"I always enjoy playing here," said Renfroe. "It's really close to where I grew up, all my family and friends are here. it's a great crowd, a great atmosphere here." That was certainly Tuesday's case as the crowd of 6,948 was the second-largest to watch this series since moving to Trustmark Park in 2009. Mississippi State improved to 18-2 on the season and is 3-2 against Southern Miss in Pearl. The Eagles are 7-9.
Six Southern Miss pitchers absorbed the 15 Bulldog hits, and allowed seven of the runs in just the first three innings as State took early control and kept it. Renfroe's big blast excepted, and it was quite an exception as it cleared left-centerfield on a string, Bulldog batters were not trying to take anything deep. "It plays a lot like our home park to be honest," said freshman 2B Kyle Hann on his first exposure to Trustmark. He didn't take long to adapt either, with a pair of base hits, a RBI and run too in that early assault. "You have to play line-drive and fly-ball baseball and not a lot of fly balls…unless you're Hunter Renfroe of course!"
Yet even Renfroe was swinging by the script, and his first two hits with the three combined runs driven in came on balls which stayed in the yard…but also stayed between the stripes. "We had a lot of line-drives, we worked the counts really well," Renfroe said. "We saw a lot of pitches and got some balls we could drive."
Four of those driven-hits came off USM starter Mason Robbins (1-2) as the lefthander absorbed the first four runs, all earned. Not that most of his pitching peers fared a lot better after Mississippi State set that initial tone by scoring four times before the Eagles ever got to swing.
"We didn't hit a ton of balls hard early, but we forced people to make plays and we scored some runs," Coach John Cohen said. "It snowballed a little bit from there."
Benefitting most from the early Bulldog barrage was starter Luis Pollorena (4-0) who picked up his third win in as many appearances against Southern Mississippi. Keeping his arsenal simple, and more importantly keeping it down in the zone, the senior southpaw kept Eagles from scoring while the seven-run margin was built. Even when he was left out a little too long and got hit, there wasn't too much risk of this one getting out of control.
"I thought Pollo did a great job of getting us going," Cohen said. "He really threw it in the strike zone with two pitches, his fastball and his changeup." Spotted a huge lead in the sixth Pollorena stayed around long enough to give up all five runs on nine of the eleven base hits, with four strikeouts. Another lefty, Ross Mitchell, took over in the sixth and went the rest of the official 4.0 frames with no runs against him on four hits, two walks, and a strikeout. That earned the long reliever his first save of the season after four wins.
The Bulldogs were the visiting team for this year's game but made themselves immediately at home by coming after Robbins. It took only the first four pitches to walk SS Adam Frazier, who was bunted-over successfully by LF Demarcus Henderson. 1B Alex Detz singled over shortstop for Dogs on corners, and Renfroe blooped a ball down the rightfield line that landed fair for the RBI-double.
"I got a little in front but that got us kick-started and that's all we needed," Renfroe said. DH Mitch Slauter liked what he saw and did the same, save his chipped shot fell inside the leftfield line for a two-bagger and two more runs. As 3B Daryl Norris drew a walk the Eagle bullpen got busy but the change came after another State score. When Hann dropped a base hit in front of the rightfielder, scoring Slauter—his first college RBI--righthander Boomer Scarborough took over. He got a ground-out but the Bulldogs had batted-around in their first turn.
The first reliever had no better luck or location though. One-out walks of Henderson and Detz were rewarded when Renfroe lined a drive that would have skipped the homefield's fence. Fortunately it caromed back in play so both runners scored on the double. Righthander Sean Bucholz kept it at 6-0 with a strikeout as Renfroe was thrown-out trying for third base.
But Bucholz too took damage as an out into the Bulldog third Hann reached on a scratch single. C Nick Ammirati grounded up the middle and off the bag itself for another base hit with Hann reaching third base. Frazier's fly ball to center sufficed for the sacrifice and 7-0 score.
Bucholz did find a groove and the Bulldogs finally failed to score in their fourth frame. That might have made a difference to Eagle bats as this time they did get on the board. With a runner on first and one out Blake Brown got around on Pollorena for a drive-double just fair in leftfield. Pollorena limited the harm with a couple of outs and a very quick fifth.
And Bucholz still had to face Renfroe again. He'd grounded the Bulldog blaster out in the fourth, but in the sixth Renfroe came up with Frazier on second after his leadoff double and Detz on first via walking. On 3-1 count Renfroe unloaded. "It was a two-seamer fastball down in the zone, that's what he'd been throwing all night. I got under it and lifted it."
All the way over left-centerfield for the 10-1 lead. It was Renfroe's fifth-straight game with multiple hits and seventh out of his late eight contests. He is tied for the SEC lead with his five home runs this season.
Lefthander Luke Lowery stranded a pair of Dogs after singles. A nine-run cushion allowed Pollorena a lot more margin than usual, but the Bulldogs tried milking the starter a little longer than was wise. He was hit for five-straight singles in the Southern Miss sixth with RBI safeties for Tim Lynch, Brown, and Robbins who was DH'ing now.
"You know they're absolutely going to come back and have a big inning somewhere, and they did," Cohen said. "But the thing I was most proud of is they have five or six consecutive hits, we didn't walk anybody in that segment."
But the Eagle order was no problem for the next State southpaw. Mitchell inherited a pair of runners and one of them scored as Bradley Roney's grounder was off Detz' glove for an error. Frazier made a nifty stab-and-step for the double-play, but one runner was still on third base. He was joined by two teammates via a hit-batsman and walk with number-two batter Chase Fowler up. Mitchell got him on three swinging strikes to hold the 10-5 line. It was the most runs State has allowed this season in an inning, and the first time to be batted-around against.
"Ross came in and really sank the baseball, he threw his one-seamer like he always does," Cohen said. "And we had a couple more outbursts offensively that helped distance us."
Righthander Taylor Nunez came in to pitch the Bulldog eighth, facing Renfroe first and walked him on full count. No damage was done as a double-play erased the runner. The MSU ninth was a whole different matter. Ammirati was walked in leadoff giving Frazier another opportunity to swing. He lined a shot past the frozen Eagle third baseman and into the corner for a double, scoring the catcher all the way from first. Henderson struck out but reached anyway on the wild pitch. Detz yanked a hopper down the first-base line that missed glove for his own RBI-double, scoring Frazier.
Nunez yielded for Daniel Wineski , whose first pitch was passed by his catcher to plate Henderson for the final margin of MSU victory.
"We hit the ball really well tonight," said Renfroe. "Pitching could have been a little bit better but you can't ask for anything better than a win. We knew this park plays huge and the wind was blowing straight-in at the time. We were trying to hit the ball in gaps here and there, hit the ball on the ground and move runners over."
The Bulldogs are back on the home field this weekend for the start of SEC season, with Louisiana State coming in. In the build-up to the series the top topic is the health of LHP Jacob Lindgren, after taking a line-shot off his left knee by the second batter of last Friday's win over Central Arkansas. No damage has been found and Lindgren tossed Tuesday morning.
"He was great," Cohen said. "He long-tossed and threw in his pen and was solid. Butch (Thompson) and I couldn't really tell a difference. For right now we're very optimistic about him pitching on Friday."