Ole Miss Takes Two of Three From MSU

No. 4 Ole Miss (24-4, 7-2), thanks to a five-hit, complete-game performance from sophomore lefty Stephen Head, took the final game of a three-game SEC series against Mississippi State, 4-2, to pick up their first series victory over the Bulldogs in Starkville since 1996 and their first one, overall, since 1999. Mississippi State (17-10, 3-6) had dominated their series with Ole Miss the past few years, winning 13 of the last 16 meetings prior to this weekend's series.

Head, who threw 131 pitches during his first complete-game performance of the year, is now 4-0. He also helped his cause by going 2-for-5 at the plate.

"He pitched well," said Polk. "(Ole Miss coach) Mike Bianco told me that he also pitched well against Alabama last weekend. We didn't hit the ball real, real well. I think a lot of that was due to Stephen Head being a left-hander who is a locater with a sneaky fastball and a very effective changeup."

After Head and Lacher battled to a scoreless tie in the first five innings, Ole Miss finally got on the board in the top of the 6th inning with a clutch, two-out RBI single by Alex Presley that knocked in Charlie Babineaux.

Mississippi State responded in their bottom portion of the inning with a two-out, two-run home run by sophomore right-fielder Brad Corley that knocked in freshman Jeffrey Rea, who started the inning off with a double down the left field line.

"(I hit) a 2-0 changeup. He got it up and I just swung," said Corley. "They had been throwing me changeups all day. I was pretty much sitting on a changeup that at-bat. A runner was on third base and first base was opened, so I knew he wasn't going to challenge me with a fastball."

Ole Miss regained the lead for good in the top of the 7th inning.

Chris Coghlan started the inning with a walk. Barry Gunther moved him over with a sacrifice bunt. Cooper Osteen singled through the left side of the infield, putting men on first and third with one out. Matt Tolbert's grounder to second base, a potential inning-ending double play ball, was errored, allowing the runner on third to score. MSU coach Polk replaced Lacher with sophomore left-hander Brooks Dunn. The first batter to face Dunn, Stephen Head, knocked in the second run of the inning when another potential double play was thrown away at first, allowing Head to reach on a fielder's choice. Dunn got the final out of the inning by getting Seth Smith to groundout to first base.

"They were tough plays, especially the ball hit to Jeffrey (Rea)," said Polk, referring to the potential double plays grounders. "It really kicked on him and was tough to make. Tolbert would have been tough to double up because he runs so well, but that ball was hit so well that we possibly could have. Then, we had a potential three-six-three double play that we threw away."

Mississippi State threaten in the bottom of the 7th when Head walked Tyler Scarbrough and hit Jeff Butts after two were out. Head ended the threat by getting Rea to fly out to center field.

Head finished the game strong by striking out four of the final six batters he faced.

With the victory, Head has now won 7 in a row dating back to last season. In addition to allowing 2 runs on 5 hits, Head walked 1 while striking out 8.

"That kid is a competitor," said Lacher. "He went out there and did what he had to to win the game for his team. He made pitches when he had to. Anytime you throw a complete game in college with the metal bat, you are doing something right."

The Rebels had four players with multiple-hit days at the plate; Head (2-for-5), Osteen (2-for-5), Alex Presley (2-for-4), and Coghlan (2-for-3).

Bulldog starter Jeff Lacher threw 6.1 innings, allowing 3 runs (2 earned) on 8 hits and 2 walks. He also struck out 5. Brooks Dunn and Todd Doolittle finished the game for the Bulldogs. Doolittle, who struck out 8 in a row this past week against UAB , threw 1.2 innings, allowing no runs on 1 hit while striking 2. In his last two outings he has struck out 10 in 5.2 innings, while giving up no runs on 1 hit and no walks.

"I thought that Lacher, Dunn and Doolittle gave us a chance to win," said Polk. "Anytime you hold a good Ole Miss team to four runs, especially with the wind blowing out to right field, you have pitched well."

The Bulldogs had no player with more than one hit on the day.

Mississippi State will leave the friendly confines of Dudy Noble Field to face the 15th ranked Southern Miss Golden Eagles in Hattiesburg this Tuesday and Wednesday night. Both games are set for a 6:30 p.m. start.

MISSISSIPPI 4, MSU 2
Ole Miss (24-4) 000 0001 210 - 4 9 1
MSU (17-10) 000 002 000 - 2 5 1

WP-Head (4-0). LP-Lacher (2-4). 2B-Babineaux, Rea. HR-Corley (4). T-2:39. A-4,338 (7,611 paid).


