Specifically, centerfielder C.T. Bradford and third baseman Daryl Norris will be making Thursday appointments. Bradford jammed his shoulder sliding into second base in the bottom of the fifth inning, trying to stretch a single into a double. Norris twisted a knee fouling off a pitch in the seventh inning. Neither returned tonight, and might not be back for a while pending examinations.
"Yeah, an expensive win," Cohen said. "Those are two guys who are giving us a whole lot, so it's a very expensive win and very disappointing those kinds of thing happen. But you can't control them and when kids are playing hard those things happen."
Mississippi State (12-2) had to play hard Wednesday night because the Nittany Lions played their hardest as well, trying to salvage a split of their two-day series at Dudy Noble Field. It wasn't for lack of effort, or hits, that Penn State (2-9) fell short. It was lack of late relief and a couple of defensive plays, not to mention the Bulldogs doing their usual late-game act of putting runs on their own scoreboard.
"We started out slow again and the bats got hot at the end," said SS Adam Frazier, whose two-run double in the eighth inning finally broke it State's way. Penn State scored first and best and held a 6-3 lead going into the seventh inning stretch when the Bulldogs finally put one of their patented clutch turns together, scoring four times that frame and three more in the eighth to shatter PSU hopes and hearts.
"They came out yesterday and fought hard too," Frazier said. "But we did the same thing, it just took us a while to get it going."
The late assault made a winner of freshman reliever Jacob Lindgren, his first decision as a Bulldog. Entering in the seventh after PSU had stretched their lead to 6-3, he ended that inning on one pitch and retired the eighth-inning side aided by a tough double play. His 1.1 innings showed zeroes across, and set the stage for Caleb Reed to finish it off despite two hits in the ninth. Reed did not earn a save due to the four-run cushion.
‘Jacob was overpowering, he was outstanding," Cohen said. "Caleb came in and did what he does, with a big lead like that he shoves it in the strike zone."
Lion Evan Dixon (0-1) took the loss. The fourth of six Penn State hurlers this night, he didn't record any official inning and only allowed one run without a hit. But that was enough to get tagged with the decision.
State starter Will Cox lasted 4.0 innings but in the process absorbed four runs, three of them earned, on five hits with three strikeouts. Cox walked none, and Cohen didn't think the freshman righthander was throwing poorly at all. "I thought Will made some great pitches, they hit some ground balls that got to the outfield on some really good pitches."
Cox was tagged for three of those hits in the first inning, a single and double by the first two Lion swingers and a one-out single by Joey DeBernardris that scored them both. In the second inning it was a fielding gaffe by Frazier setting the stage. With one out Zach Ell bounced a ball to the right side a step too far for 1B Wes Rea to reach, as he'd been covering the bag.
That had Lions on corners for JC Coban. He reached across the dish for a semi-bunt dribbler that scored Luis Montesinos for the 3-0 lead.
Greg Walsh was overpowering early himself with two hitless innings before 2B Matthew Britton led off the Bulldog third with a single. He stole second and with one out Bradford was nailed hard in the back to fill the open first base. On full count Frazier swung and connected for a single to left scoring Britton and moving Bradford to third where he could score on a grounder by Norris.
Penn State got one of those back quickly as Cox was tagged by Jordan Steranka for a leadoff double. Consecutive ground balls brought him on home for a 4-2 margin. The Bulldogs had tying runs on base in their turn as LF Hunter Renfroe singled and C Mitch Slauter was hit. Britton and Henderson both took called third strikes.
Righthander Brandon Woodruff ran out for the top of the fifth and settled things down with six-straight outs. "Brandon had his velo back up and showed some maturity on the mound," Frazier said. But the home team was still frustrated, then frightened when Bradford hurt himself. Welsh got an out into the MSU sixth on his 81st pitch, and last as Patton Taylor entered. Rea greeted him with a double down the third base line and made third on a ground ball. With two outs Slauter lined a shot right into Taylor, hard enough that the carom kept going into centerfield for the RBI.
