Brown Cools Down Herd For 6-2 Win

Forget the thermometer, reading an official high 30s. That wailing wind had everyone in and around Dudy Noble Field freezing. Well, almost everyone. “Preston Brown might have been the only warm person in the ballpark!” proclaimed Coach John Cohen.

The man himself might have disagreed just a bit with his coach. But no doubt, when Mississippi State’s starting pitcher did get heated-up things went cold for Marshall batters. Brown shook off a cool start and the bone-chilling breeze to earn the decision in a 6-2 victory.

Friday’s win makes Mississippi State 5-0 one day into the round-robin weekend. Marshall, which earlier lost to Alabama A&M, is now 2-3.

The Thundering Herd did seem warmer, on offense at least, after playing the noon game. They came after Brown for four hits in the three early innings, and scored twice in that third turn to take a lead. If this was any test of the junior righthander, though, Brown passed.

“It was a little taxing I felt, having to throw too many pitches to some of the guys,” Brown said. “I kind of got in a groove there late, and we scored some runs.”

The Bulldog runs did not come until Brown (2-0) had found that groove and gained control. He was able to work 6.0 complete innings in his second Friday start; with the two runs on six hits, only one of the score earned, just two walks in the stiff wind, and eight strikeouts. That latter was a career-high for Ks and topped last Friday’s seven strikeouts.

That wasn’t Brown’s plan. “No, I’m trying to make it efficient and make guys hit the ball to our fielders. I kept getting in trouble and have to work out of it and get some punchouts. But I’m definitely not trying to do that in any shape, form or fashion.”

Fortunately Brown did turn strikeout-pitcher as needed. He also erased the game-opening single by Corey Bird with a quick pickoff, then stranded another first-inning hitter with his first strikeout. C Josh Lovelady took care of a second-inning single by shooting down Josh King’s steal attempt.

The Herd got their hitting and running going better the third time-up, with help. DJ Gee’s grounder was errored at third base, and a steal had him in scoring position. Aaron Bossi scored him with a double driven to the leftfield track. An out later Sergio Leon made it a 2-0 lead with his RBI-single.

Brown had to strand a pair that inning, with a strikeout and ground ball. Presumably fully-warmed now he fanned a pair in an in-order fourth, watched Lovelady gun down another Marshal steal try in the fifth, and overcame another error at third in the sixth. This might have been his best test because Mississippi State had just cut the deficit in half but Marshall had a pair in scoring positions with one out.

Brown bore down to get both Billy Sager and Josh King swinging.

“I felt when Preston got 20, 30 pitches into it and actually got warm then he really started making quality pitches,” Cohen said. “He started getting strikeouts, getting in the bottom of the zone, creating some movement. And Ross was fabulous the way he came in and really shoved it in the strike zone and made them put balls in play.”

Mitchell did that with three scoreless innings, two hits and a strikeout, to earn his first save on the season and third career.

It took the Bulldog batters quite a while to warm up as well. Marshall’s Matt Margaritonda got through four unscathed if not untested. CF Jacob Robson opened the second with a single and worked his way to third base with one out. That’s where he stayed as RF Jake Vickerson took a called third strike, and Lovelady flew out. LF Humphreys led off the Bulldog fourth with a double and was joined two outs later by 2B Ryan Gridley on a walk.

Up a second time with a runner in scoring position Vickerson popped out behind second base to strand a pair this time.

An inning later Margaritonda got quick outs at the bottom of the order, before drilling SS Seth Heck in the shoulder for a free base. It didn’t seen like trouble when 1B John Holland lifted a fly to left…that kept carrying. Leftfielder Gee got turned around enough for the ball to come down behind him for a double, and Heck was running all the way home from first for the run. A strikeout of Humphreys meant a third Dog stranded in a scoring spot.

But after Brown held it to a 2-1 margin luck ran out for Marshall. Robson, naturally, kick-started the inning with a bunt single and stole into scoring position. Righthanded-hitting Gridley got his bat just far enough around to line a shot down the first base line and on ito the corner, scoring Robson and tying things up. Marshall called in lefthander Caleb Ross for the expected bunt by left-handed hitter.

Vickerson did show bunt but the pitch was out of the zone, and got away to boot so Gridley could take third without trouble. State then replaced Vickerson with righthander Brent Rooker to hit. He did, singling in Gridley for the lead at last. Lovelady bunted pinch-runner Cody Brown to second, and after a scratch single from new third baseman Matt Spruill the Herd made another move.

Kolin Stanley inherited Bulldogs on corners with one out. He made it two outs with a liner to second from Heck, then went full-count to Holland. The offering was high for a ball, and more importantly high of Bossi’s mitt for a passed ball. Not only did C.Brown score from third, but Spruill never slowed rounding the corner and came all the way home for a 5-2 lead.

State added some seventh-inning insurance off a pair of Herd relievers. Robson singled off Sam Hunter, who yielded to Keanu Ramos. Robson was running and not only made second with the steal, a high throw let him keep going to third base. All Gridley needed do for his second RBI of the evening was lift one somewhere middling deep, and he did; to rightfield. Robson raced home easily ahead of the throw.

Despite the sluggish start State came out with more hits, ten to eight, as Robson stayed on his early-season sizzling streak. The sophomore was 3-of-5 with two runs, and even if his last out came with stuffed sacks in the eighth inning by then everyone was ready to get the game done.

“It did start off slow a little bit,” Robson said. “But we knew by the fifth or sixth inning we were going to have to put some pressure on the other team. And we did.”

“I think if we just make a couple of plays at third base we’re going to pitch a shutout,” Cohen said. “The fact those innings got extended is a little bit disappointing but it’s exciting to see us get behind and find a way to come back and win the game. So there’s a lot of positives. Brent Rooker steps up in a big moment and gets a big hit for us.”

The Bulldogs now prepare for a Saturday doubleheader, weather permitting. It is supposed to be much warmer, but rain is also a strong possibility. Cohen confirmed RHP Austin Sexton will get the noon start against Alabama A&M; and LHP Lucas Laster begins the rematch with Marshall at 4:00.

“And we’re going to get 60 degrees and the rain out of here tomorrow.”

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