"Ammo (C Nick Ammirati) was just calling pitches and I was grateful to execute," said Cox.
Samford (5-4) was the one feeling executed. First, by Cox as in one overpowering stretch he sat 17-straight batters. And second by home Bulldog order that slapped a dozen base hits around Dudy Noble Field. Most were bunched into the middle-three innings when all eight runs were scored.
Two wins over Samford and two more over Purdue win gave State a 4-0 worksheet for the weekend's Diamond Classic, as well as a 9-0 start to the season. That is the best beginning since the 2006 club opened 18-0.
"It felt great," said Cox. "This team is really taking flight. So it's fun to watch."
Cohen more enjoyed how the fast-progressing young pitcher stormed through his seven innings. The Bulldogs don't lack for arms of course. Still… "Will gave us an opportunity to get our bullpen back hopefully for Tuesday and Wednesday," Cohen said. "This is a tough stretch for us in the amount of games in a short amount of time."
Mississippi State was not taking the rematch with Samford for granted, not even after an 8-2 Saturday win over the Birmingham-based Bulldogs. Yet Cohen had confidence in Cox, enough to alter the lineup and order again in the early season. Slugging RF Hunter Renfroe, with solo home runs on Friday and Saturday, took a pitch off the right hand in a win over Purdue. He sat out Sunday, though Cohen said Renfroe could have played.
Instead rookie Derrick Armstrong got to make his first start, in leftfield as Demarcus Henderson moved over to rightfield. State also went another start without 1B Wes Rea, protecting a quadriceps pull. It looked risky giving up so much muscle in the middle of the order, all the more when five Dogs were left stranded in the first and third innings combined.
Cox wasn't bothered at all by pitching in a scoreless Sunday. "I knew we were going to break free," he said. So he and Ammirati did their part very well by making Samford's strengths work against the opponents.
"They love to swing and that plays right into me and Ammirati's gameplan today," Cox said. "We were popping the zone and letting our defense work. My fastball had a lot of tilt to it and I pounded my zone, and my slider was a lot sharper than last inning. And I have a lot of confidence in my changeup."
Confidence that increased after Cox left two Samford Dogs on bases in the first with a called strikeout of Caleb Bryson. That started his stretch of 17 sit-downs with six more strikeouts, five of them looking as well.
"He kept the ball down, his changeup was working good, he was locating the fastball," said 1B Alex Detz from his front-row viewpoint.
Detz made himself the day's other starring act, on offense in his case. Starting again at first base the junior, who only moved to that position in preseason, posted three base hits. The first was fluky, a pop-up missed by the catcher; and Detz got caught between-bases anyway for the out.
But his next two turns at-bat were outstanding as Detz would slap a single and a double and collect three RBI in the process. "It was a little luck involved, but I swung the bat well. I got a couple of fastballs and just took advantage. I took one the other way and the other up the middle, I just took short swings."
His first runner batted-in was Henderson, after the fourth-inning break Bulldog bats seemed to need. Samford starter Patrick McGavin had survived earlier threats by locating his off-speed stuff…or plunking a few Dogs too, at least once on purpose to all eyes. But he walked Henderson to open the fourth, and tried a sidearm pickoff that missed everyone.
Henderson made third without a throw and on 2-2 count Detz punched a single under McGavin's glove to break scoring ice. A walk of Armstrong had two on with still no outs. Both were moving as Samford faked a pick to second base and pitched anyway. Ammirati's cover-swing was too late, with Detz caught at third base. The catcher redeemed himself though with a well-struck double to leftfield scoring Armstrong.
SS Adam Frazier followed with a long gapper to right-center that he legged into the fourth triple of this season and a 3-0 lead. That finished McGavin at last with right Cole Limbaugh taking over. He got some help as Bradford didn't make contact on a squeeze try and Frazier was run down, keeping it 3-0.
Not for long though, as the middle-order came through. An out into the fifth 3B Daryl Norris singled, with 2B Brett Pirtle and Henderson walking to load all bases. Detz lifted a fading fly that the wind almost carried foul…but not quite as it landed a foot or so fair.
Two runners scored to open up the margin. And having walked twice already, Armstrong was hacking this time. He got around and hopped his single under the third baseman's glove for two more runs and an extra base of his own. Samford yanked Limbaugh for lefthander Sean Handlan to finish that inning.
State added icing in their sixth as Bradford legged-out a grounder and took second on an error to boot. Norris did the RBI-honors.
All this while Cox was rolling. "Will was huge for us," Cohen said. "He threw 80 pitches but I think going into the seventh he had 63, that's very efficient." An out into the seventh Cox finally slipped, hanging one for Samford slugger Phillip Ervin to sail over leftfield. But Cox got two more outs, including a final called K, and was excused. Trevor Fitts threw a one-hit eighth inning and John Marc Shelly the ninth, both getting a strikeout.
McGavin (0-2) took the loss on three runs, five hits, four walks and three strikeouts. And, three plunkings, though tempers were contained in MSU's dugout. Detz went 3-of-4 with three RBI and a run scored to pace State's offense. "Alex had a very solid day for us," Cohen said. Frazier and Norris had two-hit days, while Henderson scored twice.
"Everyone talks about our pitching and defense, but we're pretty solid offensively," Detz said. "And it's starting to show."
The Bulldogs get a single day-off after their long weekend, hosting Rhode Island in a midweek set of 4:00 games. Cohen expects to start RHP Brandon Woodruff on Tuesday, and depending on who does or doesn't work out of the pen perhaps run LHP Luis Pollorena out for Wednesday. Then comes the last four-game weekend of the regular schedule with St. Joseph's coming to town.