Corley certainly had no problems in either park. He had also hit safely three times with a double in five appearances Tuesday, earning a much-needed boost to his confidence. Corley began the week with a .295 average, not nearly what he or his team expected of this junior season. So, he went back to his 2004 approach.
"I've been in the cage three times for the past month every day. Me and Coach (Tommy) Raffo have been watching tapes from last year and doing everything possible to get it done." Wednesday he did it again to USA pitching, with three hits in four turns. Corley doubled to lead off the MSU fourth inning and slapped a two-out single in the fifth, neither doing damage.
The last trip to the plate was different, partly because the Jaguars changed pitchers. Lefthander Josh Ehmke had done a fine job keeping the score knotted 1-1 for 4.2 frames. Those last two outs were in the seventh inning, after a leadoff single by shortstop Bunky Kateon. Ehmke got a bunt pop-out from centerfielder Jeff Butts and a fielder's choice grounder to force Kateon at second. That left second sacker Jeffrey Rea on first base with Corley coming up the fourth time.
South Alabama opted to let a righthander throw to Corley, calling in Pascagoula native Justin Rayborn. He had a 2-2 count before offering a changeup. "Which I'd been seeing all the time against these guys," Corley said. "I just tried to see it deep." And hit it deep enough. The line-drive landed a ball's width inside the leftfield line and ended up in the corner, and with fielder Quendon Montgomery slipping down as he scooped the ball Rea—batting second in the order instead of leadoff because of his tender hamstring--was waved around to score without a challenge.
The clutch knock gave State starter Brooks Dunn his first lead to work with, and he made it stand up by getting two outs into his eighth inning. "We were expecting to give some more guys an opportunity to work," Coach Ron Polk said. "But at the same time we don't pull a pitcher who is pitching well."
Well? It was a career-best and –longest outing as the junior shook off a first-inning Jaguar run to get an out away from eight full frames. Dunn (4-1) had only four hits and a walk against him with eight strikeouts, also a career-best, though he didn't focus on the Ks this time. "I just had great defense," he said. Of course he had to throw the pitches hit to those teammates, too, and the Jaguars weren't able to do much damage.
"I was locating all my pitches well, and the second game of a series you have a pretty good idea of what they can hit and what they can't. We had a great plan tonight, it was like almost every pitch I threw they weren't ready for."
Dunn was ready to wrap up that eighth turn with two outs, when the top of USA's order came back around and Ben Froemming singled into center. Former MSU outfielder Tyler Jones stuck his bat out far enough to get nicked on the wrist, and a tiring Dunn walked David Freese on four pitches. "He was tired," Polk said. Righthander Brett Cleveland was fresh and came in to shoot down DH Aaron George on three strikes to leave the bags loaded.
The Jaguars tried to make the last chance count as Ryan Nichols led off with a single and on a full count Montgomery hit a bullet into centerfield. "He stroked it," Polk said, but Butts came running in for the snare. Cleveland got pinch-hitter Josh Stapleton to look at another strike three for the second out and had a 3-1 count to Jeff Cunningham when he hit a strike at the knees. The USA pinch-hitter apparently thought it was a ball, as did Nichols who moved off the base.
"He had a walking lead going to second so I just threw behind him," catcher Ed Easley said. "Me and Brad (Jones) had been thinking about picking earlier in the play and Brett did a good job of throwing a strike on 3-1." Nichols had no chance as the State first baseman made the easy grab-and-tag to end the game and give Cleveland his second save of the season.
The Jaguars got on the scoreboard first, with Froemming bouncing a double down the third-base line and taking third base on a one-out steal. This put the rightfielder in position to score on a groundout to shortstop with Freese getting the RBI. The lead didn't last long.
USA starter John Devisser put down the State side in his first turn, but the second frame was another matter. Jones opened the second inning with a grounder through the right side that the USA first baseman gave up on. The safety extended Jones' hitting streak to 13 games, and he was soon standing on second base thanks to a wild pitch. Devisser nicked Thomas Berkery, then rolled a double-play off the bat of Brian LaNinfa. Jones still managed to make home with the tying run as Easley singled cleanly through the four-hole.
And the score remained 1-all for the following four frames. Ehmke had some trouble, filling the bases in the fourth inning as after Corley's double he issued walks to Berkery and LaNinfa. Strikeouts of Easley and Matt Moreland stranded all hands. Butts and Corley reached on fifth-inning hits and did no damage.
Meanwhile Dunn shrugged off the first-inning scratch and put the clamps on Jaguar bats. He nicked a batter in the second, gave up a two-out infield single in the fourth, and stranded former Bulldog outfielder Tyler Jones at second base in the sixth. Given another lead he shot down the USA side in the seventh.
Polk hadn't counted on such a midweek performance but was glad to see it. "He's just a breaking-ball, changeup, sneaky-fast guy," he said of Dunn, whose previous long stint had been three games of five innings. Errorless MSU defense helped too, as Dunn noted, and while both teams stung the ball repeatedly only 12 base hits (seven for State) found fair ground. "Last night there was a lot of hitting," Polk said. "Tonight there wasn't."
But the Bulldogs got the right hits at the right time, and Corley's was the biggest blow of the evening. With six safeties in two games, the junior hopes he is on an older, better groove again. "I feel great, I've got my hands back where they were last year, I'm getting my foot down earlier and seeing the ball a whole lot better."
The Bulldogs, who swept the season series with USA, have won ten of their last 13 meetings with the Jaguars (24-16). State now takes a 25-10 record into the weekend series with Kentucky at Dudy Noble Field, as well as some refreshed confidence all around. Especially on offense.
"We've been talking all week, let's get these two midweek wins," Easley said. "And we did a good job tonight getting the base hits when we needed them."