Marchbanks never gave three-ball counts and allowed one walk in 18 innings."
Junior first baseman Matthew Brinson singled and scored MSU's first run on a second-inning two-out single by Brad Corley. And in the eighth Jon Mungle doubled to right and scored the winning run on Brinson's two-out double into the left field corner.
"It all boiled down to who got the timely hit at the right time," said Polk. "Brinson's ball hit down the left-field line was not what you would call a six in our terminology but it had enough juice to get by Buscher. Thankfully, it found some real estate and we scored."
Nicholas (4-1) scattered three hits, walked four and struck out seven in a solid seven-inning pitching performance. USC third baseman Brian Buscher had two of those hits and scored the Gamecocks' lone run when he opened the fourth with a triple down the right field line and Landon Powell followed with a sacrifice fly to left. Nicholas left the game after issuing a lead-off walk to Steve Tolleson in the eighth inning. MSU turned to its bullpen to keep USC at bay in the eight. Righty Saunders Ramsey followed Nicholas to the hill in the inning, giving up a sacrifice bunt to Justin Harris, retiring Buscher on a fly ball to center field, and intentionally walking Powell. Lefty Brian Owens then came on to fan pinch hitter Demetric Smith to end the threat. Jonathan Papelbon came on to pitch the final inning, retiring the first two batters before Jon Coutlangus laced a double past the glove of a diving Jon Mungle in left field. Kevin Melillo, the No. 9 hitter in the USC batting order, then lined out to Corley in right field, giving the Bulldogs a win in the series finale and snapping a four-game conference losing skid for MSU. Papelbon picked up his fourth save of the year and the 10th of his career.
"Nicholas pitched his heart out and he was up in pitch counts," said Polk. "We didn't want to take him out but the first walk made us make a move. We got a chance to give it to Papelbon and he pitched well at the end."
Brinson, Corley and center fielder Jeff Butts had two hits apiece to pace MSU's seven-hit plate performance off USC starter Chris Hernandez (2-3). Hernandez, who earned his first career save in Saturday's 2-1 USC win over State, gave up two runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out six.
The Bulldogs stranded six base runners, four in scoring position. Hernandez got a double play to limit MSU's threat in the second inning when three Bulldogs singled and another reached via walk. State was unable to score when Butts laced a one-out triple to left-center field and came up shot in the seventh when Corley laced a one-out double.
MSU and USC combined to score a meager 13 runs, 10 earned, during the three-game series. Bulldog pitching compiled a 1.80 weekend earned run average and registered 30 strikeouts against the defending SEC champion and NCAA runner-up Gamecocks.
"Our pitching has been stellar," said Polk. "Our relievers have been doing a good job. You look at some of our relievers' earned run averages; Jamie Gant is 0.34, Jonathan Papelbon is 0.61, Saunders Ramsey is 1.77, Brian Owens is 2.25 and Robby Goodson is 2.57. The earned run average is 2.72 for the whole team. That may be as low of an earned run average that I have had since I have been coaching college baseball with aluminum bats."
Mississippi State returns to action at Dudy Noble Field Tuesday night, opening a two-game set with instate rival Southern Miss (30-10), ranked 22nd last week. Game times for the Tuesday and Wednesday games are set for 6:30 p.m.
"I would rather play a mid-week game against a quality opponent and Southern Miss will certainly provide us that," said Polk of the upcoming two-game mid-week series. "A lot will depend on who they have available to pitch and who we are going to be able to pitch. We survived this weekend without having to go to a lot of guys. We have the availability of a lot of pitchers Tuesday and Wednesday. It should be a fun series. Both teams are playing very well. I think Southern Miss is in the front of Conference USA. You have two teams at the top, or near the top, of two of the better conferences in college baseball."
MISSISSIPPI STATE 2, SOUTH CAROLINA 1
MSU 010 000 010 --- 2-7-1
USC 000 100 000 --- 1-4-0
WP --- Todd Nicholas (4-1). LP --- Chris Hernandez (2-3). SV --- Jonathan Papelbon (4). T --- 2:16. ATT. --- 2,110.
Todd Nicholas, Saunders Ramsey (8), Brian Owens (8), Jonathan Papelbon (9) and Crag Tatum. Chris Hernandez and Landon Powell.
OTHER RON POLK QUOTES:
Playing on the road.
"We have played very well on the road, for the most part. You win 11 of 14 on the road in college baseball against good opponents that we have played; I think that is a credit to our ballclub."
Reason for not hitting that well this weekend.
"Hitting is contagious. We are hitting .311 in all games. Going into the weekend, I think we were number two in the conference in batting average. We have been swinging the bat pretty good. I have to believe that Bondurant, Marchbanks and Hernandez were at the top of their game this weekend. What happens is a guy has a bad at bat and the next guy goes up and see the bad at bat and he has a bad at bat. I believe hitting is contagious. Sure enough, it happened today. Mungle got on base and Brinson found a way to get him in. I think our ballclub is a decent offensive ballclub. I think it is better than last year. I know that every weekend we will get good pitching and, for the most part, play good defense."
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 email@example.com.