Crosswhite has been key to State's climb in the standings, and into the national rankings. After moving from the bullpen he scored Friday night SEC wins at both Arkansas and Tennessee. This time though he was at home, and didn't just start a win. He finished it.
"They asked me in the ninth could I go, I said yes sir," said Crosswhite (5-1). "I got kind of tired but I was glad we won. It was fun." Crosswhite did give up the ten Tiger hits and three runs, all earned, but struck out five and walked nobody. That control, and the big lead, allowed Coach Ron Polk to leave him on the hill all evening.
"It was good for our bullpen, any time you get a Friday night complete game," Polk said. "Chad competed well." Well enough to go the distance on 112 pitches. Though he was quick to credit all that offensive support as State pouned out 16 hits and a dozen runs at the expense of four Tiger hurlers. "They made it so much easier for me. Our guys did just outstanding, they hit everything, put guys in scoring position and got them in."
Five Bulldog batters had multiple hits, and the top two in the order had three apiece. That was 2B Jeffrey Rea and LF Joseph McCaskill, who also drove in three runs between them. SS Brandon Turner, DH Brian LaNinfa, and RF Jeff Flagg each had a pair of safeties.
"It's like someone steps up different every night," said Rea, who moved into a tie for 4th on the MSU career hits list with 295, catching Burke Masters (1987-90). Nine of those base knocks came off LSU starter and loser Charlie Furbush (3-5). The lefty did strike out six Dogs with good velocity but also gave up seven runs with three walks in 5.1 innings.
The Tigers didn't make it easy on State's starter and Crosswhite had some early challenges with base hits in the first and second innings. His battery-mate solved problems each time by shooting down a couple of attempted thefts. "They've got a history of running," Easley said. "I studied the scouting report and Chad did a great job getting the ball to me quick." Even when LSU evened the score 1-1 with Jared Mitchell's RBI-single in the top of the fourth Crosswhite wasn't rattled.
"My slider was the best it's been in along time," he said. "I got ahead with my fastball and threw my changeup a whole lot more."
For his part Furbush got through two with no damage, then then Flagg led off State's third with a single up the middle. Nine-batter CF Mark Goforth tried two bunts before swinging away for a grounder to the mound that accomplished the same purpose. Rea, who'd taken a called third strike his first time-up, made contact this turn and slipped a single into centerfield. Polk waved Flagg around and the ball was bobbled just enough to allow the runner to cross for a 1-0 Bulldog lead.
After the Tigers got on the board the Bulldogs regained their lead in the bottom of the fourth. With two down LaNinfa singled and got a green light to steal second, successfully and surprisingly as LSU's catcher dropped the pitch. It looked for nought as 3B Connor Powers lifted a high drive that wasn't going to reach the track. But LSU rightfielder Chris McGee got turned around, then simply tripped over his own cleats. The ball landed a foot behind his glove for the go-ahead run and a ‘triple' to Powers' credit.
The next inning State put some real pressure on the Tigers. Goforth got it started with a leadoff single, and Rea followed with a base hit of his own to rightfield. Not only that but the Bulldogs were aggressive, because when Goforth went on to third Rea gambled that the throw would go there. It did and the senior slid into second base.
McCaskill's fly-ball to deep rightfield easily scored Goforth and let Rea advance to the third post. Furbush fell behind Easley 3-1 and LSU went ahead with the walk for Dogs on corners. Throwing four balls to 1B Mitch Moreland and loading all bases probably wasn't planned. Down 0-2 Turner grounded right to the mound for a force at the plate and no more.
This kept the inning alive and on the first throw Furbush plunked LaNinfa to force in Easley for a 4-1 lead through five frames. Those expansion scores loomed larger when LSU chopped a run off their deficit in the sixth. A hit batsman, bunt, and two-out single by clean-up man Sean Ochinko made it a 4-2 contest, not that Crosswhite seemed bothered. "I was lucky enough to get out of it," he said.
"Chad throwing strikes was a key," said Easley. "And we put some runs on the board for him." Specifically, four in both the sixth and seventh innings. Flagg reached as the diving Tiger second-sacker couldn't come up with his grounder. RF Andy Rice took his place on the first bag. Again Goforth couldn't get the bunt down and bounced a ball to the pitcher. But his throw pulled the second baseman off enough for Rice to slide in safely, putting a pair on with the top of State's order coming up. Rea made it loaded-bases by walking on full count.
"I think he (Furbush) got tired, he lost a little gas," said Rea. "We stuck with him and I was proud to beat him."
With one out LSU chose to make the change with Nolan Cain handed the one-out jam. The righty, not nearly so hard a thrower, nibbled at the outside corner twice before offering Easley a fat one. "I've been struggling lately and had a big opportunity come up. He hung me a curveball and I just put a good swing on it." He drove it over the leftfielder and to the fence for a three-run double. "The big hit, with three pretty good runners on base," Polk called it.
With two down and Easley on third Turner singled State into a 8-2 lead that also ended Cain's short stint. Lefty Kyle Beerbohm allowed a single to LaNinfa before stranding a pair.
With that margin Crosswhite could shrug off a leadoff triple from Ryan Schimpf and passed ball that scored LSU's third run. Two fly balls and a strikeout got State into the stretch, and in the bottom of the inning with one out and Rice on second base Rea lined a triple to left-centerfield for his second RBI of the evening. He dashed home on a dirtball to the backstop.
McCaskill singled his way on and took second on another Beerbohm wild pitch, which opened the Tiger bullpen gate again for righthander J.T. Wise. He finished walking Easley and wild-pitched both runners into scoring positions. With two outs Tiger centerfielder Mitchell couldn't quite come up with a sinking fly ball off Turner's stick, resulting in a two-run single and the final margin of MSU victory.
"It's good to be back home," said Easley. "And it's always good to take the Friday night game." It was State's fifth victory in six SEC Fridays, and seventh win in the last eight games.
Polk will start lefthander Justin Pigott (3-3, 5.50 ERA) in Saturday's 2:00 game-two, while LSU will also have a southpaw on the hill in Ryan Burd (5-1, 3.85). With the Bulldog bullpen still fresh every arm is available at need. Every one except Crosswhite, of course, who admits he still thinks like a middle reliever. But he will have another sort of work in store this weekend.
"It's funny, the second day is the worst when we have to run. I'm still getting used to it."