Rooker Stakes State To 3-1 Lead

For a game-and-a-half Brent Rooker was absolutely fulfilling his role as designated hitter. And had Mississippi State pushed the NCAA Rulebook to legal limit, Rooker’s second Saturday home run would have made it two complete games.

Rooker snapped a tied tally in the bottom of the fifth inning, with a two-run blast over leftfield giving Mississippi State a 3-1 lead over Marshall. Rain had earlier reached at Dudy Noble Field in that frame. About the time Rooker, following LF Reid Humphreys home, crossed the plate the rain got heavy enough that play was suspended with no outs.

By the rulebook the game could have been called official at that point, as Marshall (2-3) had already batted their five turns. Instead, after about 15 minutes of looking at more approaching weather and expected overnight clearing, all agreed the game will be finished Sunday.

Play will pick-up about a half-hour after Marshall and Alabama A&M play their 11:00am contest. The Bulldogs will still be batting, bases empty and no outs. Upon conclusion, Mississippi State will finish the round-robin weekend by playing Alabama A&M again.

So, he’ll have more chances to show his swing Sunday. Just forgive Rooker if he has foul feelings for the foul weather that interrupted a splendid Saturday. In the early 18-2 rout of A&M, the sophomore DH went 3-of-5 batting in the cleanup spot. Rooker accounted for a two-run single in the second inning, the frame State turned a 1-0 deficit into a 9-1 lead.

In the sixth he came up a fourth time, leading off this inning. So nobody was on base when Rooker crushed a drive well beyond leftfield for his first college home run. “I think the wind might have helped it out a little bit,” Rooker agreed. “But I think I got enough of it that it might have gone out on a normal day, too.”

Just for good measure he got one more turn, in the seventh, and smacked a two-RBI double.

Those blows didn’t compare in pressure though to when Rooker came to the plate in game-two. Mississippi State had fallen behind 1-0 on, naturally, a solo home run in the top of the second inning. Marshall starter Chase Boster was able to skirt serious trouble despite loading up the bases with Bulldogs in both the first and second frames.

Boster left them loaded the first time with a ground-out of 2B Ryan Gridley. The second-inning escape was self-inflicted by Bulldogs, after stuffing the sacks with just one out. 1B John Holland struck out, before a Boster pitch got away from his catcher…but not far enough.

C Cody Walker on third base got back quickly. From second 3B Matt Spruill didn’t and was caught in a rundown to end that inning as well.

For all the early frustrations, the benefit was Boster had to work long innings. After his 75th pitch and third inning, he was lifted for righthander Michael Taylor to begin MSU’s fourth. Gridley had been at the plate when the previous inning ended with the run-down.

Against Taylor, he was able to walk; then take second on a wild pitch as RF Cody Brown showed bunt. The sacrifice was off on the next pitch, with Brown lining a RBI-double into rightfield for the tie. Brown ended up stranded on third, and SS Seth Heck on first, by lefty Caleb Ross.

Brown still made his presence known in the top of the fourth, chasing down a short fly ball with a runner going from second base to keep it tied. Marshall had another chance to regain the lead in their half of the fifth as Sergio Leon’s grounder missed the glove of Spruill. But he tried pushing his luck on the error and Humphreys got the throw there first.

Fittingly Humphreys was able to begin the Bulldog fifth with a base hit. MSU game management had already been talking to umpire Morris Hodges about the approaching weather so there was a sense of urgency when play continued. It didn’t seem Rooker, 0-of-2 at that point, would even get a chance to swing. With first base empty Ross threw three balls.

But that actually helped ready Rooker. “3-0 pitch, as a hitter you’re sitting there hoping the third coach gives you the green light. Coach Ming (Nick Mingione) did that and I was sitting one pitch, one spot. The guy happened to throw it there and I put my best swing on it.”

The swing was so good that everyone knew instantly it was gone. Now, Rooker and club have to wait until early Sunday afternoon to make it stand up, or expand on that lead. At the half-way point LHP Lucas Laster is in line for the winning decision, having limited Marshall to one run on four hits with three strikeouts. If not for that one big swing, he’d have a shutout.

Since Rooker remained at DH when the change from righty to lefty was made, it would seem Mississippi State (6-0) can keep his hot bat in the lineup. Rooker came into the weekend with one varsity base hit in four trips. Now for the two-and-a-half games he is 5-of-9 with seven RBI.

“Me and Coach (Zach) Dillon have been working really hard. I have a lot of confidence in my swing, we’ve just been working hard on my approach and trying to see some balls the other way and trying to stay back on off-speed pitches.”


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