Tigers Spoil State Rally With 7-6 Win

Their coach forecast an early season of peaks and valleys for this revamped Bulldog ball club. "And this is one of the valleys," said John Cohen after a 7-6 loss to Memphis, with the margin of visitor victory scored on a bases loaded catchers interference call.

Tiger Ford Wilson's high hack at a Caleb Reed pitch caught the mitt of Bulldog backstop Mitch Slauter with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, forcing Eli Hynes across the plate. It proved the winning run and let Memphis left Dudy Noble Field 4-4. Mississippi State (6-2) stuck around longer for a post-loss meeting to address a few items.

"We've lost two games," said Cohen. "One because we hit a runner with a batted ball and because of catchers interference. It's tough to swallow."

In both cases, including the 13-inning, one-run defeat by Washington State a weekend ago, Reed was the hard-luck loser. The sixth pitcher of the MSU evening, Reed wasn't even supposed to warm up for this midweek meeting…especially not after State fell behind 3-1 and 6-2. But an eighth-inning rally tied it up 6-6 and meant calling on the closer to keep it even long enough to win.

Instead a leadoff walk and pulled double had two Tigers in scoring positions immediately. Reed fanned one man, grounded another to shortstop for a force at home, and then walked the bags full for the #8 batter. That proved fatal when bat and mitt met.

State coaches didn't argue, either. In fact Cohen suspected it was intentional by F.Wilson, "which if he did it was a brilliant play on his part, they're doing whatever they can to win a game." Reed (0-2) was charged with the run as well as a hit, two walks and two strikeouts.

Jonathan Van Eaton (1-0) got the win in late relief, having kept the game tied with Dogs on corners and one out in that big eighth. He struck out 2B Sam Frost and flew-out SS Adam Frazier to strand the pair. In the ninth a two-out single by DH Trey Porter at least offered hope before Van Eaton grounded out 3B Daryl Norris.

Who deserved the decision though was starter Chase Joiner. The righthander had a superb evening of seven complete innings, generally scattering the six hits with two runs. He struck out eight and walked nobody at all, giving the Dogs nothing cheap to work with. And MSU batters needed some charity this evening as after an extended rain delay they were the ones which came out flat, not the visiting team.

"He was mixing it up well, keeping us off-balance a little bit and doing what he was supposed to do," 1B Wes Rea said. "And we weren't doing what we were supposed to do. That's what it boiled down to." The Dogs did muster ten total hits but the outburst was off reliever Clayton Gant, including Rea's mammoth two-run homer that tied it up temporarily.

Lefthander Luis Pollorena got State's start and wasn't sharp. A low-strike thrower, the junior was a little too low from the beginning. "I feel bad for him, it just didn't happen," said Cohen. "It didn't come out of his hand very good and he couldn't get to the bottom of the strike zone."

If not for a pair of marvelous running grabs by CF C.T. Bradford that robbed Tigers of doubles, the game could have gotten entirely out of hand early. As it was Pollorena scuffled into the third inning with a 1-0 lead. That came in the first frame as Frazier doubled to leftfield and with two outs was doubled in by Porter.

Memphis got on the board in a bigger way in their third turn as hitting star Ford Wilson doubled over LF Taylor Stark's glove and SS Matthew Britton bobbled a grounder by Zach Willis for Tigers on corners and no outs. Tanner Gaines was called in to take on the top of Memphis' order, only to be greeted with a RBI-single from Ethan Gross. After getting a fly-ball out Gaines gave up a short drive by Wilson to leftfield that would have given Memphis a lead anyway.

But Stark dove and missed, resulting in a two-run double. And another pitching change with Chad Girodo ending the inning with a 3-1 Tiger lead.

State chipped one off the deficit but should have done more in the fourth. Norris bounced a seeing-eye single through the left side, and Rea followed with a hit of his own. Memphis was looking for a bunt, but RF Brandon Woodruff was able to single in Norris. A bigger innings didn't develop though because Stark's bunt went right to the mound for an easy out at third base; then Britton didn't swing to cover a steal try by Woodruff with another out at third. Britton was replaced by Frost for the rest of the game.

"I think we were watching a lot of good pitches and really weren't having a lot of good at-bats early," Norris said. "We swung at a lot of balls and took a lot of strikes and it wasn't going for us at the beginning."

And Memphis made the missed chances hurt with a leadoff double by Gross, then a high fly clearing leftfield by Wilson for the first homer allowed by Bulldog pitching this season. A two-out double finished Girodo for freshman Jacob Lindgren, who ended that inning on one pitch. He plunked a pair an out into the Tiger sixth and stranded them with a strikeout, with J.Wilson on deck.

Memphis padded the lead by loading the bases in their seventh on a bunt single, base hit through the box, and sacrifice bunt misplayed by Lindgren ruled a hit. A low ball on full count walked in Wilson and meant a mound move with Ross Mitchell inheriting stuffed sacks and no outs. He handled it with a grounder to first base for a double-play force and called strikeout, then got the side in the Tiger eighth.

"I was really happy with Ross, he did a great job," Cohen said. "He's worked really hard and his delivery is a little different, he got to the bottom of the strike zone and threw strikes." Mitchell worked 2.0 hitless innings with two strikeouts.

With the four-run lead Joiner was excused for Gant. He got one quick out but nicked C Mitch Slauter and walked Porter. Norris got behind and looked at an awfully close pitch on 1-2 with the call in his favor, then pulled a grounder over third base and into the corner. By the time the leftfielder found the roller Slauter had scored and Porter was scoring.

Rea scored a pair as well, though his was a more impressive and no-doubts shot over left-centerfield for his first home run of the season. Gant stayed on the hill long enough to hit Woodruff before Van Eaton took over. He got a fly ball off Stark but the cautious centerfielder let it fall in front of him for Dogs on third and first with one out. All it did was set up State for frustration.

And, a loss. "I'm pleased our kids fought back," Cohen said. "But they were not locked-in in the early part of the game, with a two-and-a-half hour delay. And that's pretty disappointing, and exactly what we're going to talk about right now so we don't have this happen any more."

Tiger Justin Wilson had an evening to remember, batting safely in four official trips with a single, double, home run, and bunt-single for four RBI. He also reached on a walk and scored twice. Norris and Rea both had a pair of hits and two RBI each. Rea, who'd seen a lot of nice drives fall short of the fences, said he had no doubts he'd notched the first longball of his career. "But we lost the game, stuff like that doesn't matter to me when we lose," he said.

"We just have to put this one behind us and get ready. If we mope over this one tomorrow, you don't get ready for the next four. It's going to stink tonight but we have to get past it and get ready for this weekend."

A busy weekend, too. State hosts another round-robin affair at Dudy Noble Field with Connecticut and Lipscomb all getting in four games. The Bulldog schedule, and pitching assignments, are: Ben Bracewell against UConn at 6:30 Friday, Kendall Graveman against Lipscomb at 11:00am Saturday followed by a 2:30 rematch with the Huskies and Nick Routt on the mound, and finally a Sunday 2:30 start for Will Cox against Lipscomb.

Weather is likely to be a factor Friday and Saturday. Fans also are reminded that basketball parking takes Saturday priority for the regular-season finale at 4:00 in Humphrey Coliseum.

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