"Russum is weekend guy who pitches on Tuesday," said MSU coach Ron Polk. "Thankfully, we got his pitch count up early. The first inning may have worn him down. We had the bases loaded but that may have been ballgame because he got his pitch count up."
Steve Gendron singled up the middle, Matthew Brinson lashed a double and Brad Corley reached safely on Beau Griffin's fielding error at third base. Gendron scored on the game's only error. Robby Goodson followed with a run-scoring pinch-hit single up the middle, ending Russum's five-inning stint.
But the Bulldog barrage continued. Craig Tatum advanced the base runners with a sacrifice bunt and freshman center fielder Jeff Butts laced a two-run double into the right field corner. Butts scored the fifth run in the inning on a single by Matthew Maniscalco, who finished the night with a season-high four hits.
Southern Miss, ranked 21st this week and leading Conference USA, scored twice in the third on Jeff Cook's inside-the-park home run and added another run in the top of the sixth to lead 3-0 off MSU starter Jeff Lacher.
"Everett Kennard, the mayor of the Left Field Lounge, was right there and gave me a blow by blow description," said Polk. "Everett said it hit his glove, then hit his head, then hit the top of the fence and came back in."
Robby Goodson replaced Lacher in the seventh, retiring three of the four batters he faced. He left the game in the eighth after giving up a lead-off walk and a single by Brad Willcutt. Brian Owens followed Goodson, retiring heavy-hitting Clint King on a groundout that advanced runners to second and third. Griff Israel followed with a groundout to second base that plated a run and advanced WIllcutt to third base. State then turned to Jonathan Papelbon, who retired Jason Lowery on a groundout to shortstop.
"(Papelbon) is a great pitcher who comes in and throws strikes," said Maniscalco. "But you can't forget the guys like Brian Owens, Saunders Ramsey and Robby (Goodson) came in and did a good job tonight."
State added an insurance run in the eighth when Jeff Butts single to right center and took second on the throw. Maniscalco followed with his second RBI single of the game.
"I was going to take (Butts) out because it was left on left, but I said, what the heck, he had had some pretty good at bats," said Polk. "He is a gamer. He is a very aware kid. We just took a gamble and left him in there and he got the big hit."
Jarrett Hoffpauir opened the ninth with a single to left. But Papelbon got pinch-hitter Marc Maddox to ground into a double play and picked up his fifth save of the year when Matt Shepherd lined out to left.
Maniscalco had four singles and Jeff Butts a single and double to pace the Bulldogs' 11-hit showing against USM. Jeff Cook, Brad Willcutt and Clint King, the 3-4-5 hitters in the Southern Miss batting order, each had two hits on USM's 10-hit night. Cook's home run in the third was his 17th of the season and the 44th of his career, second-most for a USM player.
Lacher (5-0), from Hattiesburg, Miss., scattered six hits, struck out five and walked one during his six-inning stint, and picked up the win when the Bulldogs overtook the Golden Eagles in the sixth.
Ray Antonelli, Bob McCrory and Austin Tubb pitched an inning each for USM.
"They brought in (Ray) Antonelli, (Bob) McCrory and (Austin) Tubb. Those are the three guys they bring in on Conference-USA weekends," said Polk. "We brought our guys in, too. That is how important this game was."
The teams conclude the two-game set with a 6:30 p.m. game Wednesday. A pair of freshman right-handers, MSU's Brad Corley (0-1, 4.28) and USM's Daniel Best (1-0, 5.09), will square off in the series finale.
MISSISSIPPI STATE 6, SOUTHERN MISS 4
USM 002 001 010 --- 4-10-1
MSU 000 005 01x --- 6-11-0
WP --- Jeff Lacher (5-0). LP --- Cliff Russum (5-5). SV --- Jonathan Papelbon (5). HR --- (USM) Jeff Cook (17). T ---2:30. ATT --- 6,313 (paid), 4,017 (actual).
Jeff Lacher, Robby Goodson (7), Brian Owens (8), Jonathan Papelbon (8) and Craig Tatum. Cliff Russum, Ray Antonelli (6), Bob McCrory (7), Austin Tubb (8) and Brad Willcutt.
What was the feeling like when you guys got down 3-0?
"It was a good atmosphere in the dugout. We didn't press. We were just trying to get on base and get something going. We never believe that we can't come back and win. We always believe we can win."
Teams were batting .170 against Russum, but you guys hit him pretty good.
"You could tell that he is a good pitcher, but we jumped on a couple of first pitches. Steve Gendron started off the big inning getting a hit. Then, you have a guy like Craig Tatum laying down a sac bunt. You guys know that none of us bunted in high school. For a young guy to come up and bunt, that is awesome. That is a credit to our coaches and Craig."
