Vanderbilt Squares Series In 12-Inning Win

Hunter Renfroe doesn't try to soft-sell the Sunday situation. For Mississippi State, the rubber game with Vanderbilt is now Must Win. "We haven't won a series in a while, so we've got to."

To do so, the Diamond Dogs have to put another extra-inning SEC setback behind them. A two-out double by Renfroe in the bottom of the ninth tied Saturday's rematch with the Commodores, only to have Vanderbilt push across the winning run in the 12th for a 4-3 final. Vanderbilt (13-18, 4-7 SEC) evened the weekend series while Mississippi State walked off the home field 19-12, 4-7 also, and frustrated.

Again. This was State's third overtime loss already in four conference series.

"It's not happening for us in extra inning games," Coach John Cohen said. "Eventually you know with the kind of effort these kids are giving you know it's going to happen." It just hasn't happened so far.

What has happened instead is a Bulldog team got just a little bit closer to breaking through, only to fall short for the overriding reason of a cobbled-together lineup. State ended the game with only one unused position player left, infielder Brayden Jones, having scrambled and scratched just to survive nine innings. That they did in the last chance. Cashing in extra-inning opportunity proved a little too much else to ask.

Instead it was a Vanderbilt team riding years of winning seasons and a 2011 College World Series trip that got it done last. A one-out walk of order-topper Tony Kemp, hitless in five previous appearances, need not have done damage. But a balk did. Freshman righthander Will Cox, taking over for lefty Jacob Lindgren after 2.1 gutsy relief innings, was called for a false move before even going into a pitching motion.

Shaken, Cox was hit by shortstop Anthony Gomez. The grounder got past Trey Porter, playing third base for his first time ever with State. Leftfielder Hunter Renfroe made a strong throw home that arrived same time as Gomez, but the runner took a wide slide and reached under substitute C Nick Ammirati's tag attempt.

Lefthander Ross Mitchell kept it a one-run game. But Commodore closer Will Clinard, who had left the winning run on second base back in the ninth with a strikeout, completed his 3.1 inning stint with three quick outs. Clinard (3-1) got the decision while freshman Lindgren (1-1) took the tough loss.

He was just one of the seven MSU moundsmen to work Saturday. Their combined performances were laudable, with ten hits allowed in a dozen innings. And if not for a fluke fly ball error in the top of the sixth a shutout wasn't unthinkable. Only one of Vanderbilt's runs was earned.

But Bulldog hitting was nearly nonexistent in game-two, with just five hits in 36 official at-bats. In fact if not for Commodore charity in the form of ten walks, four in one inning alone, and a couple of plunkings Mississippi State's offense may not have scratched either.

"I thought we did everything right except at home plate," Coach John Cohen said. "We just didn't put our face on the barrel and really bear down." The opportunities were there, as usual, because Bulldogs did reach base by hook and crook. A total of 11 were left stranded, though Vanderbilt had nine unscored as well and that almost led to a loss too. Twice they lost runners just short of home plate, too, and others on smart State defensive chances.

"We picked a guy off at every base," Cohen said, in no exaggeration. "We just need to have a little bit more confidence and be able to do some things at home plate. And we're not doing it."

For six innings the reason was lanky righthander Tyler Beede, a first-round draftee in 2011 who turned down literally millions to play college ball. His 1-3 record belied how the rookie is maturing at mid-season, and while not overpowering Beede had the right stuff. He no-hit Bulldogs through the first four innings and would allow just two hits total, with one run. He struck out five and walked three.

"I'll give him that, he's good," said Renfroe, 0-for-2 against Beede. "He had a pretty good changeup that he threw, when he was behind in the count actually. It was his day."

It wasn't a bad day either for State sophomore Kendall Graveman, as he went into the sixth as well. His 5.2 stint would show the first three runs, none earned, with four hits, a walk, and seven strikeouts. "I thought Kendall deserved better," Cohen said. "He pitched pretty well."

Graveman no-hit the Commodores through three before a consecutive one-out singles in the fourth, and stranded both with a pickoff and strikeout. A superb running, diving catch by CF C.T. Bradford prevented trouble in the fifth. But in the sixth with one out Bradford drifted over for a fly ball off the bat of Gomez in left-centerfield. Shading his eyes with the glove, Bradford let the ball skim off the mitt then misplayed it further for a two-error, three-base disaster.

