A .209 hitter coming into the weekend, Robson had been making progress at the plate lately and earned both Saturday starts in leftfield with Alabama going right-handed each game. He'd driven in a run and scored once in the first contest, and was 2-of-4 prior to the tenth inning turn. So it was a more confident kid facing Tide reliever Ray Castillo with a pair of teammates in scoring position.
"I was just trying to put the ball in play, the infield was in," Robson said. The situation had been set by a leadoff walk to DH Trey Porter, with Britton sent out to run; and an intended sacrifice bunt from 2B Sam Frost that Alabama third baseman Kenny Roberts took too long to decide where to take. The result was an infield single. C Mitch Slauter, who'd entered in the ninth for his first action since breaking a hand April 14.
Slauter did dump a successful sacrifice advancing everyone and giving Robson his big chance. Even had State not already used about every sub- and pinch-option on the roster, this 18-year-old was going to be turned loose. "He's the type of kid who you know isn't going to lose his focus and be able to do something special," Coach John Cohen said. "He wanted to be there and took a good swing."
Robson missed a first-pitch fastball down; the second one went right back up the chute. "As soon as I made contact I knew I barreled it pretty good." The safety finished a 4-of-7 day for Robson.
It also made a winner of LHP Chad Girodo (4-1) who'd thrown all of 11 pitches to two Tide batters in the top of the tenth. Big pitches, because he had to strand a couple of runners including the go-ahead guy on third base. Girodo had entered with two outs and a lefthanded batter up only to walk Georgie Salem. Typically that would have been a quick mound-move for the righty coming up…
…except after about four steps pitching coach Butch Thompson stopped, turned around, and talked with Cohen. "I was, well, I'm just going to step on the mound and maybe they'll let me go!" Girodo said. "And Mitch threw down a sign." On 2-2 he got three-hole hitter Kyle Overstreet swinging to hold the 4-4 tie and be on-record when the winning runner crossed.
"Our feeling was we have a senior who is going to be able to throw his breaking ball in the strike zone," Cohen said. "We've got to go with command instead of a hard breaking ball. And Chad wanted the ball."
Mississippi State wanted RHP Kendall Graveman to throw the ball as long as possible in game-two, something the senior most always manages. This time he lasted 6.0 complete, giving up all four Tide scores on six hits with a walk and three strikeouts. It wasn't a typical outing for Graveman yet four runs was limiting damage enough for the bullpen to handle. Especially with Ben Bracewell coming in and looking the sharpest of his oft-interrupted career.
The longest in years, too, as Bracewell went 3.2 innings and 45 pitches right after Alabama had taken a lead. "We had to stretch him because (Jonathan) Holder threw 29 in the first game," Cohen said. "You don't want to put him back out there." Fortunately Bracewell didn't need to leave, allowing just two hits with a strikeout in his stint before a single, bunt, and grounder in the top of the tenth set the stage for Girodo.
The Bulldogs had a good chance at making things much easier on themselves earlier, as they had in scoring seven times in game-one's second inning. With two outs in the first frame RF Hunter Renfroe singled to center off Tide starter Charley Sullivan, then CF C.T. Bradford hit safely through the right side. On 1-2 count 1B Wes Rea fouled off three strikes to either side; then smoothly stroked a drive that got just over the leftfielder's glove and on into the gap for the two RBI.
Sullivan survived that, stranding a pair in scoring positions in the second inning and only giving up a solo home run to Renfroe (#15) in the third. After that Sullivan got stronger, sitting 12 of the next 13 faced with only a two-out double by Robson interrupting. Frost's sixth-inning single also came with two outs, and did no harm.
By then Alabama had a lead, too. Graveman's first seven outs saw five ground balls before a couple of singles in the third. With two down and first base open he wasn't supposed to groove anything to Salem, but did. The single to rightfield tied it up 2-2. "Those are the mistakes somebody like Kendall Graveman just doesn't make," Cohen said.
The Tide also answered Renfroe's shot by scoring in their fourth. Ben Moore singled in leadoff and made second despite a line-out. 3B Alex Detz made the catch but tried to double-off Moore and threw it away. The unforced error meant with two on a Mikey White single past the second baseman scored the tying RBI, though other runner Brett Booth rounded the middle bag too far and was caught in a rundown.
Then it was Smith, who'd hit a two-run shot in game-one, untying the tally with a drive over left-centerfield in the sixth. Graveman got another fly to finish his stint with Bracewell taking over and taking charge from there. Still State was getting nothing done offensively until the bottom of the eighth. Right after a Tide pitching change, too, with Castillo taking over from Jon Keller. He walked Rea on with Derrick Armstrong pinch-running, that a signal of how vital State saw the situation.
With one out Frost singled to center and against State went to the bench. Again. Brett Pirtle had played second base in game one with a hit and two RBI, but also while wearing a patch for nausea. So Frost started in his place while Pirtle tried to relax. "The past three days have been really dizzy. All day, every day. It was tough throughout the first game, just focusing in the ball and running I'd go up-and-down!"
Also, by pinching anyone State was giving up the only 100% healthy catcher on the club. Fortunately all worked well albeit on a 0-2 count when Pirtle missed a fastball away. "It was like oh man, this might be a long at-bat!" Castillo came back fastball, away, and this time Pirtle squared it up protecting the plate. The base hit fell behind shortstop.
Leftfielder Andrew Miller got there quickly and made a strong throw that was just a little too much to the first base side, allowing Armstrong to slide in wide and safe. The Bulldogs had the winning runner, Renfroe, on third base in the bottom of the ninth. Castillo got away with a full-count strikeout of new 3B Daryl Norris, but the tenth was a whole ‘nother matter.
Castillo (2-2) took the loss on two runs, four hits, three walks and as many strikeouts. State had a dozen hits to Alabama's eight. The Bulldogs clinched the series, their fourth of this SEC season, and have now won consecutive series from rival Alabama for the first time since 2005.
Sunday they will go for a sweep, with LHP Jacob Lindgren (4-2, 3.47) on the hill against Alabama's LHP Justin Kamplain (1-0, 4.82). Weather could be a factor though, and no sooner had the Bulldogs finished celebrating than they were pulling out the tarp. A job Robson, busy with interviews, got to skip.
"That is the best part!" he said.