Rightfielder Ells ran down a liner by Britton to keep Penn State in front 4-3, before they did some expanding. With one on a ground ball produced a force at second base but the relay was a bit wide and Rea dropped the tough tag anyway. A base hit and walk loaded the bases with one out, and brought back the top of the PSU order. Steve Snyder taking two strikes before righthander Jonathan Holder was waved in. He got a called strikeout, but walked Searer on a 3-1 count for one run. And on 3-1 he did get a swing out of Sean Deegan but the bat caught Slauter's mitt for interference and another run.
Lindgren inherited the still-loaded and two-out jam and ended it on one pitch with a fly ball to rightfield. "That was huge," said Frazier. "Double plays get us out of trouble." Penn State would dearly regret leaving the sacks stuffed as the Bulldogs finally got hot.
Henderson singled and Penn State went to the bullpen for lefthander Tim Dunn. But he walked both LF Taylor Stark and Frazier to load all posts. Dixon was rushed to the mound to face Norris, and on 2-2 the third baseman fouled one into the stands and wrenched the knee. "We're looking up in the crowd like he got sniped or something!" Frazier said. Brayden Jones had to take over but was able to watch two balls outside for a walk and run, as Henderson scored.
It meant another mound move with lefty Casey Kulina taking responsibility of the three Bulldog baserunners. He got Porter to strike out swinging but the dirtball also skipped the mitt allowing Stark to score. Of such things were comebacks made, with more unlikely offense still in store. Rea was put on open first base for the double-play situation and Renfroe had to hack at a 0-2 offering. But he bounced it just enough towards the left-hole for an infield single and RBI as Frazier tied it up.
On full count Slauter lifted one, but only about 40 feet from the plate and outside the right line. First baseman DeBernardis called it and caught it in foul territory, but catcher Coban had chased the pop-up too and nobody was covering home. Jones scored unchallenged and State had a lead at last.
A hustle play, Cohen called it. "We tag on foul balls, and it might be one situation in sixty games we get a chance to use it. and we did. Brayden did a great job and Coach (Lane Burroughs) was right on top of it."
Lindgren kept the lead by rolling a double-play with a pop-out in the top of the eighth, and the Lions helped State expand the margin with an awful bottom.
Henderson again got it going with his second hit of the evening. Stark not only hit his own way on but when the Lions were lax on the throw-in he kept chugging for second base. Frazier made it hurt more by slashing a double down into rightfield. With Kulina rattled, Jones not only dropped the bunt well enough to reach but Kulina threw it above his first baseman for a single and error that scored Frazier for the 10-6 final.
"Just another day," shrugged Frazier, who led the hitting parade with a 2-of-4 evening, three RBI and two runs. Rea, Renfroe, and Henderson all had two hits each and Slauter drove in two runs as State out-hit the Lions 13 to nine. Snyder and Ell had two hits apiece for Penn State.
The win, State's sixth-straight, was still overshadowed by the uncertain injury status of both Bradford and Norris. Not only that, outfielder Brent Brownlee's knee will get another check Thursday as well. If surgery is required the senior could miss four to eight weeks. Besides leaving MSU with just three true outfielders now, it drastically cuts into pinch-situations to hit and to run.
All of this with one weekend left before Mississippi State opens SEC play. The timing couldn't be a lot worse, agrees Cohen. "But we'll wait and see. A lot of teams around the country are having injuries, but you get upset when lightning strikes your club."
The schedule won't wait either, and State has a weekend series with Mercer coming up. Speaking of lightning, there is a chance of bad weather on Friday that makes more another sort of wait-and-see. For now though Cohen has to plan on three days' worth of pitching assignments. Ben Bracewell has opened the first three Friday of the season but a still-tender elbow might mean a change this week.
"We're going to re-examine Ben's situation tomorrow," said Cohen. That may mean starting Chris Stratton in game-one, instead of using him in tandem with Bracewell. For the second game Nick Routt and Evan Mitchell will likely stay on the piggy-back system, and Sunday is t.b.a. "We'll see who hasn't pitched," said Cohen.
Georgia native Frazier figures lots of teammates will have to pitch against a Bear team that can swing the sticks. "They'll be a solid club, I know a couple of their guys. We have to come ready to play, and hopefully we can start early instead of waiting until late!"