On the first pitch Mike Yastrzemski pounded a ground ball SS Adam Frazier knocked down with no throw possible. Scoring ice broken, Vanderbilt got the bigger hit after Graveman plunked a batter. With two on Vince Conde made it a 3-0 game on his double over the leftfielder.

"We just had a mental lapse there," Renfroe said. "C.T. is one of the better outfielders in this league, it happens to all of us. It was his day today. I don't think that cost us the game, we left too many runners on base again."

Such as two in the third inning after both walked. C Mitch Slauter struck out swinging to end that threat. DH Daryl Norris broke up the no-hitter with a first-pitch single in the fifth, only to be outed at second as 2B Philip Casey didn't connect on a run-and-hit State had to try with a gimpy Norris.

Beede's third walk, a leadoff passing of 1B Wes Rea, opened the Vanderbilt bullpen at last. Keenan Kolinsky only faced 3B Sam Frost, walking him, and was yanked for T.J. Pecoraro. He loaded the bases with a walk of Norris. Pinch-hitter Brent Brownlee grounded in Rea and Renfroe scored Frost with another grounder. Frazier made good contact, just not far enough to the middle as shortstop Gomez was able to field on the fly and throw him out to keep a one-run lead.

Vanderbilt ought to have blown it open again in their eighth with a leadoff single by Gomez. Lefthander Luis Pollorena got a popped-up bunt before Conrad Gregor doubled. With three righthanders due up Taylor Stark, sidelined by a hamstring since early March, was sent to the hill. Naturally Vanderbilt tested him with a squeeze-bunt that Stark fielded and flipped in time. Frazier kept it 3-2 with a strong throw.,p> In the ninth Vanderbilt had two on with one out and both runners moving. Slauter's throw to third sailed and John Norwood tried for home, but Renfroe fielded and fired for a close out. Brownlee saved another run going to his knees for a sinking fly.

Two outs into the last chance Brownlee was hit by Pecoraro's pitch, and Tyler Fullerton sent in to run for the still-gimpy senior. Renfroe was full-count after a waste pitch and guessed what was coming. "He painted outside with a fastball, and I figured he was going to try to come back and freeze me. I sat back on it and tried to pull it."

His drive briefly looked gone but Cohen knew better. The ball banked off the base of the fence, still strong enough for Fullerton to tie it up. With the winner on second base Vanderbilt didn't take a chance and let Frazier swing, walking him and calling in Clinard to leave him with the called strikeout.

State ought to have won it in the tenth as Slauter walked, only to have pinch-runner Demarcus Henderson get a slow jump and be thrown out. That hurt because two walks and an intentional passing of Norris only loaded the bases with nobody scored. And nobody did as Clinard got Fullerton to ground out in his first at-bat of the day.

Bradford made a nifty double-play in the top of the tenth, fielding a one-out fly and throwing back behind the runner for a force at first. Plays like that only aggravated the general home team frustration.

"I'm really proud of the way we played for the most part," Cohen said. "Offensively we were not good, obviously that is my responsibility. At my last count we swung through five 3-1 pitches and did not make contact on fastballs."

The first half of Vanderbilt's order accounted for six of their hits with two-each for Gomez, Yastrzemski, and Gregor. State's five hits were scattered among as many swingers, and Bulldogs were 0-of-8 with runners in scoring spots.

For a third weekend now Mississippi State has a rubber-game opportunity. Against Arkansas they lost it in extra innings, and at Auburn mid-game breakdowns led to another loss. With all the interesting results from other series keeping the conference tight it might seem overstating the case to call Sunday must-win for both teams.

Yet in the Bulldog case, after so many close calls and so much expended effort to compete around injuries and disruptions…it is. It really is.

"Oh yeah," Renfroe said. "We have to come out with fire and get a win tomorrow."

As of 8:00 Cohen had not named a starter, though he has three solid choices in Ben Bracewell, Evan Mitchell, and Nick Routt. Not using closer Caleb Reed today, after three full Friday innings, means he is also available. Vanderbilt will go with righthander Drew Verhagen (3-2, 3.28), who threw two innings with two runs allowed in Friday's 7-4 Bulldog win.

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