Easley came into Wednesday the team leader in longballs with eight, but he had not hit anything out of a park since the Friday night game at Arkansas back on April 6. The junior backstop admitted some worry about the power outage, though he kept them quiet while the team was winning games.
After watching two of his contacts exit Dudy Noble Field via the left stage, Easley felt free to show relief. "I've been feeling real good even though I've been struggling, nothing's been wrong with my swing, things haven't been falling. But I put some good swings on the ball tonight and a couple happened to get out of the yard."
They were big boosts for the Bulldog squad as well. Down 3-2 in the third inning with one out and SS Brandon Turner on first base Easley got around on a breaking ball from USM starter Mike Cashion that didn't bend enough. "I got a first pitch curveball that hung and I got a good swing on it." The drive cleared leftfield by plenty.
His next time up, in the fifth with State leading 5-3, Turner was again on the first sack via his own base hit. This drive didn't have the same altitude but was plenty long to clear the fence and give the Bulldogs all the insurance they needed. For good measure Easley doubled and scored in the first inning and walked on base in the sixth for a perfect evening at the plate. He also gunned down a pair of Southern Mississippi baserunners in support of reliever Ricky Bowen, in the fourth and fifth frames.
Bowen, the second pitcher of the evening, was awarded the decision after throwing the three middle-innings even though he entered with a 5-3 lead. The freshman was somewhat surprised to be called on to spell starter Jared Koon so early. Or for that matter, "I kind of wondered if we would get the game in but we did, and it was really good," he said.
"I figured I might get a chance to get some innings in but I didn't think I was going to come in right then, I thought Jared would go back out because he was doing well. They just decided to get me in and I was fine with that, I was ready to pitch."
Bowen (4-1) was touched for a run on three Eagle hits while striking out four of the 11 he faced. Koon also worked three-complete with three runs on four hits and another four fannings. Greg Houston put in an inning-plus before Aaron Weatherford was called on to solve a jam in the eighth and pick up his second save of the season.
In fact, "We were going to pitch Weatherford in the fifth if we had to, if the rain was coming," said Coach Ron Polk. First pitch was delayed 25 minutes by a brief shower and for much of the first four innings a mild drizzle kept coming down with a few flickers of lightning on the horizon. When the Golden Eagles took a couple of early leads the home folk among the 1,155 at DNF were likely hoping for a fast washout. They needn't have worried.
Cashion had two down in the first when a high fly from Easley landed between the center- and rightfielders for a double. 1B Mitch Moreland cashed in the opportunity with a clean single through shortstop for the RBI and 1-0 Bulldog lead. Koon didn't keep it though, walking the first USM batter in the top of the second and with one down serving one up for Luke Adkins to crush over rightfield and put the Eagles on top.
The MSU offense was able to even things up with some help in the bottom of the frame. CF Mark Goforth was on third base with two outs as DH Jet Butler grounded to the shortstop. The throw was in time but the first baseman dropped the ball as Goforth crossed for a 2-2 tie. Which the Bulldogs promptly lost as USM's ninth and first batters in the third inning each singled for runners on corners. A hot shot to second caught 2B Jeffrey Rea on the short hop and lead runner Brian Dozier made it 3-2 on the error.
Koon had a pair in scoring positions after a successful bunt, and steadied to get cleanup man Ewing and Carson on called strikeouts.
Which made it Mississippi State's turn to go in front. The Dogs did one two big swings. Easley came up with one out and Turner on first via Cashion's first walk of the evening. He watched one strike before turning on a better one and no-doubting the left field fence. An out later it was LF Joseph McCaskill's turn. He went the other way, with a line-shot that barely cleared both the rightfielder's glove and the top of the fence for his first homer of the year and a 5-3 Bulldog lead.
As McCaskill crossed the plate Polk and pitching coach Russ McNickle were agreeing to change moundsmen immediately. "I thought velocity would be a little tougher on Southern Miss. Jared hasn't pitched in almost a month due to rain, he was just feeling his way through and they hit some well-hit balls. Southern Miss' coaches say they're struggling a little swinging the bat so I thought Ricky's velocity would be a little better at that particular point." It was.
Bowen got a few hasty extra tosses of between-inning warmup. And while the righthander hit an Eagle in the fourth inning and got hit to open the fifth his battery-mate took care of each as Easley shot them down on attempted steals, the second making the game official at 4.5 innings.
And just for good measure Easley came up in the bottom of the frame with Turner again on base, via his leadoff single. He was behind 1-2 before going over leftfield again for a 7-3 lead. Cashion had to strand a pair to keep it there through five. The Eagles shaved one off their deficit on back-to-back doubles to start their sixth, with Michael Ewing's gapper plating Blount. Bowen shook it off, rolling one out and striking out a pair to complete the longest stint of his short MSU career.
"I had to focus and re-set and get things back together. I was really just trying to hit my spots, throw the ball where it's called."
Houston got the side in the USM seventh but opened the eighth by hitting one and allowing a single to Blount. The ball and problem was handed over to Weatherford and the soph got a fast and odd twin-killing. Cleanup batter Michael Ewing lined out to rightfield as lead runner James Ewing slipped trying to get back to second base and was doubled-off by RF Andy Rice.
State added no offense the last three turns off a trio of Eagle relievers, though it took a double-play in the sixth to keep the Dogs at seven runs. It was sufficient. And the last few frames were played without any more real rain, though the damp field was a factor Polk thought. "It helped Adkins and McCaskill hit home runs." Regardless the coach was glad to have gotten the evening in and series finished. He, USM Coach Corky Palmer, and the umpires had agreed that if more rain came the tarp would remain rolled and the game called since both teams must travel this weekend for road conference series.
"It's nice to win two games against a good ball club like Southern Miss," said Polk. Now his Bulldogs prepare for a SEC showdown in Oxford against arch-rival and fellow Western Division contender Ole Miss.