“This is one of those evenings you ask are we getting better or worse,” Coach John Cohen said. “I think our club got better tonight.”
The Diamond Dogs were beyond doubt the better ball club Tuesday. It would be normal to say ‘as expected’ since the series now stands at 25-0, but there have been close calls with good Delta Devil teams in the past. Plus Mississippi State had frustrating memories of two midweek losses last week.
So Valley was getting no lack of attention, even as the Bulldogs (15-6-1) were coming off a series victory at then-#2 Vanderbilt. “It was a big deal,” CF Jacob Robson said. “We took this opponent seriously and we take every opponent seriously.”
Robson certainly was serious. State’s leadoff hitter had himself an evening, going 3-of-4 at the plate with a pair of doubles. But what will make the game memorable was one big swing in the fifth inning. With bases loaded Robson lofted a high fly that briefly seemed capable of leaving the yard.
It didn’t, caroming off the fence left-of-centerfield. By then speedster Robson was already half-way around the paths trailing three teammates. “As soon as I hit it I was just going to go hard and see what happened. I guess it took a weird bounce,” Robson said. “And they were playing me to pull-side, and I hit it to opposite side. When I got around second I think I was like yeah, I’m going to score here.”
He did, racing home for an inside-the-park grand slam. Nobody present could recall seeing such a thing at Dudy Noble Field, and certainly not an inside-job of much any sort that didn’t require a fielding mistake, defender falling down, or corner ricochet. Everything was clean on this play.
“Anybody can hit the ball over the fence,” Cohen said in something of an exaggeration. “But to do what he did tonight, he just out-ran the game. That was fun to watch.”
The ITPGS was more fun than fundamental to the outcome. By then Mississippi State already led 5-0 and Bulldog pitching was in complete control. Freshman LHP Konnor Pilkington worked the first five frames with just two hits, no walks and six strikeouts to pick up his first college decision. The Devils helped him out some by chasing first pitches for fouls or big misses, but Pilkington was sharp enough to beat them in longer at-bats too.
“I’m really pleased with Konnor, he went in there and just threw the ball in the strike zone,” Cohen said. “He threw a ton of strike-ones which is what we needed. And I thought we defended well behind him.”
Pilkington’s task was made easier by fast early support. State put up three runs in the bottom of the first as LF Reid Humphreys doubled in one and RF Brent Rooker singled for a pair of RBI. DH Jack Kruger made it a 4-0 game in the second with his RBI single.
C Hunter Stovall singled to score Humphreys in the fifth before Robson made history. And the Bulldogs would add four more runs in their sixth for good measure.
Mississippi Valley avoided shutout in the top of the eighth as Drew Wheeler drove in Quitman Smith. In response a substitute-heavy Dog order piled on three final scores with RBI by 2B John Holland, CF Jake Mangum, and PH Elih Marrero.
Batting ninth in the order, Holland was 3-of-4 for three RBI and scored three times. Marrero, Humphreys, Rooker, and Stovall all had a pair of safeties.
Fredrick Spencer II (1-2) took the loss as Valley starter. He worked 3.0 innings for four runs on six this and three walks. Marcus Jones gave up six runs on five hits and a walk, Chris McWright three runs on four hits and Drew Wheeler the same. None of them struck anyone out, though.
It was the first time since the semifinals of the 2013 College World Series, against Oregon State, that a Bulldog team got through a full game without anyone fanning. State finished with 19 hits, six of them doubles with Robson’s unique homer.
The Devils are 4-14.
Cohen was pleased to give individual innings to relievers Ryan Cyr, Zac Houston, Paul Young (charged with the lone run) and Jacob Billingsley. “Some guys got to get some work,” Cohen said. “Mission accomplished, I think we got some things done tonight.”
The Bulldogs immediately begin scouting Georgia as the other Dogs come to town for the second SEC weekend. It’s an early weekend too, as the series starts Thursday.