You came in 2-for-21 against Southern Miss, but had 4 hits tonight.
"I didn't know if anybody knew that. I've always hated hitting off of them because I've always had a tough time against those guys. Really, it's just the guy on the mound that day and how I'm swinging. That's part of baseball."
So, that didn't go through your mind?
"No, never. I had one of the worst games ever at Southern Miss my freshman year. I made three errors in the first two innings and I went 0-for-4. When they called me out for the starting lineup the next day, Southern Miss fans were cheering, so happy that I was playing again. I will never forget that."
Talk about the defense slamming the door in the second inning when they had men on 2nd and 3rd and nobody out.
"I can't say the defense; I have to say Jeff Lacher. They had them on 2nd and 3rd and he believed he could put up a zero on the board. He made some great pitches and made them hit his pitches."
Well, you can add your name to the long list of freshmen who have started a game this year.
"Yes sir, definitely. But it is so easy on us. We have the easiest job. We just go out and play. The older guys are there to push us and pick us up. They do what they need to do to keep us going."
What do you think about this freshman class, true and redshirt. So many of you are contributing this year.
"I think we have a good group of younger guys, it's good talent."
You really seem to hit the ball well, no matter if you get a hit or an out. During the fall, at least early on, you were striking out quite a bit, but now you are really hitting the ball well.
"In the fall it was a big adjustment, coming up from high school. But the coaches have helped me and Manny and the other guys have made it a lot easier. As you get hits, and hit better, that gives you confidence."
Does it get frustrating not getting to play every day considering how well you have hit the ball.
"Not really, I just try to make the best of my opportunities. I'm just glad that I've getting the shot that I'm getting as a freshman. I take it as it comes. It's a great experience."
What happened in the outfield on that home run by USM's Jeff Cook.
"I have no idea. It hit off Mungle's glove and hit the fence or hit somebody, then it kind of rolled around. It came back by me and I thought, man what is going on. It was one of those crazy plays."
Was there some added incentive playing against Southern Miss since you are from Hattiesburg?
"Yeah, it was a big deal. I know a lot of these guys. I grew up playing against Jeff Cook from Little League on through high school. He is a good friend of mine. It was a big win because they are a top 25 team, maybe the best mid-week team that we have played all year."
Was it a little intimidating going against them since they have put up some great offensive numbers this year?
"Coming in, I knew that they have been putting up big numbers all year. You don't win 30 games this early in the season without putting up big offensive numbers. We knew they were going to swing the bats coming in. They did that tonight."
This was a good RPI win.
"Definitely. I think they are a top 15 team in RPI. That helps us a lot winning these games. Tomorrow is just as important. We need to come out and win tomorrow."
How long does it take your arm to recover? If you are needed during the weekend, when would you be able to throw?
"The last two or three weeks - he hasn't really come out and told me - but I think Coach has been trying to keep me to a pitch count around 70 to 80 pitches. Tonight, I ended up with 82 pitches. He came up to me in the sixth when we started scoring runs and told me that I was done. At first, it bothered me, but he said we might need you this weekend. I'm always there to help the team on the weekend. I'm usually ready to go by Saturday, if not then, for sure Sunday."
"They are a good ballclub. I told Corky Palmer after the game that the reports that we got from various people when we were putting the scouting report together was that this was a very dangerous offensive team. It is a scary lineup, especially King and Cook. And Russum is a very good pitcher who could pitch on the weekend for a lot of teams. This was a game where we were going to have to pitch good and we did. We played good defense and got some timely hitting in the sixth inning."
You haven't been getting the big innings lately. I guess you were happy to have the five-run sixth inning.
"We have been chasing some good pitchers. A lot of times, if you don't have a good-hitting ballclub, you say we have been facing some good pitchers, but we have been facing some good pitchers. We will face a lot more during the stretch run. The SEC this year is a pitchers' league. And Southern Miss is 30-10 for one reason: They pitch good. Russum and is a good pitcher. They brought in (Ray) Antonelli, (Bob) McCrory and (Austin) Tubb. Those are the three guys they bring in on Conference-USA weekends. We brought our guys in, too. That is how important this game was. And tomorrow's is important, too. It's not like SEC importance but it's still big-time because you are playing a good team and it helps RPI."
Talk about Papelbon.
"He didn't have good stuff. He pitched Saturday and Sunday, so he wasn't sharp velocity wise, but he is the best we have. He is experienced. It's nice to have a guy like that to come in. If he struggled a little more; one more guy got on, (Saunders) Ramsey was coming in. Paps sometimes has to rely on movement when he doesn't have his velocity. I thought that he did what he had to do."
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.