"He threw the first pitch and I think I missed it by a foot and a half," said Powers with a slight smile. "Then he threw the same pitch again and I just kind of one-armed it. The infield and outfield were in and I was just trying to get something up in the air. I was just trying to look for a pitch that I could hit and I got one."
After being handcuffed to the tune of 1 run on five hits by Samford's 5-9, 152-pound sophomore righthand pitcher David Knapp during the first seven innings, the Bulldogs' bats came alive.
Jeffrey Rea and Brandon Turner both singled up the middle to start off the eighth. When Edward Easley lined out to right field, Samford coach Casey Dunn pulled Knapp and brought in freshman lefthander Tripp Swann to face a Bulldog lineup filled with lefthanded hitters. But Swann walked Mitch Moreland, then walked in a run when a 3-2 pitch Brian LaNinfa was outside the strike zone. With that walk, Swann was pulled for senior closer Joseph Edens. Things seem to go Samford's way when Joseph McCaskill struck out for the second out of the inning. But a 3-2 pitch to Connor Powers, a pitch so close that Powers initially started walking back to the dugout once the ball hit the catcher's glove, was called a ball allowing Brandon Turner to score from third for MSU's third run of the game. Andy Rice then lofted a ball to left field for the third out.
"Hitting is contagious," said Rea. "I was trying real hard to get on and I knew that Brandon would get me over. He would see me hit the guy and know that he was losing his stuff. I think everybody was fired up (after my hit)."
With the score 6-3, MSU brought in Mitch Moreland, who is the starting first baseman, to close out the 9th. Moreland, who earned a save Sunday against Florida, didn't disappoint, mowing down the side 1-2-3, including striking out two.
"(Mitch) is huge to our team," said Rea. "The other team had momentum and he completely stopped it. That was real big."
Edens wasn't so lucky. Goforth hit a grounder to third that was errored. A wild pitch moved him over to second. On a 1-2 count, Rea doubled down the left field line, knocking in Goforth. Then, on a 0-1 count, Turner singled home Rea for MSU's 5th run of the game. After Easley reached on a fielder's choice, Edens walked Moreland, setting up a bases loaded situation for LaNinfa. LaNinfa hit a chopper that bounced over the pitcher for an infield hit which knocked in the tying run. Samford chose to load the bases by intentionally walking Joseph McCaskill. Powers then followed with his heroics by hitting the game-winner over the head of the centerfielder.
"Innings like that generally happen with an error or two, but we hit the ball hard and got the chink hit by LaNinfa," said MSU head coach Ron Polk.
But those heroics seemed highly unlikely early on.
Samford jumped on State starter Jared Koon with a run in each of the first two innings.
In the first inning, Michael Marseco singled up the middle, then moved to second base on a passed ball and to third on a wild pitch. He scored on a sacrifice fly to center field by Bear Burnett.
The second inning saw more of the same. John Morgan doubled to right center, then moved to third on a slow grounder to the pitcher. Koon's second wild pitch of the game allowed Morgan to score Samford's second run of the game.
Mississippi State scored in their half of the second on a sacrifice fly by Powers that drove in LaNinfa, who started the inning off with a single.
Knapp then got tough on the Bulldog hitters, retiring Andy Rice on a strikeout to end the second. From the third through the seventh, the Bulldogs, who came into the game hitting a SEC-leading .374, could only muster two hits.
"He was throwing everything for a strike," said Powers. "He wasn't an overpowering pitcher, his fastball was maybe 82-83 (miles per hour), but when you can spot your pitches, a changeup and a curveball, almost every time it just makes your fastball that much faster."
"He located his offspeed like I have never seen before," said Rea. "My first at-bat it was 2-0 and he throws a 2-0 changeup. He hadn't even thrown a strike yet and he throws a 2-0 changeup. When a pitcher can do that, it's very, very tough because he keeps you so off-balance. Even though he was probably throwing 84-85, when he could throw those changeups for strikes, his fastball looks like it's 95."
In the meantime, Samford continued to score.
They added a single run in the 4th on two hits and a walk. One of the hits, a double, was against John Lalor who replaced Koon after Koon allowed the first two batters to reach base on a single and a walk.
After giving up the run-scoring double, Lalor settled down and retired all but one of the seven hitters he faced.
Mississippi State replaced Lalor with true freshman Greg Houston, who came in at the start of the seventh inning. Wayne Miller reached base on an infield single that ended up in no-man's land between the catcher and pitcher. After a sacrifice bunt moved him to second, Marseco doubled Miller home to give Samford a 4-1 lead. By the time the inning was over, two more runs had been scored giving Samford what appeared to be a safe 6-1 lead going into the bottom of the seventh.
State quietly went down 1-2-3 in their half of the seventh giving Samford even more reason to believe they were about to win their second game against an SEC opponent this season.
Instead, the Bulldogs, the MSU variety, scored five runs to give the SEC a 2-1 record against Samford this season. Samford had defeated Alabama, 4-3, and lost to Auburn, 7-1, previously.
Mississippi State was led in hitting by Rea, Turner and LaNinfa, all of whom had 2 hits apiece. Powers had three RBI to lead State. The Bulldogs had 11 hits in 36 at-bats.
Mitch Moreland, who is now 1-0 for the season, earned the victory for State. With his two strikeouts, he now has 10 in 5 innings of work.
"You need a guy (in the closer's role) to get some strikeouts and Mitch can do that," said Polk. "When you get a guy to second or third, you don't want somebody to put a bleeder over someone's head. You want a guy who can get a K or a popup and Mitch has that capability."
Samford was led in hitting by Marseco who was 3-for-5. Garrett Rice and Wayne Miller had two hits each.
Knapp threw seven innings, allowing 3 runs (all earned) on 7 hits and 1 walk while striking out 7. Edens, who came into the game with a team-leading 1.93 earned run average and 6 saves in 11 appearances, took the loss. His record now stands at 2-1.
The Bulldogs' next opponent is third-ranked South Carolina, who comes in for a three-game SEC series this weekend.
"(South Carolina) is a very good ballclub," said Polk. "They pounded two mid-week opponents this week. I think they lead the league in fielding average and pitching earned run average right now. And we lead the league in hitting. It's going to be a war."
Gene Swindoll is the publisher of the Dawgs' Bite, Powered by GenesPage.com website, the source for Mississippi State sports on the Scout.com sports network. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.