"We felt we were going to score runs, but you just never know," Coach John Cohen said.
Actually, knowing the series history the Bulldogs would have expected to score a lot. They walked off Dudy Noble Field with a perfect 24-0 record against Mississippi Valley State. More to the immediate matter State is now 16-0 on this season, two wins shy of matching the all-time best start to any season. The Devils left 2-12.
Four Bulldogs had a pair of hits, with the biggest from sources at opposing ends of the stat sheet. A longball by Renfroe (3) isn't unexpected, though going to right-centerfield for his two-run bomb in the sixth inning was a bit surprising. Pirtle's solo shot did surprise, pleasantly. The juco transfer has struggled in the first three weekends of senior college, but this evening Pirtle found the groove.
"Good thing about it, you can be in a slump but you have the best teammates in the world and they'll come through for you," he said. Pirtle got the whole offense going with a double in the second inning, eventually scoring State's first run. Then in the fourth and leading off Pirtle turned on inside-fastball by David Lostra. Off the bat it was clearly long enough, the only question being would it stay fair.
"I was hoping I didn't put any sidespin on it!" Pirtle said. The drive stayed inside the right pole for home run #1. "In the dugout they were as amazed because I never pull balls!" Pirtle went 2-of-4 with the RBI and two runs, while Renfroe was 2-of-3 with four RBI and a run.
Their combined production would have been enough MSU margin to win as things played out. It just didn't seem so routine early on as the home team trailed after one inning and had to make some plays to keep a 3-2 lead midway of four frames. Whether from the grind of 16 games in 19 days, or playing a SWAC squad that has provided many a W over the years, or a combination, Mississippi State was not sharp from the start.
"We were a little lackadaisical at the first," Renfroe agreed. And pitcher Brandon Woodruff was just off, in a midweek start he hoped to parlay into a rotation role. The sophomore righthander might well do so in time, and after the weather warms said Cohen. But Woodruff wasn't ready for this opening act, lasting one out and exiting after four-faced with a run in and two still on bases.
"We didn't feel Woodruff had his command," Cohen said. "We know he's much better than the way he performed tonight." The Devils were aggressive against Woodruff too, dropping a bunt-hit to begin the evening. A stolen base later Edmund Cheatham was joined by Edward Cox after a plunking. A double-steal worked easily as the pitch went to the backstop anyway. This allowed Seth Milliorn to push the first run across with his ground-out to shortstop.
Woodruff as four-pitch walked Trey Lacy; then hit him in the helmet on a pick move that let Cox take third. That finished the starter with lefthander Pollorena inheriting Devils on corners with one out. He struck out two to end that inning, then two more to start the second to settle things down long enough.
"I thought Pollo came in and gave us energy and really threw in the strike zone," said Cohen.
The Bulldog offense took a little longer to get going, leaving a pair on in the first. An out into the second Pirtle lined his double off the rightfield wall. 3B Daryl Norris went deep, not enough to leave the yard but sufficient to send centerfielder Cox bouncing off the wall. Pirtle tagged and not only made third but never slowed. He and catcher German Hays collided short of the plate and Pirtle had to slap it quickly for a safe call and tying run.
C Mitch Slauter belted his own drive to center and this time Cox let it through for a double and error. That put Slauter in position to score on a wild pitch, and he did indeed for the 2-1 lead. An inning later 1B Alex Detz led off with a liner off the wall of his own, to right-center and for a triple. Renfroe barely missed a home run to left-center, settling for the RBI-fly and 3-1 scoreboard.
Pollorena got a fly-out to open the fourth, his ninth-straight sitting, before a walk. That wasn't a problem, but an errant pickoff move was. A base hit had Devils on corners for Luke Brumfield to lay down a nice bunt. Pollorena dove for the roller and forced a throw that almost hit a Diamond Girl as Hays scored on the squeeze.
Having worked once, the Devils tried squeezing again and Demetrins Bonner laid down a beauty. Pollorena was ready this time and flipped in time for the tag. Still when nine-hole hitter Joseph Germaine crushed a shot that was barely foul to left, Pollo was hooked on a 2-2 count and Preston Brown finished striking Germaine out.
Lostra took over Valley pitching for the fourth, facing Pirtle first and serving up the solo shot. It didn't stop there as Norris singled over shortstop. Slauter bunted him over and SS Adam Frazier dropped a bloop double—that's how long it hung—for Norris to score. After two previous long flies to left Renfroe stroked a nice RBI single that way, plating Frazier for the 6-2 margin. It became 7-2 in the fifth as LF Jacob Robson took second on a single and throwing error. Norris got an RBI for himself with a fly ball to right.
It was an extra-base sixth for State as Bradford and Detz smacked consecutive doubles to just about the same right-center spot, the latter for a RBI. It must have given Renfroe a notion, because this time he went opposite-field…and cleared it for the two-run homer.
"He threw a curveball or slider on the outside part of the plate. He left it up a little bit and I went with it, and it went out. It kind of surprised me! But I got a good barrel to it and it went a long way."
Trevor Fitts got the ball for the top of the seventh and was touched for a couple of hits, once literally with a comebacker off the foot. He steadied and rolled a double-play off the top of Valley's order, stopping their last chance at scoring. The Bulldogs? They only kept piling it on even as the bench cleared. In the seventh Kyle Hann, Matt Britton, and Tyler Fullerton all singled to fill the bases for Nick Flair to get the first RBI with a base knock to right. Derrick Armstrong worked a walk to force in Britton, and Porter's roller to first base made it 13-2 as Fullerton crossed.
Frazier and Detz also had two-hit outings for State, as 13 Dogs in all had at least one base knock. Four different Devils shared their total offensive output. Starter Montana Killier (0-3) took the loss on three innings with three runs off four hits and three walks, with a strikeout.
Pollorena (3-0) earned the win with 3.1 innings, hit once with one run and walk and six strikeouts. Brown went 2.1 hitless frames with a strikeout, and Fitts struck out two in his two innings. John Marc Shelly worked the last inning with two fannings. State added two more double-plays to the season total, now at 21 as they led the NCAA in twin-killings coming into the week.
They also are leading the nation in total victories at this point. But the unblemished record will be tested this weekend as Southland Conference leader Central Arkansas comes to town for a three-game series. Start times are the same as will be for regular SEC series; 6:30 on Friday, 2:00 Saturday, and 1:30 Sunday, with pleasant weather finally expected at Dudy Noble Field.