It was even better to win. Which Mississippi State, shutting down and shutting out Ole Miss 2-0 in the annual matchup at Pearl. This edition produced a record crowd of 8,542, the largest gate for a college or pro game played at Trustmark Park.
What they saw was the first shutout win by a Diamond Dog team in the extra-meeting of the rivals, dating back to 1981 when it was the Mayors Trophy game played up the road in Jackson. Three Mississippi State moundsmen combined to blank the Rebels, with Cyr getting it going.
Literally, in his case. After eight bullpen appearances the true freshman from Kansas was given this first pitch. “Going from the relieving role to the starting role, it felt great.”
With the rivalry aspects, and the post-season implications of this matchup, giving a first-time starter the, well, start seemed risky. That’s not what Coach John Cohen figured.
“I thought coming in Cyr was going to be rested and have good velocity. I thought he was going to create some good spin and he did, he got us off to a phenomenal start.”
Cyr went 4.0 complete innings with four hits and two walks. Every Rebel to reach on him was either erased or left stranded, and if Cyr struck out only one of the 17 faced that fit his approach perfectly.
“I just went right at them,” Cyr said. “With my defense behind me that’s what I went for, throwing strikes and hopefully they ground themselves out.” Eight Rebels did just that, nine if a double-play in the third inning is included.
State resisted temptation to ride the rookie more than four. “I was on a pitch count,” Cyr said.
RHP Zac Houston (3-0) took care of the middle 2.2 innings, allowing three hits with a couple of strikeouts. By the timing of his stint, he was awarded the decision. But game Most Valuable Player honors went to the third Bulldog hurler.
RHP Jacob Billingsley was called on in the Rebel seventh, with two outs and the tying runners in scoring positions. After Houston threw two balls he handed it to Billingsley, who welcomed the challenge never mind the tension.
“I’m pretty confident with all my pitches. So I thought I’d just go ahead and get ahead, I was ready to throw. That got it done.”
It did. Billingsley threw two strikes, ran the count full, then got #3 Rebel batter Tate Blackman to check-swing himself into a called strikeout. Billingsley was on his way, and instead of just being used as a right-side matchup Cohen let him keep tossing to the handful of lefties Ole Miss sent to the box.
“Obviously the slider was working good. Pretty much everything was going well. I mean, heck, everybody saw the defense made almost all the plays.”
Almost. In the eighth a leadoff single and one-out blooper that Billingsley couldn’t bare-hand had tying runners on again. Billingsley stranded them, too, with fly balls. And he ran-out the ninth in order, picking up his first save on 2.1 innings with two hits and three strikeouts.
A shake-up of their rotation made former weekend starter Chad Smith (4-3) available for Ole Miss. The righthander battled through 5.0 innings, allowing both Bulldog runs on six total hits and two walks with three strikeouts.
The scores came early enough that State could stay in control. CF Jake Mangum led off the first with a single and got to scoring position the easy way with a one-out walk of 1B Nathaniel Lowe. With two down LF Reid Humphreys took a grounder the opposite-way and into rightfield for the 1-0 lead.
In the third inning C Jack Kruger walked with one out and took second on a dirtball that Lowe dodged. A good thing, too. Because instead of standing on first base Lowe was still swinging and able to punch a RBI-single through the right side.
That was all, and that was enough. “We didn’t create a lot of offense ourselves,” Cohen said. “But we got the two big ABs to score runs. And the second was more important than the first one.”
Connor Green and Dallas Woolfolk combined for three scoreless innings. Which was fine by the Bulldogs as Ole Miss stayed scoreless all nine innings, though stranding runners at third base in both the seventh and eighth was annoying. Just not damaging.
Mangum, Lowe, and Humphreys all had two-hit evenings, while for Ole Miss both J.B. Woodman and Henri Lartique had a pair of safeties. There were no extra-base hits by either team.
“I thought we pitched to the strike zone,” Cohen said. “We threw a ton of strikes and that was key to the ball game.”
A game that may not count in the SEC standings but will count in post-season calculations. State had already taken the regular-season series from Ole Miss with two wins in Starkville. Beating the Rebels a third time, and now on a neutral field, counts for maybe more as far as NCAA status. Ole Miss came in with a #5 RPI nationally, while the Bulldogs were #12 or #13 depending which ranking one favors.
Since both rivals are playing to host a NCAA Regional, every such win counts almost double. Not, said Billingsley, that it was much on Bulldog minds at game time.
“Obviously coming out and playing the school up north, we’re going to do anything it takes to get a win. RPI position, yeah, it’s a big deal. But we’re just coming out here trying to get the win anyway.”