Woverines Hand Bulldogs First Defeat

They did take their first setback of the 2007 season. But if the Diamond Dogs had to go down at last, they did so swinging in a 4-3 Saturday setback to Michigan in the Cadence Bank Classic. "We fought hard and never gave up," said 1B Mitch Moreland. "I think that's kind of the way this team is."

Mississippi State made it kind of close at Dudy Noble Field, going from three runs down in the bottom of the eighth to a one-run deficit with the tying and go-ahead Dogs on bases. It took timely relief work by Wolverine reliever Ben Jenzen to halt the rally, then run out the ninth and let his team leave Dudy Noble Field with a pair of Saturday wins and 5-2 overall record. Earlier in the afternoon UM had defeated Troy, the third participant in this year's CBC.

The Bulldogs saw a five-game streak to begin the season snapped and their record in the event evened. State meets Troy in the last round of the Classic Sunday afternoon.

While Jenzen, the third pitcher of the Wolverine day, got his second save of the season it was starter Zach Putnam who dominated events. In fact Coach Ron Polk had watched the earlier game hoping against hope UM would run the sophomore righty out to the mound to quell a late Troy rally. Instead Putnam was held back for the second contest.

"Because that's their best pitcher," Polk said. "I can see why they feel that good, he could pitch in the SEC on Friday night. He has a good arm, a lot of run, good command, and his breaking ball is sharp." Putnam (2-0) put in seven complete innings allowing just three hits and a lone Bulldog run while striking out six and walking three. Given the brisk wind blowing out to right-centerfield and a MSU order loaded with lefthanders, it was a stout performance.

"He was real good, he changed speeds well, located the ball well," said Moreland, who did get a safety off Putnam and later a walk. "We made contact and got a few hits here and there, maybe not what we needed."

State starter Justin Pigott was less fortunate, battling an aggressive order and the wind through eight full frames. The lefthander was touched for all four Wolverine scores on nine hits, two of them homers. It spoiled an otherwise excellent day for Pigott (1-1) who recorded a career-best nine strikeouts against only one walk.

"He did well," Polk said. "They got a couple of two-strike hits off him. And the only legitimate home run was hit it a long way."

Putnam didn't allow much to be hit very far early on, wearing out both corners of the plate and retiring 12 of his first 13 batters with only Moreland's leadoff single in the second inning against him. In the fifth he lost a bit of edge and walked both DH Brian LaNinfa and 3B Conner Powers, only to escape with a double-play and ground-out both bounced to the shortstop.

The Wolverines didn't scratch in their first turn at Pigott, with C Edward Easley shooting down a steal-attempt and had two down in the second when #6 swinger Doug Pickens lifted a 1-0 offering that rode the breeze over right-centerfield for a solo homer. "It was just a routine fly ball the kept going and going," Polk said. Brad Roblin followed with a single and stole second as Easley's throw was wide. Anthony Toth made it matter by taking the next Pigott pitch into rightfield for a RBI-single and 2-0 lead.

An errant throw by third baseman Powers opened the Michigan third and led to another run. Nate Recknagel singled Jason Christian over to second and with one out and both runners going Adam Abraham sliced a single just too tall for SS Brandon Turner to snare. Pigott avoided further harm with a called strikeout and fly ball, then sat six-straight and worked on through the seventh.

Meanwhile the MSU offense had manufactured a score in the sixth. Leadoff man CF Mark Goforth's drive landed fair and rolled into the left-field corner for a leadoff double. On 2-2 2B Jeffrey Rea barely nicked a breaking ball for a foul-off to stay alive, then grounded Goforth over a bag. Turner followed suit with a bouncer to the first baseman for the RBI.

State made Putnam throw a bunch of pitches just to get through for batters in the seventh. He walked Moreland to lead off and went full-count on LaNinfa before a hard line-out to the centerfielder. On 2-2 Powers missed and RF Andy Rice hit it hard and straight, also to center. And Michigan got their run back in the eighth as Recknagel went against the wind with a shot over leftfield.

Michigan opted to replace Putnam after 116 pitches and third baseman Abraham moved to the mound to hold the 4-1 lead against the bottom of the Bulldog order. Only, LF Jeff Flagg outlasted him to single up the middle and Goforth dropped a base hit in center. Rea fell behind 0-2 but fought one off to the left side and just outran the throw, loading the bases with no outs.

Turner lifted a fly ball only medium-depth to leftfield but Polk sent the un-swift Flagg anyway and the throw was well away from the plate. State was back within two, and for a moment it looked as if Easley had put the Dogs in front with a first-pitch drive. It died a step shy of the fence. "We thought it had a chance," said Polk, "it was too far to rightfield."

Still both runners tagged and advanced, and after watching one barely miss the corner on 1-2 Moreland grounded hard to the shortstop. The bang-bang call went in the runner's favor for an infield single as Goforth had already crossed the plate for the 4-3 score and tying run at third base. That brought righthander Jenzen from the bullpen to face lefty LaNinfa. One pitch, one fly ball to leftfield the Wolverines were back in the dugout still leading.

Janzen got the ninth-inning side as well with Flagg flying out short of the track to end the evening. "We had opportunities at the end," said Polk. "But Putnam was the key today and you tip your hat to a guy like that, he'll probably be pitcher of the year in the Big Ten."

The Bulldogs were philosophical about the initial defeat of the season. "We lost one today and I imagine there will be more to come," shrugged Moreland. "We just have to come back tomorrow."

Polk will start senior righthander Josh Johnson against Troy, who will also put a righty on the hill. "It will be on pitch counts, probably 70 maybe 75," said Polk. "It's going to be a little nippy. I think they'll throw one of their rotation guys."

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