A meaningful one, too, as State (31-18, 12-13 SEC) moved one game ahead of Ole Miss (27-22, 11-14) in both the Western Division standings and more importantly the race to qualify for the SEC Tournament. The Bulldogs extended their winning streak to seven, with five league victories.
"It was a huge win for us as a team," said Reed, seriously.
A win that was oh-so-close to getting away in the bottom of the ninth, though. Reed had taken over MSU mound duties to open the eighth inning after his offense had recovered control of the scoreboard, and worked around a walk and single to leave both stranded. Then he began the final frame against the best of Ole Miss' order by issuing a walk, single, and walk. The interest was so intense that pitching coach Butch Thompson paid his ace reliever a visit.
But no change was about to be made. "We're past that, I think!" Reed joked, again. "I knew he was coming to talk about getting this next lefty out, the guy on third doesn't matter." That left-side swinger was Matt Tracy, a .297 batter but 0-of-3 to then. "Our pitch calling was based on trying to get the double-play ball," Reed said. "I threw a good slider in there and the defense made a great play behind me to turn the double play."
It was freshman Adam Frazier, a late-game substitute shortstop to pinch hit, fielding the two-hopper and beginning the twin-killing. Rebel Blake Newalu did score on the ground ball and Alex Yarbrough got to third base. "I knew the tying run was there and I didn't want to go any further!" Reed said. Though he had as much reason to fear batter Will Allen, who had hit a solo home run in the fourth inning. But Reed had retired Allen on a slider to begin his eighth inning, and hard breaking stuff did the trick again as Allen went down on three pitches. "Thiggy (C Wes Thigpen) just stuck that last pitch out perfect," Reed said.
Reed got the tenth save of his season, tying for fourth-best on the MSU along with Jay Powell (1991) and Van Johnson (1998). He made a winner of Chad Girodo (3-0) even if the first MSU reliever had served up the three-run homer for a briefly-lost lead. Girodo got the decision on 0.1 innings with only one of the runs charged to him, with two hits and a strikeout.
The big Bulldog tonight though was the shortest, as Luis Pollorena put in a remarkable 6.2 innings with four runs on seven hits, two walks and four strikeouts. The lefthander, in only his second college start, simply survived…and that was just what Mississippi State needed against a big-swinging Rebel order in their cozy yard. Pollorena just kept going and throwing and going and…
"I just reached in my heart to bring out the warrior tonight," he said. As for the every-swing threat of the longball, that didn't faze Pollorena either. "They can be big. But, they still have to hit the ball." The trick was locating to those tall batters below, but as close to, the knees as possible with the fastball, then letting the cutter take over. And even after 29 batters he was eager for more.
"I was going to ask to get the ball back in the eighth, but we have a good bullpen as Caleb just proved. And I'm just glad we got the W."
He was also glad to get four runs in State's first three innings. The Bulldogs had two down in the first turn when 3B Jarrod Parks reached on an error. A walk of 2B Nick Vickerson put him in position to score as RF Jaron Shepherd knocked a single into centerfield. Starting SS Jonathan Ogden led off the MSU second pulling a grounder inside the third base for a double. Bunted along a stop, he scored on CF C.T. Bradford's fly ball.
Pollorena routined through the first inning but walked a pair, on ten pitches, to open his second. With one down Miles Hamblin got the first hit off State, a RBI-single that matt snyder came home on as Bradford's throw was off the plate. Pollorena made it back in with a 2-1 lead as Thigpen pulled in a foul-tip strikeout; and 1B Ryan Collins saved two runs by jumping and snaring a line-shot headed for the corner.
By Pollorena's return to the hill he had that run back with interest. Parks skipped another grounder short-hopped the shortstop and was ruled another error. Vickerson hit his way on cleanly and Mississippi State used the bump-and-run again to advance the runners, which meant LF Brent Brownlee could collect a RBI on his full-count fly ball to rightfield. Vickerson was able to take third behind him and score easily as Collins doubled to leftfield.
