Dogs Take Series With 5-4 Rubber Game Rally

Bulldog baseball is being turned in the right direction by the usual recruiting work. But there's always room for walk-on help, and in Mississippi State's opening weekend one certainly did. A home run and sacrifice fly ball by Trey Porter were the turning points in a 5-4 victory over Washington State to give the home Bulldogs a series success.

Porter, a junior walk-on playing the designated hitter, did just that twice in Sunday's second game of a doubleheader. His solo shot in the sixth inning temporarily tied things up 2-2, then with the Cougars leading 4-2 in the eighth inning Porter drove in the first run of State's game-winning rally with a fly ball to centerfield. This was after Porter had slugged a two-run shot in Sunday's first game, won 6-5 by Washington State in 13 innings.

"I just want to contribute any way I can," said Porter, the lone true volunteer Bulldog in the order this opening weekend. "When I started this I said I just wanted one opportunity, just to get up here, because I know I could do it."

So did his teammates and coaches, too, after the walk-on first baseman from East Mississippi C.C. impressed them in fall ball. "It didn't take us long to figure out he's a difficult guy to throw strikes to," Coach John Cohen said. "He gets in advantage counts and makes the most of it."

Porter proved it by taking a 2-0 offering from WSU reliever Bryce Jackson over rightfield, a line shot very similar to the two-run job he'd hit earlier. A fastball, he said, though "I honestly really didn't even see it, I just kind of swung. I know that sounds terrible, don't tell our hitting coach! But I saw it up and I knew he wasn't a high-velo guy so I just tried to get on top of it." The sacrifice-fly ball was off Spencer Jackson after a ball-one."

Porter's big contacts were key but not all the clutch State showings at the plate in the (literally) nightcap. After the Bulldogs missed chance after chance to take care of game-one business, only to have the Cougars come out on top after 13 excruciating innings (see other game story), they were able to deliver when it mattered most the second game.

"We had a lot ofguys on, I think we were 3-of-18 the first game with runners in scoring position," Porter noted, correctly. State had left 18 men unscored in the opener while Washington State used their big 13th inning opportunity against a tiring Caleb Reed to even the series. Then they took leads of 2-0 and 4-2 with every chance to clinch it." The main reason the visitors didn't was early-season resilience, most notably from Taylor Stark. The sophomore relief righthander had entered in the top of the eighth with a tied score and one Cougar on base. Stark got a high-hopper that SS Adam Frazier miss-read, starting before trying to reach back with the ball glancing off for Cougars on corners. Derek Jones bounced a grounder 2B Matthew Britton could stop but not throw, for one run; then Adam Nelubowich hit a similar single with the same result for the 4-2 lead. Stark walked the bases full before game-one hero Tommy Richards grounded into a double-play.

Considering how the first game had gone with some other flukish events or failures in RBI settings, senior and co-captain Reed said it would have been easy for underclassmen to call it a day then. "But they fought back and got us the win," Reed said. Beginning with Frazier in the eighth as he worked a walk off S.Jackson. RF Brent Brownlee, 0-for-3 to then, lined a shot that landed inside the rightfield line for a double and tying runs in scoring spots. Unlike the first game, this time Bulldog batters cashed them in.

Porter lifted his fly ball to center scoring Frazier, and C Mitch Slauter did even better with a double dropped in right-center for the tying RBI and go-ahead runner on second. Slaughter was stopped at third base when CF C.T. Bradford singled to his WSU counterpart, wisely because Jason Monda made a strong throw to his catcher waiting up the line to make a tag.

But Bradford aggressively turned first base and Collin Slaybaugh tried to catch him off the bag. Instead his throw sailed into rightfield and Slaughter came home with the go-ahead run.

The winning run, too. Cohen didn't hesitate sending Stark back out, not least as usual closer Reed had thrown 95 pitches the first game. "He's one of those guys that when he senses that win he'll do whatever it takes," Cohen said. "He's done it before and he'll do it again." Stark flew-out and struck out the eighth and ninth Cougar batters, then after a single by order-topper Nate Blackham got a questionable called third strike on Monda via appeal to the first base umpire Jeff Head.

Stark got the winning decision on 1.2 innings work with a run on three hits, two strikeouts and a walk. S.Jackson, one of three with that surname to pitch for WSU, took the loss on 0.2 innings with three hits and as many runs, a walk and strikeout. The real pitching standout for State was starter Kendall Graveman, the 2011 mid-week game star given a crack at rotation duty this season.

The righthander put in 6.1 innings with three hits, two runs, a walk and four strikeouts. "I thought Kendall was outstanding," Cohen said. "If you take away two at-bats and when they dump a single in leftfield, if he doesn't have those two sequences he's going to pitch a shutout through six. He was efficient, had so much movement, and got us some ground balls."

Graveman's third-inning troubles were self-induced by hitting one batter and walking another. With both bunted along, Blackham got that two-RBI knock into left. The Bulldogs had some early charity to thank too, though. In the bottom of the third Frazier reached on a walk, went first-to-third on a wild pitch by WS starter Tanner Chleborad, and came home on a passed ball.

Chleborad was able to turn the 2-1 lead over to lefthander B.Jackson for the sixth. It lasted two outs before Porter got around on a fastball and lined it over rightfield. In the seventh Ty Jackson put to Bulldogs on bases for S.Jackson to strand, this time. Lefthander Luis Pollorena entered in the WSU seventh with with a runner on second to stand him on fly balls to centerfield before giving the ball to Stark a hit and out into the eighth.

Bradford had three of State's ten base hits with the other seven divided among as many Dogs. Frazier scored twice, and all five MSU runs came from the first four in the order. The top two Cougar batters were also productive as Blackham and Monda had two hits each, with two RBI for the leadoff man and a run for Monda.

"Everybody is close together and we fight to the end," said Porter. "We were down in the sixth both games, and down in the eighth and found a way to come back." At least the Dogs did in the second game. But as frustrated as Cohen was over letting the middle-game get away in extra innings, the coach was big-picture satisfied with a split and how his team got to begin the season against quality competition.

"It was real important to me at this stage to play a very good Pac 12 team. They're a good club, they have a lot of poise and their lineup is going to be one of the best in the Pac 12. You can tell they're inexperienced on the mound." Or maybe not any longer after no less than ten Cougar moundsmen threw in the 22 innings; some of them for the third time in the series. Mississippi State won Friday's season opener 6-2.

"That's one of the better teams we've played to start off in a long time, or since I've been here," said Reed. He admitted disappointment in not getting the sweep that was within grasp given just one more timely hit or even a simple sacrifice fly in Sunday's first match. "But you have to move forward and get ready for Mississippi Valley and Kansas when they come in."

That will be next weekend as State plays both visitors twice. The Bulldogs have a single Friday game with Kansas at 6:30; take on Valley at noon and Kansas again at 4:00 Saturday; and finish with the Delta Devils at 2:30 Sunday. Cohen hopes to use the second weekend to get more players on the field in more positions, as well as get other catchers involved after Slauter worked all three games behind the plate. Having to ride Reed so long in game-two didn't allow freshmen Jacob Lindgren or Brandon Woodruff chances to pitch, something the staff has in mind ASAP.

The Bulldogs have a day off before resuming practices as well as preparing for the weekend.

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