So expecting the Gamecocks to play for forces, Mississippi State called on Henderson to use his bat control and his footwork to squeeze 3B Alex Detz across. The fine theory didn't work though; South Carolina came with a low-zone pitch that Henderson missed entirely. Detz was run-down between bases for a second out.
And Henderson blamed himself.
"I was kind of mad," he said. "It was a tough play but we practice it every day and that's something you have to get done. I tried my hardest to foul it off. But the one thing you can't do is get mad and try to do too much. So I tried to stay within myself."
All worked out well anyway as after not chasing a ball Henderson stroked a strike into leftfield plating Rea for the final margin of MSU victory. In retrospect, he figured South Carolina had a notion something was in the bases-loaded works. First, Henderson isn't a fly-ball sort of swinger. Second, he'd tipped a hand last week against these same Gamecocks.
"In the last series I bunted a lot on them so I'm pretty sure they thought maybe something was coming." Indeed Henderson's surprise bunt-single was maybe the key to State's eighth-inning comeback win in the series opener.
The RBI-single he did produce had an impressive aspect as well, as closer Tyler Webb tried jamming the righthanded hitter, as the book said do. "They'd been throwing me in a lot all night. So I backed off the plate and decided to pull a ball for once."
TRICKERATION: Henderson was directly involved with the game's most unusual defensive play, and a double-play that stands out even on a Bulldog team that sets standards for twin-killings.
Down 2-0 at the time South Carolina got a one-out single off LHP Luis Pollorena by the nine-hole hitter, something usually signals trouble in SEC games. Order-topper Graham Saiko went full-count, then protected the plate by hacking at Pollorena's low fastball. It lifted, then drifted into foul ground outside rightfield. The runner of course was going on the full-count pitch.
Henderson was starting in rightfield this game, the sixth time of the season, because usual centerfielder C.T. Bradford was sidelined by a bruised hip and Hunter Renfroe had moved over. To, of course, the position he played much of 2012. Henderson got a great jump on the airball and got almost to the rolled-up tarp for a catch.
Meanwhile runner Tanner English was practically standing on second base by then, having lost track of the ball…with some encouragement from SS Adam Frazier. "I didn't deke (decoy) him, Frazier and them deked him to think it was a double-play ball," Henderson said. Them including 1B Rea.
"We work on that stuff in practice," Rea said. "A pop fly, hit and run and a guy doesn't pick up the ball, he's looking like it's a ground ball and is going to keep running. That's a credit to Adam and what a smart player he is."
Henderson said he briefly considered running on in to first base for the force himself. "I knew the guy was fast but then I saw Pollo come over so said I might as well give it up."
State turned one other double-up Wednesday, as RHP Myles Gentry coaxed a comebacker and took his time for Frazier to get over to second to start rolling them up. This gives the Bulldogs 63 double-plays on the season, in 56 games. Last year's defense led the NCAA and set a school record with 71 twin-killings, in 64 games.
There's an art to many Dog defensive plays, Coach John Cohen said. First is knowing the rules. "You can't fake a tag. But you can certainly fake like you're catching a baseball at any point in time. That's what (Adam) did." But beyond that, Cohen said practice is well and good.
"But if you don't have a guy in the middle who has great instincts those things aren't going to happen. That's Adam Frazier. You just can't measure what that guy does on the field day-in and day-out. That's one of the intangibles people don't always pick up on."
READY FOR PRIME TIME: A giddy Bulldog fan, Jordan Everett, stopped the sportswriter dashing to fieldside and asked his own question. "When did Myles Gentry turn into Jonathan Holder?" A fine thought it was, too.
Gentry, who was rather giddy himself, was flattered by the passed-on idea. "I don't know about that! I've got a long way to go to get there."
The larger point is how far Gentry has come this true-freshman season. Or rather, half-season. Because earlier in the campaign the kid was a sensation working right-hand relief matchups and getting outs consistently. At least he was until LSU tagged him for three hits and two runs. And while Gentry bounced back for 4.0 innings and eight strikeouts against Alcorn State, he wasn't the same.
