There was Rooker going through the pregame rounds when he “made a little small adjustment during batting practice,” as the Bulldog DH called it. “I was able to get the head out a little more and catch a few balls out-front, which felt pretty good.”
It felt even better when Rooker adjusted a string of Indiana State pitches and parked a pair. A two-run homer in the third inning and another two-RBI shot in the eighth bracketed the Dog’s day and powered Mississippi State past the Sycamores 11-6. Friday’s game completed a two-contest set with Indiana State losing an afternoon meeting with Marist.
The team’s leading longball slugger of 2016, Rooker hadn’t gone yard in the first five games. Nor did he the first Friday chance, taking a plunking from Sycamore starter Will Kincanon (0-2) in the opening inning. Next time-up was after SS Ryan Gridley kept the inning alive with a single so Rooker could see a pitch.
Rooker crushed it over leftfield to get on the homer-board. “Obviously it’s good to get the first one out of the way. I was able to find a barrel.”
State’s designated hitter wasn’t through hitting either. In the fifth he dropped a clean double in leftfield to again plate Gridley. Then in the next inning with bases loaded and two down Rooker greeted Indiana State reliever Damon Olds with a grounder yanked over third base and on into the corner for another double and three more RBI.
So up in the eighth against Olds again Rooker was going for it. And, getting it, another no-doubt drive over leftfield with, yes, Gridley on ahead of him. Rooker finished 4-of-4 and drove in eight, the most RBI by a Bulldog since Ryan Duffy did it in 2010.
Four of the ‘runners’ batted-in was Gridley, himself 3-of-3 with two RBI as well. Righthander Kincanon was touched for half of State’s dozen base hits and six runs, walking two and plunking a pair with five strikeouts.
“The scouting report on him was really good stuff, lacked command a little bit,” Rooker said. “So he was going to miss or leave a lot of pitches over the plate. Which he did, and we were able to take advantage of.”
The biggest beneficiary was State starter LHP Konnor Pilkington (1-1). His second Friday outing was much more efficient than the first with 8.0 complete and scoreless innings. Pilkington allowed four hits and had a flash of third-inning troubles with his team leading only 1-0.
Good defense kept the Sycamores stranded and Pilkington was on his way. “Early in the game I lost my rhythm, maybe the first through fourth innings. About the fifth inning I started finding my rhythm back and the fastball started locating a little better.”
Pilkington finished with six strikeouts and walked no one with 105 pitches.
Through eight it seemed the game ‘winning’ run had come way back in the first as 1B Cole Gordon plated 2B Luke Alexander on a fly ball to right. It was 11-0 going to the top of the ninth and LHP Kale Breaux given the relief opportunity. Three singles loaded the bases for a RBI-fly ball from Jeff Zahn to break up the shutout.
A single and sac-fly later it was 11-3 with the nine-hole hitter up. Kyle Moore took Breaux over rightfield for a three-run shot and the final 11-6 margin as Tyler Friis grounded out.
Those six runs came on five hits with a walk. Yet, “Kale did a good job,” Pilkington said. “Some hits fell but that’s how it goes.”
Coach Andy Cannizaro was fine with this ending act, considering the Bulldog bullpen had allowed ten runs in Tuesday’s ninth inning. “I thought Konnor was outstanding in terms of setting the tone, goes eight shutout innings. He allowed us to get going offensively.
Brent had a tremendous night, justa veteran at-bat tonight. (OF Jake) Mangum, Gridley, all outstanding. “We stole six bases which is encouraging, we defended it well. It sets a really good vibe for two games tomorrow.”
The Bulldogs do play a Saturday pair, starting at 1:00 with Marist and afterwards again Indiana State. Two first-year arms will start for State as RHP Graham Ashcraft draws the early game and RHP Peyton Plumlee the next.
Neither game will be network broadcasts due to the 3:00 men’s basketball game at Vanderbilt. The radio feed will be local only on 96.1 and via on-line.