The outcome was obviously always in doubt, and Mississippi State had an excellent opportunity to salvage the evening in Jackson by loading all bases in the bottom of the ninth inning with two outs. Rebel reliever Garrett White got out of his own jam with a swinging strikeout of MSU pinch-hitter Matt Richardson.
"Little did you realize one home run in the second inning was going to win the game," MSU Coach Ron Polk said.
But Cozart's solo shot did do the trick, though stout pitching by Rebel starter Will Kline was just as critical. The sophomore righthander, winless on the year, threw seven brilliant innings with just five hits. Kline (1-2) struck out nine Dogs to get his victory, with weekend starter Cody Satterwhite and regular closer White preserving the shutout. Southpaw White made it interesting at the end with a couple of walks around a hit batsman filling the sacks, before sealing the deal and scoring his fourth save.
Maybe most impressive was that Kline did not walk a single Bulldog and was almost always ahead in the count no matter who came to the plate. "We couldn't get 3-1, 2-0 counts," Polk said. In fact, from the third through the ninth inning Bulldog batters took ten called first-pitch strikes and missed or fouled off nine others. "We didn't have a first-pitch take, he pounded the strike zone pretty good," Polk noted. Better than good, as Kline threw 83 strikes against 29 balls.
For his part State starter Matt Lea deserved better than having his perfect freshman-year record spoiled after five wins in as many outings. The rookie righthander turned in his longest stint of the season with eight full innings, striking out six with three walks. He gave up just four hits, though one of them was the game-winner.
"Both pitched well enough to win," Polk said. And both teams finished with five base hits. The Rebels left eight on bases while State stranded nine. But that figure didn't fully express State's frustration, because six of those LOBs came in two innings when the Bulldogs had their best chances to claim the game.
In State's opening inning they loaded the bases on Kline as with one out catcher Edward Easley reached on an infield single and shortstop Thomas Berkery bounced a base hit through the four-hole. With two down centerfielder Joseph Hunter made first safely as a high throw pulled the Rebel defender off the bag.
Leftfielder Jeff Butts waged a good fight by fouling off three strikes before grounding out to leave all hands stranded. And when Kline returned he had that lead. Lea had retired the side his first turn, but his second pitch of the second inning was lined off the leftfield scoreboard by Cozart, his sixth homer of the season.
"It was a fastball-away over the plate," Polk said.
Kline was able to protect that narrow cushion nicely. Third baseman Michael Rutledge touched him for a one-out single in the second, the only blot on a stretch of retiring ten of eleven Bulldogs. First baseman Brad Jones was able to single past second base with one out in the fifth, and second baseman Jeffrey Rea went the other way to put a pair on. But Easley's bouncer to the third baseman was perfectly placed for a tag of the lead runner and throw to first for the double-play.
After giving up that second-inning longball Lea avoided any further harm though not without challenges. He hit a batter in the second with two down, had a two-out grounder errored by Rutledge for two bases in the third, and stranded a Rebel in the fourth on consecutive strikeouts.
"Matt gets better and better every time out," Polk said. "You have to change speeds against Ole Miss with their dangerous batters and he did a tremendous job of that."
Lea had a more serious issue in the UM fifth with a leadoff single, sacrifice bunt, and infield base hit for Rebels on corners. C.J. Ketchum grounded to Berkery to start a double-play with the relay barely nipping Ketchum to prevent a second run.
Lea didn't give up a hit in the sixth and seventh but still had to strand three after hitting one Rebel and walking two. Meanwhile Kline survived a bad break in his sixth as with two outs Hunter's drive to the rightfield warning track was errored for three bases. Kline got Butts swinging on 1-2 to maintain the margin.
After eight innings and 107 pitches, 70 of them strikes, Lea was allowed to sit with closer Brett Cleveland taking care of the top of the ninth. This left State with one chance to salvage the evening and White started off with a walk of DH Mitch Moreland on a full count. Tyler Bratton was sent in to pinch-run and on a 0-1 overthrow of the catcher he got to second for free. Hunter showed bunt twice before going to 2-2 and striking out on a high fastball.
But White hit Butts on the first pitch to have a pair on. Righthanded pinch-hitter Joseph McCaskill grabbed a bat and made contact only to fly out to short rightfield. Rutledge walked to fill the bases, and State again sent in a substitute swinger. Richardson watched a close ball on 2-2 and on full count missed a good hard strike on the inside corner.
"It was one of those very unusual midweek games," Polk said. "Normally they're somewhat high-scoring but both guys looked like SEC rotation pitchers tonight." That left both offenses feeling frustrated, though the Bulldogs much more so.
"I hate to think what our batting average is right now with the bases loaded," said Polk, who only needed to ask. His team has hit 16-of-82 for the season in such situations, or .195. The one bright spot again for State was Berkery, whose first-inning single extended his school-record, single-season hitting streak to 29 games. That ties him for fifth-best in SEC annals.
But the only streak most MSU folk were thinking about afterwards was losing for a fifth-straight time in the Mayor's Trophy, the longest such string by either team. Not only that, but the Bulldogs have been outscored 29-10 in this stretch, and only managed lone runs in both the 2005 and '06 games.
The crowd of 5,836 was the sixth-largest to watch the game at Smith-Wills Stadium, and came in the last contracted year for the game to be played in the Jackson facility where it began in 1980.