Holder Seals 6-3 Dog Deal To Square Series

Talk about picking-up where left-off… "I was going to start in the dugout and go out," Jonathan Holder said. "Coach Cohen said no, you've got to start in the bullpen and run in. Because that's all I ever do!"

Which is true in the course of normal relief appearances for Holder. This was by no means normal. Mississippi State and Auburn were resuming their Thursday game suspended in the bottom of the seventh by thunderstorms. Holder had ended the top of the seventh with consecutive strikeouts to preserve a 6-3 lead.

More than 25 hours later, and after watching a full Friday game won 3-1 by the Tigers, he had the ball and the save in-hand. Holder held it too, retiring all six Tigers faced in two final frames to seal the victory and even the unusual series at a game each. In the process Holder earned his 12th save of this season which ties the sophomore for second on that record list. He also stands third on the career saves chart now with 21.

A three-run margin with six outs to get would seem simple enough for a proven closer. Still resuming play presented challenges to Holder, a pitcher who very much prefers his own routine. Even after it was clear his services wouldn't be needed in the game-two, Holder still couldn't get loose the routine way.

"I hadn't really stretched it out since before the first game," he said of the between-games tossing for pitching coach Butch Thompson. "So I wanted to get out there and get really stretched-out. It was a little chilly so I wanted to warm it up."

Nobody could tell the Tigers he was out of cycle. Holder fanned DH Patrick Savage, the offensive hero of Auburn's earlier win, to start the eighth and got another strikeout to end it. In the ninth he blew away the bottom and top of the order alike with strikeouts and whiffed Jordan Ebert to finish it off.

In fact, Holder said he felt much more pressure Thursday evening. He'd entered to support long reliever Ross Mitchell with two on and one out in the Tiger seventh and shot down the four-five batters. In a hurry, too, because he'd seen the first flash of lightning from the approaching storm and did not want to come back Friday with runners on bases.

"I wanted to get it through because I felt pretty good. I saw it crack across the sky and I was hoping (the umpire) didn't see it!" Holder went 2.2 total innings with seven strikeouts and no hits or walks.

Mitchell (7-0) got the victory in relief of starter Luis Pollorena. Mitchell put in 3.0 scoreless middle innings with four hits, a walk and a strikeout. Pollorena went the first 3.1 with all three Tiger runs scored on five hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Auburn starter Conner Kendrick (2-2) took the loss on the first 5.1 innings with all six State runs on five hits, two walks and four strikeouts.

With the game completed and statistics official, State did the damage with just seven hits compared to nine for the Tigers. The key was four Auburn errors, meaning only two of the Bulldog scores were earned off Kendrick. One of those though was a monster home run by 1B Wes Rea, his fourth of the season and cross-grain to a gusting south wind. Rea's shot tied the game up 1-1 in the second. In the third he re-tied the game 3-3 with a sacrifice fly scoring SS Adam Frazier for a second RBI.

CF C.T. Bradford and C Nick Ammirati had two-hit games for State, while Cullen Wacker was 3-of-3 for Auburn. Righthander Dillon Ortman threw the 1.2 Friday innings for the Tigers with a couple of hits. A recap of the first 6.5 innings before the storm was filed Thursday evening.

The full Friday game was much more frustrating for the home team, which was shut out the first eight innings (see story filed earlier). The Tigers got lone runs in the first, third, and fifth innings off Bulldog ace Kendall Graveman, and all ten of their hits. But the linescore looked worse than the live game to Coach John Cohen.

"I'm really proud of Kendall. I don't think he had his best stuff tonight, I don't think he felt as good as the previous three or four times but he gutted through it and kept competing."

By contrast Auburn put their version of a Graveman on the hill, albeit Michael O'Neal is a lefthander. And, a softer thrower to boot. But the result was something State has been used to doing to opponents as O'Neal got ground ball outs and worked around the occasional troubles to hang 0s along the bottom scoreboard line.

"He was a low three-quarter lefty," said Bradford, who had two of State's hits and scored the lone run. "He mixed fastballs up just kind of back-and-forth and did a good job. But I still felt we barreled balls up and competed." The trouble was Bulldogs had too little to show for their contacts, something of a trend against low-velocity, high-movement pitching this season.

Though, Cohen said, in the last three innings when O'Neal finally yielded to reliever Terrance Dedrick, he saw better things. "We were hitting balls hard and making things happen." The key was not getting any runs in the sixth and seventh when seven Dogs reached and none made home. Rea's bases-loaded contact went right to the second baseman for a double-play in the sixth. And Ammirati was outed after turning for home with two down in the sixth and an infield single to second base.

Cohen also said the game's development, such as who was batting when others were on, limited running opportunities. "I thought we were going to get to him (the reliever) and have a knockout punch, we just had some things work against us. I still feel good about the way we finished the game up even though we came up short."

It was easier to say that after sealing the suspended victory. "We knew we'd have to finish this one up after, obviously," Bradford said. "But we still had that first game on our minds. We tried to get through it, it didn't happen. I felt we hit some balls hard, that's just the way it is."

Now the West rivals play a Saturday rubber game and for Mississippi State (31-10, 9-8 SEC) the stakes are extremely high. The Bulldogs are third in the Division, a half-game back of Arkansas but also just a half-game up on Ole Miss. One of these three teams will come out of the weekend in the unofficial but understood leg-up position for eventually hosting a NCAA Regional. A lost series would be devastating to Bulldog ambitions.

LHP Jacob Lindgren (3-1, 3.08) has the starting responsibility. The sophomore has taken some lumps with an elbow issue three weeks ago, then a rolled ankle upon his return. "Hopefully it's better than last week," Cohen said. "But I was really impressed last week with how the ball came out of his hand." Good enough for State to seal a sweep at Texas A&M with support from Mitchell and Holder. Auburn doesn't seem a likely matchup for lefty Lindgren as they start seven righthanders.

"But as good as his breaking ball is and his fastball can be we feel it's a solid matchup. And we still have a bunch of our bullpen." Auburn will go with their third lefthanded starter, Will Kendall (0-4, 6.74) but also has an adequate supply of relievers ready for rubber-day duty.

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