Third Baseman Slugs Pair of Homers in 7-3 Victory

He wasn’t adjusting for the wind, really…but neither was Gavin Collins ignoring that prevailing breeze. “We went over that as a team, everyone knew the ball was going to carry to left.” For the Diamond Dog third baseman, the ball did. Twice.

Collins slugged a pair of two-run homers to power Mississippi State past South Alabama 7-3 at Dudy Noble Field. Collins’ shots made sure the Bulldogs (9-3-1) rallied past the Jaguars after falling behind 3-0 and kept momentum up ahead of the weekend series with Oregon.

South Alabama left 9-4.

Collins had hit his first homer of the junior season Sunday, a solo job out of Dodger Stadium that proved State’s margin to keep a tied final with Oklahoma. He doubled that tally in four at-bats against Jaguar hurlers, with high fly balls in the fourth and eighth innings that carried over the left field fence. Maybe one didn’t need the wind-aid, but both counted just the same as he drove in a teammate each time.

“Both were fastballs,” Collins said. “One was a high fastball, the second one was a low fastball. I was just looking for something in the zone and trying to put a barrel on it.”

The rest of the Bulldog order combined for five hits, and for three-plus innings it seemed everyone was putting balls in the air. These just went for fly balls and pop-outs, until Collins came up in the fourth with 1B Nate Lowe on first base with two outs. He saw Hunter Soleymani’s high fastball right in the zone and rode it out to get the Bulldogs on the board.

Four frames later with State ahead 5-3, Collins provided welcome insurance. This one came off Shane McKinley, who may have left his fastball a little lower but still in Collins’ wheelhouse. With the two shots Collins now ties DH Jack Kruger for the team lead at three homers apiece.

In-between Bulldog batters did get something going offensively. Coach John Cohen thought the biggest hit of the evening wasn’t from Collins, but a sixth-inning double that pinch-hitter Brent Rooker bounced inside third base. That scored RF Cody Brown and Kruger from second and first bases and put State in front at last, 4-3.

The other Bulldog run came in the seventh as with two outs and LF Reid Humphreys on second base, CF Jacob Robson bounced one to shortstop. Drew LaBounty had to charge and the tough hop skipped his glove for a RBI single.

“Talking to teammates about what the pitchers were trying to do, we came up with good plans offensively tonight and I thought one-through-nine we all swung it really well,” Collins said.

“We got a lot of things accomplished tonight,” Cohen said. Primarily, from his vantage point, on the mound as eight pitchers took a turn. This was on purpose, for the most part. “We wanted to get a lot of freshmen arms out there and keep moving forward.

“Some of them pitched better than others, certainly Small sticks out as a freshman who went out and pitched well for us.” Small as in Ethan, the rookie lefthander. Entering in the South Alabama fifth inning with Mississippi State trailing 3-2, Small took command. He retired all seven batters faced with three strikeouts, no walks and no hits.

“I felt good today, I felt a lot more smooth than my first outing. You know, coming out the first time and 10,000 people out there can be a little intimidating! But I tried not to worry about that.”

Small certainly showed poise for a rookie. He had a Jaguar on third base ready to expand USA’s lead and the #5 batter up. Actually that simplified Small’s situation.

“It was strike the guy out. Contact was not going to be a thing. A strikeout was necessary and that’s what I got.” Small picked up his first college decision in the process, a win no less.

Soleymani (1-1) didn’t blow anyone away in his 5.1 innings. But moving the ball around kept him out of trouble even after walking a pair to open the evening. A double-play got him out of that jam, and in the second his leftfielder Brendan Donovan robbed Humphreys by leaping way above the leftfield fence to catch a ball going out.

Soleymani was just one over the minimum into the fourth when Lowe got the first Bulldog base hit. Collins got the second. He still stayed in the game into the sixth when one-out walks of Brown and Kruger brought in James Traylor. State countered with right-handed hitter Rooker, who won this matchup in a game-changing way.

Soleymani was charged with four runs on just two hits as he walked four and struck out one.

Mississippi State gave one of the freshmen, LHP Kale Breaux, his first start. The southpaw stranded three Jaguars in two innings before taking a seat. Classmate RHP Noah Hughes had the next turn and it didn’t go well with a leadoff plunking. Two outs later Jared Barnes, who’d missed a homer his first time up, stayed fair with this drive…also over leftfield and good for two RBI. Hughes left after a walk, and reliever Ryan Cyr was touched for the same sort of double Rooker would hit later. Ben Gann’s was good for a RBI and the 3-0 lead.

Konnor Pilkington and Ryan Rigby combined for 1.2 innings before Small took over. Once the Bulldogs got ahead, veteran Zac Houston took over for the eighth; and Blake Smith had the ninth. All of them posted combined for in-order innings as no Jaguar reached after LaBounty walked in the fifth.

“I thought the last two guys were just fabulous for us,” Cohen said. Smith struck out all three he faced in the final frame, showing why the junior is regarded as State’s closer candidate.

Coming after an early-Monday return from Los Angeles, and with Oregon ahead, the Bulldogs could have lost focus for this midweek meeting. Or even cracked once down 3-0 and not getting anything done at the dish. Not so.

“We didn’t panic, we stuck to our approaches,” Collins said.

The Oregon series begins with a  6:30 Friday game, then a 2:00 Saturday time. Sunday’s finale has been moved up a half-hour to a 10:30am start as Oregon has to get back to the west coast in time for some players to prepare for Monday exams.

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