COMPLETE POST-GAME QUOTES:

RON POLK

Talk about Stephen Head's performance.
"He pitched well. (Ole Miss coach) Mike Bianco told me that he also pitched well against Alabama last weekend. We didn't hit the ball real, real well. I think a lot of that was due to Stephen Head being a left-hander who is a locater with a sneaky fastball and a very effective changeup."

Talk about Jeff Lacher's performance.
"He pitched well enough to win. We didn't make a couple of tough plays behind him. They were tough plays, especially the ball hit to Jeffrey (Rea). It really kicked on him and was tough to make. Tolbert would have been tough to double up because he runs so well, but that ball was hit so well that we possibly could have. Then, we had a potential three-six-three double play that we threw away."

The SEC appears to be very competitive this year.
"Before today's games started, there were only four teams over .500 in the SEC and we have played three of them, LSU, Tennessee and Ole Miss. Maybe, we have played three of the better teams in the Southeastern Conference. But Georgia goes down to Florida and sweeps them, so who knows who the best teams in the league are. The winner of this league could be 17 and 13 this year. That's the kind of parity that we have."

Do you think you are ok even though you are 3-6 in the league right now?
"Yeah, if we can go to Kentucky and play well, then Florida comes in next week and we play well. Yeah, if we get to .500, then anything can happen because people will be knocking each other off. Look at Ole Miss' schedule, they still have to play a fine LSU team, go to South Carolina - a team that went to Vandy and won two - and have to play Florida. Everybody has a lot of good teams to play, so there is going to be a lot of knocking each other off."

Would it have helped to have played some of the easier SEC teams early in the year considering you have so many players hurt right now?
"It would have been nice to play weak teams early. It would have helped to build up your confidence and record. But I'm not sure there are any weak teams in this league. But, yeah, if you are injured, you would rather play the good teams late, so you would have a better chance. But the three injuries that we sustained, we are not going to get them healthy (this season). Mungle, Rutledge and Kateon are gone for the season. The bad thing about getting three key guys hurt early is we don't have much depth. Also, our backup catcher, Joseph McCaskill, has a shoulder problem and is going to have an MRI Monday. So, we may lose him for the season. My biggest concern right now is not that we are 3 and 6, but our injuries. We have played decent against good teams, but it is the fact that injuries are a big factor this year."

Steve Gendron was sick with strep throat Friday. Did that effect him all this weekend or just Friday?
"Just Friday. He was not in very good shape Friday. That is another example of being able to have some depth where you can sit a boy down that is not feeling very good. We don't have that luxury."

How actively did you recruit Stephen Head?
"We had Matthew Brinson at the time and didn't think he would be a (Major League Baseball) signee. I also didn't know (Head) could pitch as well as he can. That was the key. If we had known that, we would have probably recruited him more actively. We had put the word out to the boy, as honestly as we could, that we would love to have him but we couldn't invest as much money in him because we already had a first baseman. Plus, Brad Jones was here. And we had signed Brian LaNinfa and Ryan Harbuck. We didn't have the money for another first baseman. That happens a lot. Just like this year. We have signed a very good catcher this year, Ed Easley. Now, people are calling, telling us there is a catcher that wants to come to Mississippi State. I tell them I don't have the money for a catcher. We've only got 11.7 scholarships. You have to recruit your needs. Now, if I was at Georgia, I would have Stephen Head locked up because I could have given him a Hope Scholarship and (scholarship money for his) books. I could have given him enough to make it worthwhile for him."


CRAIG TATUM

I guess it was pretty disappointing to lose to Ole Miss 2 out of 3 this weekend.
"We had our chances today. We are not swinging the bats good. But, I don't think that we struck out that many times, maybe 6 or 7 and most of them were in the 7th, 8th and 9th. We are not getting any two-out hits and they got them. They are a good team. And I thought that Head did alright. His changeup is so slow it is hard to wait on it. His fastball is not really overpowering, but he got the job done and we didn't."

Why do you think your team isn't hitting that well right now?
"Right now, as a team, I think we are thinking too much. We are not doing what we should be doing. We are not going up there swinging the bats like we should. Sometimes, it is like when we get down we can't come back."

Todd Doolittle had his second good outing in a row.
"I thought all three pitchers did a good job. I thought Brooks (Dunn) came in and did his job. He got the ground ball, we just didn't make the play. That seems like that is how our season has been going. It's just one play a game that is killing us. It's not like we are playing badly throughout the entire game."


