Saturday's win was very different than the game-one rout by a 17-2 margin. This time Vanderbilt got on the Dudy Noble Field board first, played much better defense than in the opener, and out-hit the home team. It still wasn't enough, not even against a guy they'd dominated in 2013.
This time Smyrna, Tenn., native Mitchell was ready. Resilient, too, shrugging off his own first-inning issues and tossing 7.1 innings for a second SEC victory. "It all comes from confidence, you know your offense will pull through," Mitchell said. "We kept the energy and kept making plays." And, as the pitcher said, made enough happen with the bats and basepaths.
"You have to score to win, so two runs is nothing we can't do," SS Seth Heck said. "Ross kept shutting guys down and giving us a chance, and were able to get the big hit and keep adding them on later."
The big hit was off Heck's bat, a two-run double in the third inning staking Mississippi State to a 3-2 lead. The junior shortstop has had a superb series already, 3-of-4 officially against the Commodore staff with four runs and six RBI. And Heck has reached base nine times out of eleven appearances through the two games.
Junior lefthander Jared Miller (5-1) took his first loss in six stints this season, charged with four runs on as many hits with two strikeouts. It wasn't just Bulldog bats that did the damage; Miller walked five and hit three more, twice nailing Heck. More free passes were issued by Vanderbilt relievers and in all five of the MSU runs were scored by Bulldogs who didn't have to swing to reach base.
After a 14-hit assault Friday, aided by five Commodore fielding errors and two other uncharged gaffes, "Tonight was a different scenario," said Heck. "Not guy after guy getting on base. We had to grind out at-bats tonight and I think we put some really good ones in."
Having Mitchell on the mound was good enough too, despite a shaky start. He hit Ro Coleman on the leg and missed low on full-count to Dansby Swanson. Both were bunted into scoring positions, which they did as Zander Wiel punched a 1-0 offering up the middle for the fast lead.
"One of my buddies, Xander, just nails me every time!" Mitchell joked later. He could smile by then because for the rest of his outing it was Commodores being outed. Not in Mitchell's normal manner; while he rolled ten ground-outs there were no double-plays, and eight more were hit high into the outfield.
"They have a good approach against me, not let me beat them underneath. But they were getting it a little too underneath and putting it in the air, and Cody and Demarcus and Derrick were able to get some plays. That's the busiest Demarcus has been with me pitching, probably!" Rightfielder Henderson did have to run down four flies off Mitchell pitches, twice to end innings.
Still if any State starter could shrug off a 2-0 deficit it was Mitchell. And after battering Vanderbilt around in the opener his offense wasn't shy about swinging either. Two Dogs reached in the first turn off Miller and while neither scored it did show that the southpaw with a brilliant 0.57 ERA in five wins was vulnerable.
The key was making runners count in the second and third innings. Heck led off turn-two with a walk on four Miller pitches, and Henderson joined him with a full-count walk. C Zack Randolph squared four times to bunt, not seeing anything worth contact. So on full count he swung away and it worked as well as any sacrifice, grounding to the right side so both teammates could advance. CF Derrick Armstrong's fly ball to rightfield scored Heck.
An out into the Bulldog third, Miller again free-passed a runner, this time Detz. After two called strikes, 1B Wes Rea nearly de-hatted Miller with a shot up the center for two on. 2B Brett Pirtle was not bunting or even hinting at it; he pounded a base hit to the left side, though Detz had to wait for the bouncer to clear third base and thus was stopped at third rather than risk a play at the plate.
It was the right call because on 2-0 Heck sailed a drive to the leftfield track to plate Detz and Rea for a 3-2 lead. "I think he struggled a little early with his command," said Heck of Miller. "The double was a 2-0 count and he'd missed bad with two fastballs. So I was kind of cheating to own pitch and was able to get my barrel out and hit it over (the leftfielder's) head."
Mitchell got back in fourth-inning trouble with a one-out walk and single, a grounder for the second out advancing the tying and leading runs. On full count Kyle Smith hit a short fly Henderson got under in time to keep the lead. An inning later Swanson lined a double with two outs only to be left un-scored on a fly ball, again to Henderson's field.
Miller was an out into the State fifth before Pirtle's hot hopper ate up third baseman Xavier Turner for an error. Side-arming righty Brian Miller was called in to face Heck, and drilled him on 2-2 for a runner in scoring position. It also set up a double-play situation and pinch-hitter RF Cody Brown bounced to shortstop.
But Heck ran hard and straight into the bag, so when his feet tangled with Swanson's it was entirely legal. Swanson still forced his relay which skipped first base and scored Pirtle from second for a 4-2 lead that changed the entire tone.
Mitchell still had to leave Swanson on second base after a two-out double in the fifth, with a fly ball to rightfield. In the sixth Vince Conde got as far as third base on a single, steal and errant throw while Turner struck out swinging to cover. Yet again Mitchell produced an airball to rightfield.
And in the seventh Jason Delay was on second with two outs when Swanson hammered a grounder down the third base line. Britton not only snared it to save a run; he threw a rocket that Rea picked ahead of the runner to end the inning and strand a fifth runner in scoring position. "What an unbelievable play," Cohen said.
State added a run in their half, as Pirtle checked a swing and took the pitch off his arm for a free base. Heck squared to bunt and he too was nailed for a pair on and no outs. Brown did get a bunt down to push his partners up a post each, and after repeated mound meetings to buy time righthander Hayden Stone was finally summoned.
A walk of Randolph stuffed all sacks, and on 3-1 Armstrong watched ball-four miss way wide of the plate to force Pirtle across. A strikeout and grounder meant nobody else came home, but that of course left it a save situation. So after a one-out double in the eighth RHP Jonathan Holder heard his cue. He made Conde watch a curveball break the zone for a called strikeout, then shot down Turner on fastballs.
Detz doubled to left-center and got to third as catcher Delay let Stone's high pitch go off the mitt. With one out PIrtle lifted a drive to center for the sacrifice and four-run cushion. "Any run we can get late is huge for us," Heck said.
All the more because Vanderbilt did make it interesting in their last chance with consecutive singles for Commodores on corners. Rea took the easy second out on a grounder that scored Rhett Wiesman and Holder did walk another batter so the tying runner came up. Bryan Reynolds bounced to shortstop and Heck's flip to the middle-bag was barely in time.
Mitchell (5-1) was hit six times for the two runs, with two walks and three strikeouts in beating the home-state squad. "Vanderbilt challenged me all night. I was able to get that big out and our defense was able to make the play behind me." Holder notched his third save of the season though allowing a run on two hits and a walk in the process. He struck out three, including the two that mattered most.
Vanderbilt out-hit the Bulldogs eight to six with a pair of safeties from Wiel. Detz was 2-of-4 with a run, while Pirtle scored twice and drove in a run.
We situationaly hit well enough to push some runs across," Coach John Cohen said. "The walk helped us offensively, the HBP."
With a series sealed the Bulldogs go for a sweeping Sunday. RHP Trevor Fitts (2-0, 3.55) is booked to start while Vanderbilt expects to throw righthander Tyler Ferguson (3-0, 1.63). Rain was due to come through overnight and leave the afternoon clear and cool for the 1:30 start.