He did. The sophomore righthander registered an honest 95 miles per hour on the scoreboard radar reading on a couple of his first-inning offerings. "I didn't really know how hard I was throwing until I came back to the dugout and everybody was chattering," Woodruff reported. "I was like I must be doing something right!"
Woodruff did enough right to pass another test in his ongoing comeback from winter elbow surgery, and stay on pace to eventually battle for a rotation role. Meanwhile the rest of the active Diamond Dogs did more than enough to blow out Rhode Island 17-5 and complete a midweek sweep of the Rams. Mississippi State extended its season-opening win streak to a 11-0 record; while Rhode Island left 0-8 for their deep South swing.
Nine Bulldogs combined for 14 base hits, ten crossed the plate at least once, and nine batters drove in a teammate. Albeit, not always by contact. The highest scoring output of this early season was greatly aided by poor Ram pitching, as State received seven walks in as many innings and five more hit-by-pitch reaches. In fact, during the decisive fourth inning four Bulldog runs came without the batter lifting stick from shoulder.
"We created some offense tonight," said Coach John Cohen in an understatement. SS Adam Frazier, with three of those safeties, was more direct. "I feel like we're hitting pretty good." And had Rhode Island's moundsmen thrown more strikes, the Dogs would likely have had even more hits and fewer walks or HBPs.
Not, early on, that the home team was loathe to accept the charity. Ram lefthander Ty Sterner did put up two scoreless innings, leaving a Dog unscored in each. Woodruff was more impressive in the opening inning though, staying low-90s with the fastball and touching the 95 mark with three swinging strikeouts. The second was another matter. Whether it was drained adrenalin, the mound going into shadow, temperature dropping, whatever, Woodruff started missing and issued consecutive one-out walks.
And that brought trouble. "The second inning I couldn't get it going out of the stretch," he said. Pat Fortunate singled in a run before a four-pitch walk loaded all bases. Woodruff got behind number-nine batter Chris Famiglietti, before the Ram fortunately leftfielder checked a swing too late and chipped into a double-play.
Woodruff regained control and sat the sides in his other two innings. "I had to settle down and pitch because Coach Thompson told me you better get these guys out quick. So I focused in and tried to make good pitches."
State's third inning at bat was a fine case of manufacturing as C Nick Ammirati walked in leadoff. Frazier's bunt was blooped but worked out better for it as it fell between three arriving Rams for an infield single. And when CF C.T. Bradford showed bunt he was first brushed off the plate by an inside fastball; then nailed in the back by another, loading the bases.
Sterner threw another eight-straight balls to force Frazier and Bradford across for the lead. Lou Distasio assumed responsibility for the mess, and while he got 3B Daryl Norris looking on three strikes it was another matter with LF Derrick Armstrong. The juco newcomer punched a single through the right side for two more runs and a 4-1 lead.
It stood there into the fifth when a tough sinking shot to short left Bradford no choice but play the hop and give up the infield single. A walk finished Woodruff for Preston Brown to take on the obvious bunting situation. Famiglietti did just that with a bumper to the left side.
Norris fielded just fine but threw past first base for a run-scoring error that also advanced the other Rams into scoring positions for the top of the order. "That hurt us because it led to more runs than we wanted on a very simple play," Cohen said. Joe Landi grounded-in Shane O'Connell, before Tim Caputo spanked it to Norris. He looked the tying runner back before getting the second out at first.
With a lefthander up Ross Mitchell entered and got Jeff Roy on three pitches to preserve a one-run lead. The State southpaw would only work 1.1 total innings, with no hits and two strikeouts, but it was enough to qualify him officially for the decision.
Though, the Bulldogs nearly wasted a gift-wrapped half of the inning after Bradford and sub-DH Trey Porter both singled. Detz dropped his bunt so nicely he was able to beat the throw for an infield hit, loading all bases. Strikeouts of Matt Britton and Armstrong nearly had Distasio escaping, before new 2B Sam Frost worked the count full and watched a high ball-four.
That was URI's downfall. Lefthander Nick Narodowy was not an improvement. He proceeded to force three more runs across without a batted ball, as he plunked RF Jacob Robson, walked Ammirati, and drilled Frazier for the 8-3 lead.
State padded the advantage with a pair of sixth-inning runs, driven in by Frost with a double to rightfield off Rob Curran. "I was waiting, just looking for a strike really. It was like facing Ross Mitchell so I related it that way, fortunately he left the changeup up."
But the real rout came in the seventh with seven more runs. Ammirati doubled, Frazier singled, and they scored in turn on base hits by Bradford and new DH Nick Flair. Detz added a fifth-straight hit in the inning for another RBI, then Armstrong literally ripped the glove off Doonan with his laser-comebacker which the pitcher threw away (the ball) so Flair could score. Britton crossed the plate as Frost's grounder was booted at shortstop, and Robson lined a two-run double.
RHP Ben Bracewell tuned up for likely weekend work by throwing the seventh inning, with a walk and single but no damage. RHP Myles Gentry absorbed the other Ram runs though, with a couple of hits and sac-fly. RHP Trevor Fitts completed that inning with a run-scoring single, then left a pair on bases in the ninth.
Mitchell (3-0) got the victory while Sterner (0-2) took the loss. Detz joined Frazier in the three-hit club, but it was Frost maximizing his turns. Officially 1-of-2, he drove in four runs and scored twice. Rhode Island had seven hits, two by Fortunato.
"I think we progressed tonight, we got a lot of people involved," Cohen said. "But there are still some things we need to improve on before we get to conference play."
That is two weekends away for the Bulldogs. Immediately ahead is a four-game, three-day series with St. Joseph's. Friday's game has been moved up to 4:00 start due to anticipated cold weather, while Saturday has a twinbill at noon and 3:30. The series ends Sunday afternoon.