Kansas, victim of 1-0 and 3-1 losses to the Bulldogs, beat Valley twice to leave Starkville 5-2. The Devils remained winless at 0-7, but not without giving the home team some challenges. Midway of Sunday's sixth inning it was a 2-1 Bulldog margin, a little close for home-team comfort.
"Valley isn't a team to take lightly," said Holder. "Every team you play you have to take seriously."
Holder and Cox were certainly serious, Cox surely more so. His classmate had at least thrown a couple of relief stints already this freshman season. But righthander Cox was making his first appearance, and on the home field at that. Speaking of home, "I knew (he was starting) in the week and it kept building up, I kept telling people and it seemed the whole town of Amory was here! That helped a lot."
Cox didn't disappoint the home folk. He worked seven complete innings with just three hits and a run against him, striking out eight and walking nobody. Or even hitting any Devils. The lone blot on the linescore was his own doing, set up by a miss-played grounder in the third inning. But if anything the fielding gaffe gave Cox that much more chance to show poise and regain control.
Which he did, stringing 13 outs together to dominate the Devils and put in the longest stint of any State pitcher so far this young (no pun intended) season. "He had the one fielding error where he panicked and threw the ball away," Cohen said. "But outside that I thought it was really clean." So was Holder with 2.0 hitless frames, including two strikeouts, to get his first save of the season.
In a way the work of Mississippi Valley starter David Lostra (0-2) was as impressive. With his team's pitching reserves exhausted after three games, the righthander ground his way through 5.1 official innings with three runs on five hits, six walks and three strikeouts.
The Bulldogs looked ready to post the routine romp over MVSU by scoring two first-inning runs. Both 1B Wes Rea and DH Trey Porter drew walks and 3B Daryl Norris crushed a drive to left-centerfield that stayed in the yard but was good for two bases and two runs.
Which, it turned out, would have to hold up for four whole innings as some promising expansion situations weren't used. Lostra would get in trouble repeatedly, putting a pair of Dogs on bases in three of the next four frames, without anyone coming home. In all State would strand a dozen baserunners for the afternoon.
"The first pitcher did a great job," said Cohen, noting how Lostra's low-80s fastball was made effective by breaking balls in the mid-60s that had Dogs off their swing. "Credit to him, he did a nice job against us and we didn't handle it well. But later on we did a better job with our approach."
Anyway, Cox was keeping things under control with the brief blip in the third. He couldn't handle a come-back grounder and compounded it with a wild throw to first, for a two-base error. "I got a little sped-up," he admitted. So with one out a fly ball dropped inside the leftfield line by first baseman Daniel Anderson was good for a RBI double, plating Edmund Cheatham.
Cox was able to leave the tying runner on third base with a ground-out that began his four-inning stretch of dominance. In fact, that two-bagger was the only ball hit in the air off Cox; all his outs were on ground balls and strikeouts for the whole seven innings.
"I just kept throwing strikes and Mitch (Slauter) did an outstanding job calling pitches," Cox said. "My slider was working really well, my fastball was down in the zone and got a lot of ground balls. The team did a great job playing defense, and we found a way to score some runs."
That had to wait until the sixth, when Lostra reached 100 pitches. With one out 2B Sam Frost laid down a bunt single. Frost then stole second and third bases on consecutive pitches, though he might have spared himself the trouble. Because SS Adam Frazier lined a double to left-center for the RBI. Frazier was called out trying to steal third on a close play, but he'd given valuable margin for MSU to work with.
Cox did his part, though his 13-outs streak ended with a two-out single by Allen Cheek in the seventh. The pitcher ended that inning by fielding another grounder. With the bottom of Valley's order coming up for the eighth righthander Holder was summoned for the third time this season. "It's good to know my coaches and my teammates trust me as a freshman to be able to come out and do my role for the team."
Holder sat the side in the eighth and returned with a little more padding, at the expense of MVSU reliever Cody Parker. With Frost on first base and one out, Frazier joined him via a single. CF C.T. Bradford got the run-and-hit call and with both runners moving sliced a single into leftfield for a RBI. Rea added the last run with a base hit scoring Frazier.
The win was State's 23rd all-time against Valley State in as many meetings. Three Dogs hit safely twice; Frazier, Rea, and Norris, with a pair of RBI for the third baseman. State stole five bases in the win, while the pitching staff had its third game of the year with no earned runs allowed.
Now the Bulldogs will host their first midweek action of 2012 as Memphis comes to DNF for a 4:00 Wednesday game. Cohen could not give a starting pitcher immediately, "But all the guys who didn't pitch this weekend really need to pitch in this game."
The Tigers (3-3) will be at Ole Miss for a Tuesday game.