"They're kind of scrappy, we put up how many zeroes to start with but they don't go away," said RHP Ben Bracewell. "So credit them. They didn't fold over."
The Bulldogs didn't fold either, but they did fumble a few too many fielding opportunities. After going errorless on opening weekend State was charged with three of them, as well as a dropped strike three that allowed the fatal ninth inning to develop at all. On top of it all, 18 Bulldogs in all reached base somehow. A dozen went un-scored with four more outs. Memphis only stranded four in complete contrast.
Cohen was unhappy with the offense to be sure. It was the defense that stung worse though. "Our identity is pitching and defense. I thought we pitched it very well. We did not defend in the field well." Three Tiger runs were unearned and another might as well have been.
Mississippi State need never have even had to fret the final innings anyway. They had a bases-loaded first inning with one out and plated nobody. Neither did Dogs on-corners in the fourth produce runs. And even the sixth wasn't maximized as runners were left in scoring positions which would have practically clinched things.
Cohen's frustration really showed on that. "We're taking softball swings early when it matters the most, runners in scoring position, instead of putting the barrel where we want it to be. It's a real lack of maturity."
Memphis starter Caleb Wallingford flirted with all that early trouble, escaping three hits and two walks in his 4.0 innings. He was on-record for a win even as the Tigers scored once in their fifth. Starter Bracewell had bounced back from a slow weekend relief stint for a one-hit first four innings with five strikeouts. "I felt good, like I had good command really of all three pitches tonight and my arm was feeling good."
Then Kane Barrow led off the fifth with a high fly CF C.T. Bradford had to run a very long way before the drive glanced off his reach, for a double. A bunt pushed the runner to third base as the Bulldog bullpen got busy. Bracewell got a close called strikeout and was ahead of Ethan Gross. But his liner had 2B Brett Pirtle sitting back, and the tough hop got through the glove for the night's first score on an error.
UM reliever Craig Caufield left one Dog on in the fifth. In the sixth his one-out walk of RF Demarcus Henderson finally got something started for State as he stole second for a third time on the night. A walk of pinch-batter Jacob Robson brought Memphis righthander Nolan Blackwood to the hill, only to load the bases by walking new C Zack Randolph.
State pinched again with Cody Brown replacing Armstrong. It was a good call as on 2-1 count he roped a single right of center to plate Henderson and Robson for the lead at last. The runners were moving and that made Memphis' third baseman charge even as 3B Alex Detz slapped a grounder his way. It went off Zack Shcrithenthal's glove, ruled an infield single, and scored Randolph. 1B Wes Rea rode the momentum with a first-pitch liner to left-center for a double and 4-1 lead. In mid-count to Pirtle lefthander Blake Meyers inherited two Dogs in scoring spots with one out still. He got called strikeouts to keep it a three-run margin, which loomed a lot larger later.
In fact the lead barely survived the seventh. Reliever LHP Ross Mitchell was hit for consecutive singles and with one out walked the paths full. A Gross grounder to shortstop should have ended it right there, except new SS Matthew Britton's flip missed Pirtle. Two Tigers scored and the others got into scoring positions with still one out on the error. They could have tied it up then except a squeeze of Jake Little failed and LHP Jacob Lindgren came in mid-count for a strikeout. He also fanned all three faced in the eighth.
Not only did the Tigers have to face Holder in their ninth. They were without Coach and former MSU aide Daron Schoenrock, run after a 2-2 pitch to Rea that umpire Terrence Mobley flinched but didn't call a strike. He missed the comeback as with one out Kane Barrow reached on a strikeout/wild pitch. From that small start disaster developed.
Barrow was on second when Bryce Beeler singled to left for the tying RBI, and took second as well…not an error officially but very much one in Cohen's counting. Britton saved a run with a diving stop of Jake Little's infield single for Tigers on corners, but an infield bouncer Britton charged and fumbled put Memphis in front with two on and still one out. A double-steal had both in scoring positions. Schrithenthal's bouncer was fielded by Rea and dropped, with only one out at first as the sixth run came across.
If any further frustration was required, it came with putting tying Dogs on bases with no outs in the last chance. RF Jake Vickerson flew out and Memphis had the best mistake of the night; a pitch that missed so far to the outside Henderson couldn't contact it on a run-and-hit. Bradford was out at second on the fluke play meaning only Pirtle was left, on third. Henderson struck out to end it.
The loss was the first in 82 games for State when leading after eight innings, and just the second defeat decision of Holder's career as he was charged with the three runs on two hits and a strikeout that hurt like a hit. Bracewell had gone 6.0 with a run on three hits and a career-best seven strikeouts. "I thought Benny was great tonight," said Cohen. "I thought Lindgren had electric stuff."
Indeed Lindgren had struck out all four he faced, but Cohen never hesitated in replacing him for the ninth to save another game. This one just didn't work out as intended, which was a fair summary of the whole evening for State. For Memphis, Jacob Moody (1-0) got the decision with designated hitter Bryce Beeler getting his third save of the young season. Both teams had seven base hits, but the Tigers weren't charged with any errors and made the kind of line drive/ground ball contacts which are supposed to be the Bulldog offensive formula.
Cohen again used the softball-swing insult in frustration at hitting fly balls, or even just pop-ups, with runners ready to score. That and the defensive lapses led to a long locker room conference before the coach came out to talk. "We've got to get our identity back because tonight it was a complete lack of identity," Cohen said.
"We've got a long way to go. I still believe this club is going to be a very, very nice club. They're just in search of their identity right now and it's our job as a coaching staff to help them find that."
The Bulldogs have a heavy Thursday practice planned in advance of their four-game weekend set with Holy Cross.