"He struggled against lefthanded hitters," Cohen said, adding that leftys are often able to tee-off on righthanders who work out of a low arm-slot. Like Gentry. The fix was to make some tweaks to that delivery that might beat south-siders; it just took time. From March 23 through the end of the regular schedule Gentry went over an inning s just once, 2.2 against Austin Peay.
And he threw only three short stints in all of April which include a three-week stretch of no work at all. Yet, "I wasn't getting frustrated. I knew my time would come, I just had to take advantage of the opportunity."
It came on the SEC's main stage and against a top opponent. Gentry was magnificent not just in the opportunity but with the pressure of preserving a bare-shelf bullpen at the time, going 5.2 innings of three-hit and scoreless relief. He threw 93 pitches, a lot considering how little he'd worked of late, right?
"Well, in high school I was a starter! And in this arm slot I throw it doesn't bother me much." He was able to match his strikeout high of eight too, and against a SEC order not a SWAC set.
"It's awesome," said Gentry of performing on the big stage. ‘Big' being the operative word for the venue, too, which gave him a little more leeway on contact pitches. ""With a big field like this just throw strikes and trust the defense and know they will be behind me." Plus, if Gentry hadn't pitched in the South Carolina series he'd had three games for direct scouting the Gamecock order. "It helped a lot, we had a good plan just going at them and make them hit our pitch."
The stadium radar read a couple of Gentry's big swooping strikes at 66 and 68 mph which certainly baffled the batters. "And wham! He threw a 92," Cohen said. "And adding and subtracting off his fastball and creating some movement was big."
WORK WEEK: The Bulldogs earned attention for posting a perfect record this season for their scheduled midweek games, going 12-0. Yet there is more to this week-night prowess than just beating non-conference clubs.
Counting advanced series or SEC Tournament games, Mississippi State is now 15-0 in games played on Tuesday, Wednesday, and (going into the third round at Hoover) Thursday. That requires a bit of explaining of course, since the Thursday game with Auburn didn't finish until Friday and after game-two was played and lost. Still the series-opener was successfully concluded.
Dawgs' Bite will enquire about the possibility of playing the Regional on midweek days, though with little hope.
FEELING BLUE: Had the Bulldogs dropped the game, post-game post mortems would have obsessed—justifiably—about a fourth-inning blown call that left State within striking distance.
With bases loaded and two outs 2B Brett Pirtle fought off a 1-2 strike with a looper to leftfield that seemed sure to fall. It did, replay proved. But leftfielder Graham Saiko made a great diving effort and got the glove right up to ball as it landed on grass. As Dogs ran, umpire Gregory Scott signaled a catch.
Scott certainly sold his trap well, but most were incredulous about the miss affirmed by TV, which robbed a couple of priceless expansion runs. Waiting his turn to swing by the third base dugout Henderson saw it wasn't a catch. Cohen, ironically, wasn't so sure.
"That was a tough play. I tell you what, I really felt the ball was caught from the dugout, it's just hard to see." The coach was talking after a win to be sure which muted any ire; State folk weren't so philosophical after South Carolina scored tied the game up 3-3 in the bottom of that same inning, on the heels of being jobbed.
"But things happen in ball games and you have to deal with things," Cohen said. "Our kids are resilient and you have to keep on fighting and competing. That's what our kids did."
COLOR ME MAROON: It will be a couple of well-matched clubs, color-scheme wise, when the Bulldogs and Aggies meet tonight. This is their first SEC Tournament matchup of course, just as when State welcomed Missouri to the conference club with a first-round dismissal in 17 historic innings.
Texas A&M had a far better Hoover debut by beating both Florida and Vanderbilt. Their inaugural SEC season saw lots of ups and downs, the latter including a sweeping by Mississippi State at College Station. Not, Cohen said, that much stock can be put in something that far in the rear-view.
And especially now that the Aggies have confounded conventional Hoover wisdom with four home runs hit in their first two games, the only longballs in the opening two days in fact. "A&M is playing great. I think we caught them earlier in the year when they were not playing as well. They run and they've got some power in the middle. The third baseman boy, you hit balls out of here and you're a man."