Oh, and what of winning the game as a goal? With a perfect 13-0 history against the Valley that detail could just about be assumed. But the Bulldogs tried their best to approach the SWAC team as they would a SEC foe. "You can't ever take anything for granted," leftfielder Jeff Butts said. "You have to be ready to play. But it was good to see our offense working, people kind of getting in some grooves."
Just about every Bulldog batter was in a groove Tuesday. A dozen of them, including eight of the starters, tallied at least one base hit off four be-Deviled pitchers. The hitting parade was led by rightfielder Matt Richardson with four safeties, two of them doubles, while Butts went 3-for-3 with three runs and four RBI.
"Everyone pretty much contributed and I think that's what we needed," said Richardson.
Certainly everybody in the starting lineup got their licks in early and often. State batted around in both the first and third innings, scoring seven and six runs respectively, to settle the ‘contest' long before it ended. Valley starter Danny Hall had the tough assignment of throwing those first three frames, absorbing 11 hits with two walks and a strikeout. All 13 runs off Hall (4-9) were earned.
Well-earned, too, as Butts and third baseman Edward Easley both slugged three-run homers off Hall. The other three Devil pitchers were charged with at least one run in the blowout.
Mississippi State was able to put four men on the mound in pre-assigned turns. Former Sunday starter John Lalor opened and put in three innings, giving up both Valley runs on two hits with two walks and three strikeouts. Mitch Moreland threw the next three frames, allowing a lone hit with a walk and two whiffs. He earned the decision by tossing those middle innings and improved to 2-0.
Josh Johnson, Jesse Carver, and Brett Cleveland all got a turn on the hill with Carver touched for the only other Devil hit. The trio combined for five strikeouts without issuing a walk.
"We got some pitchers some work and got every (fielder) in but some redshirts," Coach Ron Polk. And, outfielder Andy Rice, who was held out to help his injured right shoulder continue healing. Otherwise State's bench saw the most action of the season.
The Devils didn't exactly show up just to take a beating. In fact they scored first, as Lalor took a while to get up to speed. The first run wasn't all his doing though as a one-out strikeout was dropped and the runner got on free. A walk and infield single filled the bases so that a bround ball to first base by Derrick Weeks produced a RBI. In the second inning Josh Morgan led off with a drive that centerfielder Joseph Hunter couldn't quite snare on the jump, bouncing off the wall just like the ball. It turned into a triple and Kyle Latiolais scored him on a one-out sacrifice fly.
But that was all Valley could muster offensively. Lalor retired five-straight to end his stint, and after an infield single and walk he stranded a pair in the fourth with help from a double-play. He sat the side in his other two innings. The only other Devil to reach was in the top of the eighth with a one-out infield single.
After spotting the Devils their first run State responded with a really big inning, knocking out eight hits off lefthander Hall. A one-out walk and double for shortstop Thomas Berkery had a pair of runners on base for DH Brian LaNinfa. His two-bagger produced the first two Bulldog runs. Catcher Joseph McCaskill singled, putting LaNinfa on third base where he could score on a fly ball by Hunter. Richardson and first baseman Brad Jones followed with singles, the latter driving in McCaskill.
It also gave number-nine batter Butts a chance to swing in the first inning, which he capped with a high drive that carried over the centerfield wall for a three-run homer, his fifth shot of the season, and 7-0 lead.
A double-play got Hall through State's second turn with only a base hit against him. The third time around didn't go nearly as well, or quickly. McCaskill walked to open the turn and Hunter's ground ball was misplayed into a two-on, no-out setup for Richardson. He cashed in by one-hopping the rightfield fence for a ground-rule double and RBI. Jones pushed Hunter across with a ground ball to the right side and Butts singled in Richardson for a 10-2 tally.
Second baseman Jeffrey Rea, who had begun and ended the first inning with outs, singled through shortstop for a pair on and still one out. Hall probably thought he'd won a battle as he got Easley to lift a fly ball to centerfield, but the high drive carried and finally cleared the fence just right of the wall. His three-run homer expanded State's lead to 13-2.
A Devil pitching change produced a scoreless fourth, with a two-out double by Richardson. Righty Brandon Dotson had more trouble in the fifth, starting with singles by Butts and Rea and a bases-loading walk of Easley. Berkery went after the first pitch and lined it into the rightfield corner for another double, this one netting a pair of RBI. Easley stopped at third long enough for LaNinfa to sky a sacrifice-fly for the 15-3 score.
State scored once in the seventh as with the bases loaded pinch-batter Alex McIntosh worked new Valley pitcher Keegan Porch for a RBI-walk. In the eighth, with Ryan Roberson pitching, Bunky Kateon walked before new third baseman Michael Rutledge sailed a two-run homer beyond leftfield. A ground rule double by Wynn Diggs was followed by a wild pitch and RBI-grounder from centerfielder Tyler Bratton. Richardson was left in to go for a fourth hit and he delivered the last RBI with a single.
The Devils managed just the four total hits. Polk tried to be generous about the visitor's potential. "Delta State got beat by these guys and said they scrapped. They had 180 stolen bases and we didn't give them an opportunity." Valley didn't even make an attempt to run.
The 21 runs were a season-most for State. "It felt good," said Richardson, speaking for both the team and himself. "I was trying to get back in a groove and get a little confidence today."
The Bulldogs hope to stay confident as an entirely different outfit comes to D.N.F. this weekend. State hosts Florida in a SEC series absolutely crucial to both teams' fragile postseason hopes. The Bulldogs are currently clinging to the eighth and last slot in the SEC Tournament bracket, while the Gators—last year's national runners-up—are last in both the Eastern Division and overall league. But with three series left each still is far from being in or out of the ‘race for Hoover.'
Polk said Tuesday that MSU's pitching schedule for the weekend had not been set yet, as pitching coach Russ McNickle had been on a trip to observe a signee. "I'm sure Brooks Dunn and Aaron Weatherford are in the plans," Polk said. By Thursday's SEC teleconference those decisions should be settled.