"It's like complete opposites, so we complement each other very well," said R.Mitchell, after getting his fourth winning decision of the season. All, of course, in relief situations. "I get put in good spots. But my defense keeps playing good behind me and we've been keeping the lead."
Or in this case getting it. After both teams put up a run in their opening inning, Dogs and Hawks combined for five scoreless frames on a day designed for pitchers. At least, for moundsmen who could keep heated in the frigid wind and mid-30 degree conditions. As Coach John Cohen said, "You're not competing against other, you're competing against the elements."
R.Mitchell had his ways. "I just tried to come back between innings and get in the tunnel to stay warm." On the hill he was just plain hot, so to speak, sitting nine of the eleven-faced to keep the deadlock. Having watched the Hawks Friday and for five innings today, the easy-throwing lefty knew how to attack this order.
"They swing early, but I wanted to see if I could stay down in the zone so they'd swing at a bad pitch and roll-over it. I was able to do that for the most part." Mitchell allowed a lone hit and walk, in the same inning and in order, but struck out three and rolled four grounders…including two back to himself for fast outs.
"I thought the MVP of the ball game for us was Ross," Cohen said. "He came in and settled things down and got some weak contact, and allowed us to get through those innings."
The other, right-side Mitchell had scrambled through the first five. Not without successes, as a career-best nine strikeouts proved. Even the three hits were scattered sufficiently to prevent any big Saint Joseph's innings. Still E.Mitchell had to throw a lot of pitches, 99 in just the five turns.
"Evan had an interesting day," said Cohen. "I thought he threw some really good pitches, had some great sequences; and some sequences where we had some big misses and some walks. Five walks can get you beat, especially in these conditions. But somehow he worked his way out of it."
The one run came immediately, and wind contributed to a leadoff-double falling in rightfield by Kevin Kratochwill. One out later consecutive walks loaded the other bases before Chris Hueth's fly ball to center brought Ktratochwill home. Mitchell escaped further harm as John Brue stumbled coming out of the box on a slow roller and was outed.
From there E.Mitchell didn't really cruise, with a runner in every inning. Interestingly though he threw better when watching that runner, and from the stretch. Mitchell stranded a pair in the second with consecutive strikeouts; then left two more on in the third with a called-K and comebacker. Two more strikeouts left a runner on second base in the fourth frame, and after a leadoff walk in the fifth Mitchell fanned the 3-4-5 Hawk batters.
Hawks starter Jordan Carter was no Saturday slouch though, and if not for a couple of quick State singles he too could have been very interesting. SS Adam Frazier led off the Bulldog first with, of course, a base hit; and was joined by CF C.T. Bradford's safety for runners on corners. 1B Alex Detz did ground into a double-play, but it sufficed to score Frazier.
And that was it for home-team offense for five more innings. Righthander Carter retired nine-straight Dogs into the fourth, and after walking DH Mitch Slauter he sat five more in a row. A pair of one-out singles in the sixth by, you guessed it, Frazier and Carter were wasted by another twin-killing.
Ross Mitchell had his own sixth-inning challenges with a one-out walk and single. He got a fly-out of the ninth batter and a full-count called strike on the order-topper and was in charge from there. When he grounded Mike Muha to end the top of the seventh he took the 1-1 tie to the dugout.
When he returned it was with a lead. A leadoff single by Slauter had Derrick Armstrong pinch-running from first. He stole second safely too. RF Demarcus Henderson fouled off a couple of 1-2 strikes before flying to short right. Greg Kumpel's diving stab didn't hold but Armstrong had to wait before taking third.
Saint Joseph's finally went to their bullpen and lefthander Steven Schuler. So State counted with righty Tyler Fullerton pinching for Jacob Robson. The matchup worked if not by design. The Hawks probably expected a bunt or run-and-hit; instead on 3-1 count Fullerton swung away. "I was just looking to poke something the other way." That part he achieved; the contact though only produced a pop-fly to the right side.
Second baseman Lansing Veeder tried the running-away basket catch and nearly made it, then dropped for a ruled base hit. The only scoring that mattered was Armstrong making home, and even if two more Dogs went stranded State had another lead to work with.
"That's the game of baseball," Fullerton said. "Sometimes you can get a little squib like that and it will fall."
Mitchell went in-order for the eighth, as Holder had warmed already expecting to defend a 2-1 lead. Instead the slammer had three runs of margin to play with after Hawks reliever Shane Carey was tagged with two in the bottom-eighth. Bradford singled with one out and made second on a dirtball. After a walk of Detz a bouncer off the mitt was enough to advance Bradford to the third post. It also hooked Carey for righty Jimmy Yacabonis.
So once again State shifted sides with lefthanded hitter Trey Porter, and he walked to load all posts. Henderson one-hopped to the left side and while third baseman Kratochwill thought about it he had no play at the plate. He took the easy out while Bradford crossed. Yacobonis was unofficially responsible for the fourth run though as he wild-pitched Detz home.
Holder hadn't pitched in a week, and it showed as he over-threw. "I was a little geeked-up coming into the game and everything was up," he admitted. Holder walked the first batter, an out later was hit for a Brian O'Keefe single, and loaded the bases with a close full-count walk. It mean three-hole hitter Kumpel could be a hero.
Or, not, as he grounded off the end of his bat and into the double-play on a 0-2 curveball. "It was a little outside and he pulled it," said Holder of the easy hopper to third base. Holder picked up his fourth save of the young season to go with a win in his other appearance. Carter (0-1) took the loss on 6.0 sound innings with just two runs off six hits and a walk, and three strikeouts.
State out-hit the Hawks again, but by nothing like Friday's margin in a 10-0 romp. Of course offense was at a Saturday premium, not least as making contact with a freezing bat and cold hands wasn't fun. "These are definitely one of the best days to pitch in," said R.Mitchell. "Other than the fact you're cold! It's easier to go inside and stuff like that." Frazier and Bradford combined for five of the eight Bulldog hits, while shortstop Anthony Cirillo was 2-of-2 for a Saint Joseph's order with just five total safeties.
It wasn't a pretty day at the plate, yet by some clever and timely mixing and matching the right—or left—Bulldogs were at the plate at the correct times. "On a day like today we had to generate in a different way," Cohen said. "And we did, we formulated and just found a way."
The series concludes Sunday with two scheduled nine-inning contests, beginning at 1:00. Other SEC teams have revised their weekend or even shortened them due to the Southern cold wave. Not State, not so far.
"We're preparing for two games," Cohen said. "I think it's going to be a better day and we can get two out of it. We have some guys who need to pitch, too." Righthanders Kendall Graveman and Will Cox are booked for tomorrow's starts.