"We've got tons of speed on the team and guys on the bench that can run," said LF Jacob Robson who accounted for three of the thefts batting in the seventh slot. Lead batter Vickerson stole twice himself, while CF C.T. Bradford had a pair of steals also and DH Alex Detz another. Four out of the nine Crusaders who pitched in their season debut were run on successfully.
All the robbery did not lead directly to runs, as only Robson scored after stealing into a position. Still the omnipresent pressure was weighing on Holy Cross' pitchers and contributed at least a little to the ten Bulldog base hits.
"This year might be that kind of style," Vickerson said. "Run and gun a little bit." Or a lot.
Speed was one advantage for the home team. Starting pitching certainly was another. Where the Crusaders expected to use a lot of arms on opening day, Mississippi State wanted to see a strong stint from RHP Brandon Woodruff. Last Friday the junior struggled with location, not velocity or movement, and lasted only an inning-plus. His second start of the season went better. Much better.
"It's exciting to see Woody have great stuff, his arm really turn around and he really showed three pitches," Coach John Cohen said. "A very good fastball, a very good slider tonight, and a changeup. Especially with the one lefthander they had he showed a changeup."
Woodruff (1-1) evened the record with 5.2 innings with two runs on three hits. He walked three and struck out three, though those fannings came late in his stint as Woodruff worked on staying in the zone. It allowed contact at times but usually the defense had his back. In fact the only error charged to State was on the pitcher as he didn't catch a relay toss while covering first base. Otherwise Woodruff was a good matchup for a Holy Cross order with one lefthander, and ironically catcher Conner Perry accounted for his team's only RBI.
Myles Gentry worked the last 3.1 turns to score a save, first of his short college career. He gave up a hit and two walks while striking out five of the 13 batters faced.
After wasting a big first-inning opportunity in their Wednesday action, the Bulldogs got down to business immediately this time. Vickerson swung early for a deep drive which fell inside the rightfield line, his first collegiate double. DH Detz scored him with a single, then notched the first theft of the evening. With two outs and Detz on third base Bradford lined his first chance past the second baseman for a 2-0 lead.
The running got serious in the second as Robson walked and stole both second and third on the first of eight relievers. Cohen saw in scouting incentive to try steals this game. "A bunch of righthanders, and they have a lot of young guys on their staff. Any time you see a young guy on the mound they're much more susceptible."
Holy Cross did manage to strand three Dogs in the second inning and two more in the third as again State didn't maximize offensive opportunity. In the fourth things tightened as with the top of the order up shortstop Nick Lovullo singled. A one-out walk led to Perry's RBI with a single up the box scoring Evan Ocello. Bigger trouble loomed with loaded bases before Woodruff got a nubber rolled to 1B Wes Rea to leave then unscored. He came back in the fifth with fresh zip for all three of his strikeouts, in order.
The Bulldogs beat George Capan for a fifth-inning run as with two outs Bradford tailed a drive just enough away from the centerfielder to miss his glove. In his first start as an infielder, 3B Reid Humphreys was also a hitter with a first-pitch punch down the left-line for the RBI single.
Holy Cross wasn't done just yet. Two outs into their sixth Brandon Cipolla doubled to the leftfield corner and took third on a passed ball. With 3-1 count Perry grounded to the right side; Rea fielded and flipped with the ball going off Woodruff's glove for a fielding error and 3-2 score.
State figured 97 pitches was enough for Woodruff and brought Gentry to get a swinging strikeout of Shane Sandoval to hold the one run lead. It was bigger by two when he returned.
Now Brendan King was on the mound and he did get the #9 batter out. The top of the order was another matter as Vickerson singled through the pitcher's wicket. Detz worked a walk, and while Rea only got the farthest end of his bat on an outside pitch it was enough to bounce through the right side for a single.
Vickerson beat a throw to home and Detz made third behind it. 2B Brett Pirtle followed with a base hit of his own through the same gap for another RBI and 5-2 lead. And, the next change as righty Ryan Filipowicz ended the inning with a pop-out that became a double-play as the Dogs were running.
Jon Escobar had the ball for State's seventh, and got in his own trouble with one-out walks of both Robson and Hann. C Gavin Collins made unintended contact on a check swing that worked as wells as a bunt to put the pair in scoring spots. Vickerson bounced up the middle and while second-sacker Andrew Barry made the stop he had nowhere to go with the ball for an out. Robson came across for the 6-2 margin.
Gentry made it stand up, sitting ten of the 13 he faced. He had help, not least from Robson with one routine and one outstanding running rob-job in leftfield in the seventh. A leadoff single in the ninth did no harm as Gentry got a called and swinging strikeout of the 8 and 9 batters to finish things off.
"Myles come in and does a great job, fills up the strike zone and creates some movement," Cohen said. "If he could have one pitch back it's 0-2 hit up the middle of the field, but other than he was outstanding. He created some sink and some tilt with his fastball and we're going to need him to do that."
The always-open bullpen gate was an interesting approach for Crusader pitching with none of the nine working more than 1.1 innings. But, ""It wasn't huge, playing the spring scrimmages we're used to having a new guy in there every few innings," said Robson who was 1-of-1 officially with three other walkings and a run scored. And of course his trio of steals.
Vickerson was 3-of-4 for a RBI and two runs and his only out was on a popped-up bunt try. His side-starting double in the first did help set a better tone to be sure, and "I was glad to be able to do that tonight," Vickerson said. "It really all started with Dino (Woodruff) going out first and throwing well for us. He's been itching to get back out there and a great competitor, so I knew he'd do well tonight."
HC starter Nate Walker (0-1) took the loss on 1.0 innings with two runs on the three hits. Cohen liked getting double-digit hits on offense but was happier still with seven walks against four strikeouts. "I thought we did a better job. We had four punchouts but we did a better job tonight, I thought we controlled the strike zone a little bit better." Cohen also called the work behind the dish by Collins "brilliant."
Saturday is a double-header day at DNF with a 11:00am opener and scheduled 2:30 or so second contest. State is leaning towards giving RHP Trevor Fitts the first game, as he threw last Saturday in a win. But, "We might switch him to the second game," Cohen said. "It's going to depend a little on our catching situation, who is going to catch our first game."