Dogs Survive Scare From Alcorn State 7-6

It was scheduled as a routine midweek romp. But spotting Alcorn State five runs turned it into a genuine contest, forcing Mississippi State into an extended mid-game rally before surviving 7-6 Tuesday evening. "They played great tonight," agreed Nick Ammirati. "We just stuck to it and came back, we weren't nervous or anything."

Maybe the Diamond Dogs weren't nervous. A scoreboard showing 5-0 in the wrong direction certainly had everyone else anxious, save of course for the visiting Braves. Their bid at a monumental upset fell short fortunately as Mississippi State (20-4) scored all and enough runs in the middle innings, and the relief staff made it hold up.

Alcorn State left 4-18, and honestly frustrated they weren't able to finish what they'd started. They jumped on Bulldog starter Brandon Woodruff for four runs in the first inning, then notched another in the second off the first of five bullpen Bulldogs. "Alcorn isn't having a great year but boy, they played well tonight," Coach John Cohen said. "In those first three innings they're making every single play, they're running great times to first, bunting and hitting balls where they want to, and we're in a real test.

"But it takes a lot of pride and understanding to be five runs down and work your way back into a ball game the way our kids did."

The real work was done by relievers. LHP Luis Pollorena stabilized the situation in the first inning with three runs already in and another Brave about to come across on an error by the pitcher himself. He also took the second inning score, but held things there into the fourth for RHP Myles Gentry to really take charge.

Gentry (2-0) was the right matchup, retiring a dozen of the 15 batters faced while the Bulldog offense regained something like control. He ended up with an official 4.0 inning stint and a lone run scored on no hits, with two walks and eight strikeouts. "He did a great job tonight," catcher Ammirati said. "He got to the bottom of the zone and it was really working for him."

Three more moundsmen took care of the remaining two frames, with closer Jonathan Holder picking up his seventh save of this season and 16th career.

But for too long it seemed State would need another sort of saving performance as ASU beat up on Woodruff. "This thing didn't start the way we wanted it to," Cohen said. The second pitch was knocked over shortstop for a single, then Woodruff plunked a batter. Josh Powell dropped a pretty bunt that the pitcher couldn't barehand. With bases loaded and the bullpen busy, a full-count walk forced in the first Brave run.

A grounder to shortstop scored the second, and a worm-burner got through third base for the 3-0 lead. With two outs another walk re-loaded the bases and a ball-one to the number-nine batter was enough. Pollorena didn't get an easy welcome either with a comebacker glancing off the glove for a fourth run. It took a strikeout to end the awful inning.

The Braves kept swinging in their second even after two were down. Angel Rosa reached on a single before Alvin Jackson laced a shot that got over the leftfielder for a RBI-double and 5-0 deficit. From there Pollorena settled down with four easy outs.

And the Bulldog batters finally got something done against ASU starter Mundo Sanchez in the third inning with Ammirati setting a pace. His single, the first of three, was followed by a walk of SS Adam Frazier. An out later RF Hunter Renfroe gapped a double to score them both. Walks of 1B Alex Detz and 2B Brett Pirtle loaded the bases, before 3B Daryl Norris popped out on full-count. Fortunately Sanchez came inside too often on LF Jacob Robson though and walked him, for a 5-3 scoreboard through three.

The tying tallies came the next time around, though with controversy after Ammirati's second single. Frazier dead-pulled a shot that replay showed was a home run; but the umpires were fooled by the carom-back off the right bullpen wall into thinking it had caught the fence. Since the replay couldn't be checked, the call stood after debate. But CF C.T. Bradford made it 5-4 with his grounder to first base, and with Frazier on third the Braves intentionally walked Renfroe before changing pitchers. Lefthander Shane Brown immediately threw a high one his catcher let go off the mitt scoring Frazier for the 5-5 tie through four frames.

Ammirati's third hit, a soft single behind the third baseman, finally put the home team ahead in the bottom of the fifth as Robson came on around. What proved the winning run had to wait until the sixth though. Bradford legged-out an infield single but came up gimpy at the end, and two outs was run for by Demarcus Henderson. It was a good call because after Pirtle walked, Norris doubled to left-centerfield to score Henderson. Another walk finished Bown for righthander A. Lemond to end this inning on a called strikeout. He stranded another pair in State's seventh.

Meanwhile Gentry took over after a leadoff walk in Alcorn's fourth and left the runner alone with three-straight strikeouts. He also fanned the first two-faced in the fifth and grounded the other batter back to himself. "Myles was outstanding," Cohen said. Even he couldn't finish it out though. In the eighth a leadoff walk had the Braves bunting, and while Gentry fielded and threw to the middle bag in time Frazier just dropped the ball.

With a pair on Gentry took his bow while RHP Will Cox took over in another obvious sacrifice situation. The bunt went down and Ammirati fielded, only to throw it past Detz at first base. Christian Hickman scored and two more were in scoring positions with no outs still. A 1-1 count to the ninth batter brought in LHP Chad Girodo, and ASU changed batters mid-count as well. Sean Christian struck out looking, top of order W. Walker went down swinging, as did Justin Barney to strand a pair in scoring positions.

Holder had just a run's worth of margin to work with and did so just fine, with two fast strikeouts and a pop-out. "They all did their job, besides the first inning," said Ammirati of the relief work. "You can't ask them to do anything else there."

Little more could have been asked of Ammirati himself as he was 3-of-4 in the ninth slot, scoring twice and driving in a run. "I tried not to be too big today, and stayed short. Luckily some balls fell for me." Frazier was 3-of-4 with a pair of runs scored at the top of the order. State out-hit the visitors ten to five, and different Braves had their safeties.

Sanchez took the loss on five runs with five hits, let down more by the six walks.

"When you punch out 15 in one game you feel pretty good about your pitching staff," Cohen said. "That first inning was difficult, and we didn't secure the baseball." Three errors proved that. "Just some really silly stuff that doesn't happen to us a whole lot. But I felt that really opened the door for Alcorn."

Tuesday closed out Mississippi State's extended season-opening home stand, interrupted only by last week's in-state trip to Pearl. Now the Bulldogs are on the real road, for a weekend series at Kentucky.

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