Sunday's win, combined with another Saturday success against Lipscomb (4-8) and two wins over Connecticut, gives Mississippi State a 10-2 start to their schedule. It was also the easiest of those ten wins to date, which had everyone satisfied afterwards. Well, almost everyone. 3B Daryl Norris could manage a mock-sour expression related to Bradford's first-ever longball.
"I'm still mad, he's got one more than I do," Norris quipped. Somewhat more seriously, "We've played a lot of really close games, it's good to come out here and get the bats going today and take some pressure off the pitchers and let some new guys be on the mound."
Bulldog bats were indeed going. Mississippi State exploded for 19 total hits, five of them for extra bases, and for a change scored more runs than left runners unscored. Though, eight stranded Dogs were still not far off the season average. It didn't matter as much this time though as State had its way with a depleted Lipscomb pitching staff, not to mention a deflated Bison team total. Lipscomb's weekend in Starkville was supremely frustrating, having lost all four games including a Sunday collapse when Connecticut scored four times in the last two innings for a 5-4 comeback.
Coach John Cohen could empathize, but at the same time was pleased how his offense finally took advantage of an opponent to pour on the hits and the runs. "Today we took good swings," said Cohen. "We had a lot of balls fall for us."
Four of them were off Bradford's bat, in six appearances. Having struggled in some recent games, the soph looked like the same sharp leadoff man he was late last spring. He started State's day with a single, came back in the second inning for a two-RBI double, drove in two more runs on a hit in the third inning…and of course slapped the shot in the final offensive inning. For the day Bradford compiled six RBI and scored three times.
"It was fun," he said. "I just relaxed." Which was something his coach had hoped to see after some early season struggles. "Certainly C.T. is not a home run guy but it's amazing how much more power he has when he doesn't try to do too much," Cohen said.
The Dogs following Bradford in the order weren't shabby themselves as both 2B Adam Frazier and Norris had three hits and two RBI of their own, and Frazier scored three times.1B Wes Rea and C Mitch Slauter had a pair of hits in the middle of the order. The only State starter not hitting safely was SS Matthew Britton, though the frosh had other and larger issues. He was charged with three errors, two fielding and one throwing, continuing a very rough weekend for the rookie.
"But outside of that I was really pleased with what we did today," Cohen said. He was even more pleased with getting a big mid-game lead so pitching Coach Butch Thompson could run a lot of Dogs out to the mound. All of the six who threw were either true or redshirt freshmen.
True rookie Will Cox got the start and put in two innings, but absorbed three runs on as many hits with two walks and a strikeout. Redshirt Ross Mitchell went 1.1 with the other three Bison runs, on two hits with a strikeout. They didn't pitch too badly either, and none of Mitchell's scores were earned. Lipscomb tried very hard to put the first game collapse behind them and came out swinging.
"They fought hard at the beginning, they answered back a few times," said Norris. "We just put it back on them and finished the game."
Jonathan Holder (1-0) got his first college victory in the fourth relief appearance, based on the longest State stint of 2.2 innings. He was touched for two hits but struck out three with nothing else on his line. And his timing was right to get the decision too, as after ending Lipscomb's last scoring surge in the top of the fourth he returned to the hill with a huge lead.
Cox made quick work of his first inning but got rocked next time up. A leadoff double and walk had a pair of Bison on and both were bunted along by Aaron Sandoval. Cox loaded the bases with another walk for Taylor Stewart. He dribbled a grounder to the left side and Norris would have cut it close trying for a force at home. He settled for an out at first base and one run home.
Number nine batter Aaron Spragg took advantage with a single through second for a pair of RBI. Another base hit up the middle would have made it 4-0 had not Bradford's throw beat Spragg to the plate.
In the bottom of the inning it was Bradford with the big offensive opportunity, too. Slauter drew a one-out walk and with two down DH Taylor Stark punched a base hit through the middle. Bradford was behind 1-2 before driving a fly that the Libscomb rightfielder couldn't chase down. The double scored both runners to get State on the board.
Frazier lined a single into center and Bradford had no trouble tying it up. Lipscomb might have kept it 3-3 had third baseman Tyson Ashcraft not hurried his throw on Norris' one-hopper. Instead he skipped it past first base for an error. Frazier hadn't made third base when the ball was recovered but State's policy of pressuring defenders applied. He didn't check up and while the throw home was well in time catcher Stewart dropped the ball.
Rea singled in Norris from second for a 5-3 lead.
An out into the fourth Sandoval singled and took the next base on a wild Mitchell pitch. That mattered because Britton errored an Ashcraft grounder for a free run. Stewart reached on an infield single that brought Holder to the hill. He got one out on a grounder that put both runners in positions to score, and they did as M.L. Williams lined a hit to centerfield.
The 6-5 lead didn't last out the bottom of the inning, either. Frazier led off with a single and Norris lifted a drive that nearly got out; banking off the padding in right-centerfield was still good enough for a RBI-triple. Rea followed with a liner that the leftfielder missed on a dive, allowing a double and 7-6 lead as Norris jogged in. That finished starter Blake Fonfara for righty Will Blalock, who was greeted by Renfroe with a RBI-double.
RF Demarcus Henderson tried to sacrifice Renfroe along but Blalock helped with a wild throw to first. Renfroe came on across for a 9-6 score. And the Bulldogs weren't stopping there. With two outs Lipscomb changed pitchers again for Dannie Strable to face Bradford. He had no better luck as the State centerfielder dropped a single in center for two more runs. Frazier got his second hit of the inning, this one a double scoring Bradford.
Then it was Frazier's turn to show fancy footwork. Running on the pitch from second, he had to skip over a Norris grounder (single) a step before the bag, regain balance and make the turn for home and the 13-6 Bulldog lead.
"He got me a hit and a RBI so I owe him one on that!" Norris said. It was 14-6 an inning later. Henderson singled, then went to third base on a steal of second and wild catcher's throw past the bag. Slauter scored him on a hit through the left side. And in the eighth it was Bradford's sixth chance to swing, resulting in the big lift with just enough wind aid to clear the fence.
"It's a lot of stories for the day, but the best one is how many freshmen pitched for us," Cohen said. "I don't think Will was quite as sharp as he was last week but he pitched well early. Ross Mitchell has done a good job two times in a row." Frosh Brandon Woodruff, a high draft last spring as a pitcher, finally got to throw in a game and posted a hitless seventh with a strikeout and walk. Classmate Jacob Lindgren allowed a eighth inning single and nothing more, while Tanner Gaines had a hit and a strikeout in the Bison ninth.
Lipscomb did muster nine hits, eight of them singles, but got just three walks. Leadoff man Williams had two of the hits and two RBI, while Spragg drove in two teammates.
After their second weekend of four games in three days, Mississippi State settles into more of a routine schedule next weekend by hosting Mercer for three games in as many days. But, the Bulldogs have a busier midweek with Penn State coming to DNF for Tuesday and Wednesday dates. Cohen tentatively plans on starting lefthander Luis Pollorena the first game and righty Woodruff the second.