BRAD CORLEY

A couple of defensive plays weren't made today. That seems to be the story of the season.
"It's a game of inches. Jeffrey Rea comes up with that double play or Steve (Gendron) doesn't throw it away, it is a whole different ball game."

What did Stephen Head throw you when you hit your home run?
"That was a 2-0 changeup. They had been throwing me changeups all day. I was pretty much sitting on a changeup at that at-bat. A runner was on third base and first base was opened, so I knew he wasn't going to challenge me with a fastball."

What made Head so good today?
"He worked the zone real well. He kept us off-balance a lot. He was mixing his speeds really well. His changeup really had us fooled today. He wasn't overpowering. I think we had every opportunity in the world to win today, but we couldn't get the key hits when we needed to."

Even though you lost to Ole Miss, they are the 4th ranked team in the nation and you could have easily won two out of three against them. That should give you some confidence.
"We have played three tough series. LSU is number 1, Ole Miss is number 4 and Tennessee is a top 25 team. It is building character for us, coming out and playing these tough teams. It is going to help us out down the road."

When you tried to throw the runner out at home plate in the 6th inning and it sailed over the catcher's head to the backstop, was that throw just an example of the day you guys had defensively?
"Yeah, it came out of my hand wrong and I overthrew it. We are not getting things to go right for us on defense."

Do you think the players are pressing, trying to do too much?
"Maybe a little bit, because all the media, the fans are down (on us) right now. It is kind of hard to stay confident right now, but Coach Polk is really stressing that. (He says) just come out here and play hard and everything will start falling for us."

Does it help to have a coach like Coach Polk, a coach that stays on an even keel and not get to up or to down?
"Yeah, he is even keel no matter what. I know it bothers him that we are losing right now, but he doesn't show it and is still confident in us. He thinks we have a good ball club."

Do you know if they are still thinking about using you in relief this year?
"Saunders (Ramsey) has been doing so well, but I'm always in relief after Saunders. So, when he comes in in the 6th and 7th, I also go to the bullpen. If he ever gets in trouble, then I will come in."

How does Ole Miss' three starting pitchers compare to the other SEC starters that you guys have seen this season?
"I think Ole Miss might be the best pitching staff that we have faced this year. They have a lot of guys who come out and compete. Holliman did great. Brae Wright was a good competitor, too. Today, Stephen Head kept us off-balance really well."


JEFF LACHER

Are you getting tired of facing so many top 25 teams? You've played Tennessee, LSU, Ole Miss. Now, you are about to face Southern Miss. And all are ranked in the top 25.
"It is tough. The Southeastern Conference is the most competitive conference in the country. You know that you have to face good teams. Like Coach (Polk) said in the pre-game, we are probably going to beat up on each other all year and a team could easily win the league going 2 or 3 games over .500."

Even though you are 3-6 right now, is the key not to panic, especially since so many teams are right at 4 and 5 or 5 and 4?
"Yeah. Going into this game, Coach (Polk) said in the pre-game we were three games out and could be two games out if we won or four games out if we lost. All it takes is one team to have one bad weekend and you are back toward the top and we still have seven SEC series left to play."

It seemed like you started out kind of slow today but got stroner as the game progressed.
"My whole life I've been a slow starter. I'm not sure why. I gave up the hits early, but, luckily, I didn't give up any runs early. Once I got to the third or fourth inning, I started feeling good, feeling confident, working with the umpire."

You've been a mid-week starter before and understand the importance of winning your mid-week games.
"We have to start winning some ball games. Going down to USM and beating them would be great for us and our RPI because they are a top 15 team."

Is it frustrating to see Ole Miss and Southern Miss ranked while you guys aren't, especially since MSU is known as the baseball college in the state of Mississippi?
"It is frustrating because my entire life MSU was baseball. That is why I came to State. I felt like this was the best program in the state and the best chance for me to go to Omaha. But you have to tip your cap to them, they are starting to catch up to State. They have recruited well and have good ball clubs. We have a good ball club, too, but we aren't catching the breaks right now. We have to keep working, figure something out and win some games."

Do you feel this was one of your better performances this season?
"I felt real good about my performance. I felt like I went out and gave us a chance to win. That's all I can do. I've lost four in a row after starting the season 2 and 0. That's the most failure that I have had in baseball."

Stephen Head pitched a really good game also.
"That kid is a competitor. He went out there and did what he had to to win the game for his team. He made pitches when he had to. Anytime you throw a complete game in college with the metal bat, you are doing something right."


Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports and Mississippi high school sports on the internet. You can contact him by email at swindoll@genespage.com.

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