Per practice and with unobstructed view Henderson kept going for third. The throw from Bobby Indeglia got there about the same time and Crusader hitting star Anthony Critelli got the tag down. For good measure Critelli went back into foul ground for a reaching grab of Jacob Robson's lined fly to finish out the victory.
Holy Cross (1-2) bounced back from the 8-4 loss in Saturday's opener. Rea had owned the first game with a pair of two-run homers, and in the rematch he again set the offensive pace. His single in the first inning scored State's initial run, and a three-run blast in the fourth had the home team ahead 6-5. But the 3-of-4 day with another four RBI and two runs went for naught in the win column.
"That's hard to deal with," said Rea.
This loss was as harder or harder for Coach John Cohen to accept. Though, giving away the lead late and not coming through in the last chance weren't foremost on his mind. "The ball game was lost in the first inning," he said after Holy Cross scored three times in their first turn. To be sure Mississippi State came right back with two runs, tied things up in the second, and had the lead into the eighth.
Yet Cohen was correct, because such a stumbling start was unnecessary. "Walk, walk with a freshman," the coach said. "Hit by a pitch, an error, a blown double-play, and we don't keep the ball infield. We were playing catch-up from the very beginning."
Freshman RHP Austin Sexton was pinned for the three runs, on just one hit and that safety ought have been knocked down at the worst to limit damage. It was by Critelli, of course, and went for two RBI. This was after all the preceding stuff Cohen counted off, with the error on the first at-bat and that by new 3B Reid Humphreys. It was Sexton's walks though that led to true trouble as designated hitter Jack St. Clair's grounder to second-side was not rolled into a double-play that would have ended the inning.
Instead one Crusader scored and Critelli had his first chance to shine. He would come up three more times and collect hits in all of them.
HC starter Collin Manning was actually hit harder in his first, or two-thirds of one. LF Jake Vickerson led off with a walk and was balked a base. He took third on a fly-out, then scored when Rea lined a single to centerfield. With two outs and a full count Henderson went the other way with a grounder that got through the right side for a single and RBI, as Rea came home.
A walk of Humphreys stuffed the sacks and brought in righthander Ben White. He was facing first-time college batter C Cody Walker and coaxed a 3-1 fly out to strand the trio. But White put the tying Bulldog on base with a leadoff walk of SS Matthew Britton in the second. A second balk bit too, even though first baseman Bill Schlich did rob Vickerson of a double with his diving-to-bag stop and tag. It was still just one out with Britton scoring from third on a grounder by CF C.T. Bradford, batting second this game. White had to strand a pair after singles by Rea and 2B Brett Pirtle just to hold it even 3-3.
Sexton was lifted after a leadoff walk of the #9 batter in the second with RHP Preston Brown getting three outs. The third inning was another matter.. A grounder off freshman Humphrey's glove was good for a leadoff double, and with one out Indeglia singled to the right side. It might have scored Cipolla anyway, but Henderson made it easier by letting the roller go through him for a two-base error. Critelli got his third RBI of the game with a bounced double down the well-beaten third-base line for a 5-3 lead.
Brown hung a couple of zeroes on the top line, aided by a fifth-inning double play. He also was put in winning position by Rea. A leadoff walk of Britton and Vickerson single had two on, and Bradford bunted both into scoring positions. The Crusaders may have considered putting Rea on anyway but let White pitch. His 2-1 offering was driven on a line deep into the Left Field Lounge for the 6-5 lead. But, critically, the rest of the order didn't follow up as White stranded a pair of Dogs in the fifth after an error and plunking.
LHP Evan Mitchell took over in the top of the sixth with Critelli on again. Second-sacker Pirtle made a great reaction to an odd short-hop to start the double-play, and Mitchell left two on bases in the seventh. But Crusader reliever Justin Finan sat six of seven Dogs and stranded Henderson on third base in the seventh to stay within a run.
The Crusaders put that tying runner on in their eighth with a one-out single by, of course, Critelli. Mitchell got a rare balk call to put him in scoring position, and with 2-2 count RHP John Marc Shelly came into toss two more balls. Soon as Holy Cross put a pinch-batter up, lefthander Connor Perry, the call went to ace closer Jonathan Holder. He got a called strikeout, but Lovullo evened the score with a single to center scoring pinch-runner Escobar. Andrew Barry put his team ahead 7-6 with a base hit to right.
Now pitching, Escobar had one out when Vickerson's drive to center was off Cipolla's glove and Vickerson got into second safely ahead of the throw. That was as far as things went because this time Rea was intentionally passed with two outs and Pirtle grounded to second. Holder retired the side in the ninth.
Escobar got his first save with Finan (1-0) the win on 3.0 scoreless innings with two hits and two strikeouts. Shelly took the loss on just those two pitches, charged with the winning runner. Holder lost a second save of the young season, and Cohen said the veteran is dealing with an unspecified finger problem. At the same time there was nobody else Rea wanted on the hill.
"You never look down on Jonathan Holder," he said. Brown had the longest stint, 4.0 innings with two runs on five hits and two strikeouts. Cohen said though the righthander had less than 50% first pitch strikes, which was something of a troubling trend against the right-side loaded Crusader order with the breeze going out to left.
"We just pitched away from contact in this ball which is now who we are as a pitching staff," said Cohen. Both teams had ten base hits and all six of State's runs were earned. Three of Holy Cross' scores weren't due to the two official errors and other missed plays that don't show on a stat sheet. Some of this was to be expected in a squad still testing individuals and combinations of defenders only 9 days into a schedule.
At the same time the necessary early-seasons shuffles can cause issues, and is. "We're just not in synch with what is going on, nobody is really in synch," Cohen said. "We're not in rhythm at the plate, we're not in rhythm defensively. And we're playing ball clubs that can beat us and that's exactly what happened."
Now 4-3 for the first time since 2010, the Bulldogs are aware how dangerous it is giving away these games so early. Co-captain Rea downplayed concerns regarding end-of-schedule tournament hosting and such. "But we definitely want to bounce back and that's something great teams do. I don't know if we're a great team yet so we're waiting to see how guys are going to bounce back and it's going to be real important."
The series concludes with a noon Sunday game. RHP Dakota Hudson (0-0) will make the second Sunday start of his freshman season, while Holy Cross will again throw a righthander at State.