By no means was Brave pitching anything to boast about battering. Nor was this a midweek matchup that would have been marked on any Bulldog calendar, 1B Wes Rea said. "You hope you're doing good then. But we needed a night like that to get the sticks going a little bit."
The sticks were hot as eleven Mississippi State swingers got at least one safety, three of them coming off the bench. The only starter who didn't get a base hit, SS Seth Heck, still assembled a fine line. He collected a pair of RBI on a first-inning plunking and fourth-inning sacrifice fly, and scored once himself.
"We really got back on track," said RF Cody Brown, who had to wait until his sixth and final chance to get a base hit of his own, a RBI single. Yet he had reached four times on walks and the other turn produced a sacrifice fly drive and his other RBI. Brown thought he'd never get a chance to hit as the Braves kept throwing outside the zone, but by free passes he was able to score three of his game-best four runs.
"They moved me into the leadoff role at least for tonight, I was just trying to find a way on base." Brown certainly did that. In fact many Bulldogs had to settle for a free base rather than swing at anything as eleven total walks were issued and two HBPs on top of that. With so much outside the zone, finding 15 balls to hit safely was something of an accomplishment.
"We were not playing a SEC team," Coach John Cohen said. "But I thought our offense came to life and we took better swings, crisper swings. I'm pleased with that." The coach was equally pleased how, with the contest in complete control late, Bulldogs kept swinging and making it pay with a seven-run result in the bottom of the eighth to magnify the margin.
Coach Butch Thompson used the midweek date with a lower-level opponent to work some young pitchers who needed the innings. Young as in freshmen, though there was a very late change in plan. After announcing RHP Dakota Hudson would open, then State took the field LHP Vance Tatum was tossing to classmate C Gavin Collins. No reason for the last-minute change was given.
Tatum used the opportunity well enough with 3.1 innings, charted with both Brave runs on three hits with two walks and four strikeouts. He was replaced by RHP Austin Sexton (2-0) for the next 4.2 scoreless turns with three hits, two walks and three strikeouts to get the pre-assigned decision. RHP Zac Houston tossed the last inning.
"We got some young guys on the mound and it felt we got a lot accomplished there," Cohen said. "I felt Tatum had a lot of big misses but pitched good enough to get us on track early. I thought Sexton with his changeup did a really nice job. He's got to pitch off his changeup to keep people off his fastball, I thought he was super-aggressive in the zone which is something we needed."
Tatum did have a few scuffles after an in-order first. A leadoff single in the second and high pickoff throw was followed by another base hit for Braves on corners. A fly ball by Scotty Peavey put Alcorn State on the board. Tatum hit the leadoff batter in the fourth and was tagged for double that had the tying runners in positions to score. Sexton took over to produce a pop-out on his first pitch; only to see nine-hole hitter Christian Hickman fight off an inside strike and have it fall behind second base.
Angel Polo scored on the single and Oilet tried to. CF C.T. Bradford came up with the ball and threw a strike home for Collins' in time tag.
Each of those runs had only pulled the visitors within one of State though. Brave starter Charles Wilson simply could not throw a strike. Not did not, could not as he walked the first three Dogs up. Then he plunked SS Seth Heck which forced Brown across. Collins lifted a fly ball to centerfield scoring DH Alex Detz from third base. Ellis ought have been pleased at that point to escape with just a 2-0 deficit by stranding three other Dogs.
IN the second Brown walked a second time and stole both second and third bases so 2B Brett Pirtle could bring him home on a fly ball for the 3-1 lead. Righthander Colton Laird replaced Wilson for a scoreless third, and returned with a 3-2 scoreboard in the fourth. He could not keep it there.
Rea's grounder was too hot for the third baseman to get. It was a most unlikely run-and-hit setting but the Bulldogs made it work; Rea took off and 3B Matt Britton bounced the ball through the open right side for Dogs on corners. A walk of Detz loaded the paths with no outs.
This time it was Pirtle lifting one long for what would have served for a sacrifice. Except leftfielder Burl came all the way over to take the ball from his centerfielder…and dropped it. Rea and Britton scored on what was later re-ruled a single and a high throw home allowed Brown and Detz to gain scoring positions. Brown did get to come on home as Heck flew out to center for the 6-2 lead through four.
In the fifth it was Daniel Belmont touched for three State scores. A one-out walk of Armstrong was followed by a first-pitch steal, putting him in scoring position for Rea. The first baseman cranked a single up the box for the RBI, and then a second time Britton executed the run-and-hit. This one worked even better than the first because he drove a double and joined Rea in scoring position.
After walking three times, Brown was swinging this time. His fly ball wasn't all that far to left but Rea tagged anyway and scored without a challenge. Detz lined a drive that carried past the centerfielder for a double and 9-2 lead after five frames.
The eighth was a landslide as Justin Malone took over pitching and showed why he was that far down the list of arms. He walked substitute-swingers 3B Reid Humphreys and Daniel Garner to open. With one out and Dogs on corners LF Derrick Armstrong singled for one RBI; new C Zack Randolph did the same, and a wild pitch scored Armstrong. Brown finally got to hit safely in the sixth chance and plated Randolph.
One more run-and-hit was played perfectly with Detz singling through the open right side. Brown was running from first and when the Braves were lax getting the ball back in he kept going all the way home. Back up second times in the frame both Humphreys and Garner weren't going to walk. They both hit and drove in the last two runs of the lengthening evening.
Lemond was left on the hill to take the beating, seven runs on as many hits with two walks and a strikeout.
Detz topped the hitting parade going 3-of-4 for four RBI and two runs, while Rea and Britton both had a pair of hits. Each of Britton's contacts went for doubles. Britton also stole twice as did Brown.
"I thought we defended pretty well tonight and I thought we caught it pretty well, we keep progressing behind the plate," Cohen said. But hitting got the headlines, coming after State's humbling Sunday loss to drop a crucial SEC series. For that matter, after weeks of offensive issues that saw Dogs getting on base often enough but too often staying stranded. Regardless of opponent this night, putting up runs had to do good things for shaken club confidence.
"After the weekend some guys just not seeing it well, a night like tonight is huge for a team," Brown said. "Seeing the ball better, just kind of puts the offense in the back of your mind that we can do that."
Following the weekend Cohen promised an intense Monday of practice. As it turned out rain forced everything indoors…yet that might have been for the best. Indoor cage work addressed some technical items, but mostly the Bulldogs watched video, reviewed themselves and how a 6-3 SEC start has become a 7-8 mark half-way through the league schedule. And, just talked a lot about what remains possible in 2014.
"We had a really good practice. It was more communication stuff, a lot of good film work, of breaking down the game and making sure everybody is on the same page," Cohen said. "It was deep, solid communication between the coaching staff and the players so I think it was a productive day for us."
Mississippi State has another working day ahead before Thursday's afternoon departure for Missouri, where they begin the second half of SEC season.