The W was trophy enough for the rest of the Diamond Dogs. After spotting the arch-rival Rebels a 1-0 lead in the second inning, Mississippi State—with Mitchell on the mound—kept the deficit there. Finally and after repeated missed opportunities State was able to score in three middle-innings and take this edition of the annual event.
A crowd of 8,240, the largest ever for a college or professional game at Trustmark Park, watched the Bulldogs improve to 27-9. Ole Miss left 23-10, and now trailing in the Governors Cup 4-3. But few in the record crowd saw that cap before or afterwards.
Mitchell had bought it back on March 12 from the neighboring Bass Pro Shops, prior to a 13-5 win as something of a motivational joke. So here a month later he naturally reported with the same headgear, just not sure he'd have to throw against a different opponent. The key long-left reliever in SEC weekends, using Mitchell so early and so long made a statement.
"Because when you look at things from an RPI perspective this game is very similar to the weekend," Coach John Cohen said. "We'll sacrifice Ross a little more to the back of the weekend to get a game like this."
Mississippi State would have preferred not using Mitchell at all. But when starter Brandon Woodruff was obviously off his game early and Ole Miss starting to sting him, Cohen knew who he wanted. "It kind of shocked me," Mitchell said. "Brandon was a little sore so I had to come in a little earlier than I expected."
Entering early and working long were essential though. Taking over with a Rebel run in and more trouble looming, he left the bases loaded in the bottom of the second. And then hung five more zeroes on the bottom line. Mitchell (6-0) got the win with just two hits, a walk, and four strikeouts. Jonathan Holder took over an out into the eighth inning and finished the victory without it becoming a save situation.
"I attacked just the same way," Mitchell said. "Try to let my defense do work. And they were making every play." Which they did in another errorless defensive evening. Jeremy Massie (0-1), the second of six Rebel pitchers, took the defeat.
Woodruff got the start after his strong showing a week ago at South Alabama and was well-rested. He just didn't look it in the second inning, having gotten through the first on seven pitches with Rebels helping him on early swings. Even then Woodruff had no velocity, topping at 81mph on the stadium radar. "We felt Woody just wasn't himself," Cohen said. "He just wasn't spinning the baseball, he wasn't getting down the mound, he was really short-arming on the back side."
Ole Miss could have taken control in their second after a leadoff single by four-hole slugger Stuart Turner singled. Bulldog 3B Alex Detz made a fine stab to save a likely double and RBI, getting the batter while the already-running Turner made second. But Sikes Orvis singled through the right side for runners on corners, and on 2-2 count Holt Perdzock dropped a single behind second for the RBI.
That was Mitchell's cue. He got a fly-out, walked the nine-hole batter, and ended this threat on a grounder to shortstop. He got through the third and fourth with no damage on a single to simply settle everything down for the Dogs.
Their frustrations were on the offensive side, as so many opportunities went wanting. Walks in each of the first four innings, three in leadoff, only meant runners stranded. State didn't get a base hit until the top of the fourth, again in leadoff, as LF Derrick Armstrong singled off UM starter Josh Laxer.
C Nick Ammirati bumped him into scoring position and with two outs a wild Laxar pitch had him on third base. Detz fouled off a strike three, then lined a single into center for the tied scoreboard. A wild pitch had Detz on second base and 3-1 count, so throwing another ball to RF Hunter Renfroe was the smart call. Lefthander Massie took over to strike Pirtle out swinging and keep it 1-1.
Ole Miss should have broken it immediately, as Mitchell plunked nine-hole batter Will Jamison on the first pitch. With one out a run-and-hit worked perfectly as Auston Bousfield singled to right for runners on corners. Mitchell wasn't rattled against the meat of the order, as he struck out Austin Anderson; then got Turner to hit a look-what-I-found scorcher to 2B Brett Pirtle for the middle force.
"I thought the biggest play of the game defensively was Brett Pirtle, a ball hit to the middle of the field, just a rocket," Cohen said. "He gloves that thing and we get an out. That really was going to change the dynamic right there but we held on."
And, carried the emotional momentum into the top of the sixth for the real turning point. Once again the first Dog up reached on a walk, this time 1B Wes Rea. CF C.T. Bradford didn't get a chance to bunt because the first pitch nailed him in the back. State pinch-hit Mitch Slauter in the place of Trey Porter for his bunting ability and he dumped a beauty to advance both teammates.
OM's Brady Bramlett took over and almost escaped as he struck-out pinch hitter Sam Frost in a right-on-left matchup. But he walked Ammirati to load everything up and give the top of State's order another RBI chance. Frazier barely missed a bases-clearing double as his drive to left fell just foul. He fouled off two more strikes, obviously trying to stay opposite field, then succeeded with a bleeder falling behind third base. Rea and Bradford came around for the 3-1 lead.
"It felt good to have one fall finally," Frazier said. "His pitches were away and it's a little tough to see here."
Given margin to work with Mitchell went in-order in the sixth and seventh, with the baffled Rebels already running pinch-batters out there. State was able to expand the lead in their seventh with two more runs. Renfroe lined a shot off the leftfield wall for a leadoff double, and scored on Pirtle's single to centerfield. That finished Bramlett for righthander Chris Ellis, who promptly threw his pickoff into the Bulldog dugout for a free base. Rea bunted Pirtle to third and on full count Bradford hit a weak fly ball…that found ground between three charging defenders for the RBI.
Mitchell got an out into the eighth before plunking Anderson on his 82nd pitch. "I knew I was just going two batters that last inning, I was trying to get Anderson again because I'd had success earlier. But I floated one up there." With cleanup-batter Turner again up Holder took over two strike out the meat of Ole Miss' order and strand that runner. He did give up a ninth-inning single, and Renfroe came up with a sore left wrist on a diving catch, but the game ended on a strikeout.
Both teams had six base hits, with Turner the only batter getting multiple safeties. But where State only walked one batter, Rebel pitching gave away ten free bases and one plunking. All it took was a couple of key contacts, Frazier said. "We just tried to stay with our same approach and fight off the at-bats and not give in."
Now with a save and win in Pearl, Mitchell can claim some ownership of the park that had belonged to teammate Luis Pollorena. "I was able to get a lot of ground balls and a couple of fly balls that didn't get too far. My defense was able to track down all the balls so it was a good team effort."
But only one Bulldog could walk out with a MOP trophy…and wearing the winning cap. Though, Frazier said, "If we'd have lost this one we'd have probably made him get another one!"