The top of Ole Miss' order tried to answer with consecutive leadoff singles, though Brownlee was that close to robbing Newalu on a diving try. He had an easier time with the next fly ball for one out; and Tanner Mathis was shot down at home when Parks fielded and fired on the grounder.
But he hung one fastball to Allen for solo shot over leftfield to open the Rebel fourth. Pollorena shook that, and a two-out single by the nine-batter, off and rolled Mathis out to keep a 4-2 lead. By the same token, though OM starter Matt Crouse was able to keep his side in that striking distance as he retired 10 of 11 Bulldogs through the top of the sixth inning. He might have been helped by the twilight transition as State batters were picking him up much later after the lights went on.
"Crouse did a great job in those middle innings," Cohen said. "But I thought we did a lousy job commanding the strike zone, he was working out of the zone and we chased. We got him to 100 pitches in the fifth inning but to his credit he fought back and did a great job." Fortunately for Pollorena the Rebels gave him consecutive easy innings as well. And Ole Miss made the first mound-move, letting Brett Huber face the top of State's order in the seventh.
But everything changed in the seventh with two outs and one on. Shepherd gambled on jump-diving at a tailing fly ball that would probably have landed fair anyway. It got by him, but not so far that Ole Miss gambled sending anyone and the runners stopped at second and third. Still they were both in scoring spots for Yarbrough, and State summoned lefthander Chad Girodo. As Cohen explained, the numbers said odds were better making the switch-hitter swing from the right side.
Yarbrough was just fine anyway. He fouled off the first offering, then no-doubted the next well beyond leftfield for the 5-4 lead that was handed to Bobby Wahl. He lost it quickly, as Vickerson and Shepherd singled for runners on corners to open the MSU eighth.
On 2-1 Brownlee put the bunt down. Not only that, but first base was uncovered long enough for him to arrive safely while Vickerson tied the game. With one out State sent freshman Frazier for the pinch-hit opportunity and after some tough foul-offs he struck out covering for a couple of running teammates. Which worked out well though as catcher Hamblin threw past his third baseman allowing Shepherd to score the go-ahead run.
"We had a run-and-hit on," Shepherd said. "And even though Frazier K'd up it allowed to get to third base and get a passed ball." A pass that Cohen gladly accepted. "He (Hamblin) is a very good player but you can't force bad decisions unless you put guys in motion and stress the defense. He probably wouldn't do that in a hundred tries but you've got to put a guy in motion, especially a guy on second base like Shepherd."
Thigpen didn't wait to seize on the momentum-change, swinging on the first chance and bouncing a single between left-side infielders for a 7-5 advantage. It was enough of a lead for Reed, fortunately.
"I guess I'm going to keep doing that, and make it hard on everybody!" he said. Again, joking.
Crouse worked 6.0 with four runs on as many hits, three walks and six strikeouts. Huber had a flawless inning, which left Wahl (0-1) to take the loss on three runs, four hits, and two strikeouts. Anderson had three of the 11 Rebel hits, while Vickerson and Shepherd hit safely for twice as the Bulldogs netted just eight hits.
The only real disappointment was a 0-for-5 night by Parks, snapping his 21 game hitting streak. He did reach base twice and will continue to lead the SEC in both batting and on-base percentage. And Cohen wanted to make a case for the third-inning grounder being read differently.
"I know it's tough to score games. And I'm going to go on record, that ball was smoked! I'm not campaigning here, that ball was smoked and I want to see the guy in our league who makes that play!" Regardless, Parks was still smiling afterwards about the outcome.
Because as Shepherd said, "We managed to get the win tonight, and that's what matters." As for how his team did it, the senior outfielder actually downplayed the drama. "Our team did a real good job keeping their composure. There were still outs left, and we managed to get those runs and take the lead."
Which means the Bulldogs take the lead in this crucial SEC series. Game-two is scheduled for 7:06 central and SportSouth telecast, though there is the threat of rain and Ole Miss covered their field just in case. Mississippi State will start a Friday game with lefthander Nick Routt (1-2, 3.66) while righthander David Goforth (4-6, 4.79) is expected to open for the Rebels.