#4 seed Mississippi State (33-19) falls into elimination play and meets the Commodores at 1:00. And barring a strong surge through the loser's bracket the Bulldogs know they might well have also been eliminated from the chance to play the first round of NCAA tourney action at home. "Coming in this we needed a few wins to possibly host," said senior 2B Jeffrey Rea, a veteran of post-season selection tensions. "Our backs are against the wall basically."
It was Kline who backed the Bulldogs up against that wall. The junior righthander (6-2) earned the decision with an impressive nine frames, in which he mostly scattered eight Bulldog base hits and was one swing from throwing a shutout at State. He struck out ten with a couple of walks, and was at his best in potential RBI situations against the middle of MSU's order. Kline held the 4-5-6 batters to one safety in 11 combined chances with only a harmless double in the third inning by 1B Mitch Moreland.
"Will Kline was an ace tonight," Coach Ron Polk agreed. "Last time in Oxford I didn't think his command was as good but he was really tough tonight."
Good enough to go the distance, though Ole Miss had closer Cody Satterwhite warming in the eighth just in case. He needn't have bothered as Kline got the side and his last two Ks in that final frame. "He was getting ahead, hitting his spots and keeping you off-balance by throwing off-speed one at-bat and coming inside the next," said Rea, who had a pair of singles and scored State's only run in the bottom of the fifth inning.
State starter Justin Pigott (5-6) took the loss. He worked seven complete innings with seven hits and three runs, all earned. The lefthander struck out one and walked a pair on a night when he said he was working with ‘B' level stuff. "I was just trying to fight them off, they had a real good approach and I had to make a lot of adjustments out there. You tip your hat to them."
"They got a couple of hits back-to-back and in a low scoring game like this it's just a matter of who puts the ball in play," Polk said. "Pigott pitched well enough to give us a win but it was Will Kline's night."
Kline showed grit immediately after a pair of Dogs reached in his first frame, on singles by Rea and C Edward Easley. He got swinging strikeouts of 1B Mitch Moreland and DH Brian LaNinfa. It was more of the same frustration in the MSU third as with one on and two outs Moreland sliced a double down the rightfield line, too soft for Easley to score from first. With a pair in scoring positions LaNinfa fanned on a 2-2 offering just below the zone.
"We had opportunities but you don't get many against Will," Polk said. "Very few 3-1, 2-1 counts. We knew this bracket was a pitching bracket and we had to have some luck, put the ball in play."
Pigott went through his own first inning routinely. But an out into the second he was hit by Zach Miller, who stole second on the next pitch. Pigott lost the zone to walk Logan Power and fell behind C.J. Ketchum 3-1, forcing him to feed a fastball that turned into a single up the middle and 1-0 score. Kyle Mills fell behind 1-2 yet was also able to pound a base hit over the second-base bag for another RBI. The Rebels might have run themselves out of a bigger inning on a double-steal try, as Easley threw out Ketchum at third. Pigott grounded out the nine-batter, but already trailed 2-0.
"I made a little mistake because Ketchum hits me really well up the middle and to the four-hole," Pigott said. "And we were playing the six-hole for some reason, I had a little mis-communication there otherwise it's a double-play."
A leadoff single in the OM third looked like the start of something as Cozart followed with a drive tailing into center-right. CF Mark Goforth was on the run for a sweet stab a step shy of the track, and while he fell on the catch and the throw-in was delayed State still got two outs on one play. Because, runner Jordan Henry had already rounded second base and scrambling back failed to tap the middle bag.
The Rebels did come through in their half of the fifth though. Pigott had two on for free, with a walk and plunking, and an out. Cozart's liner to Moreland could have killed two as pinch-runner Jojo Tann was midway to third base, but Moreland tried to beat Jordan Henry back to first and didn't. So the inning was alive and Justin Henry delivered the RBI-single to centerfield. It took a diving stab-and-stop from Sneed to keep it 3-0 at the halfway point.
"It'd have been nice to hold them and not let them get that run in the fifth and I had the opportunity too," Pigott said. "I just didn't make the pitch. Henry got the best of me that time, it was a fastball-in that wasn't in enough."
That extra run came up handy with State ending the shutout in the bottom of the frame. With one out Rea singled and stole and Kline walked 2B Brandon Turner. Easley did the honors with a clean hit through the box plating Rea. Kline staved off any real rally by coaxing a meek grounder from Moreland and double-dip to keep it at 3-1.
Pigott survived a first-pitch triple in his sixth inning with a grounder back to his glove and two line-outs. With a runner on first and relief warming up Pigott got a called strikeout to end his seventh and his stint. Ricky Bowen was able to retire all six he faced, but his offense wasn't able to knock Kline out of this game.
"We out-hit them but they got the key hits," Polk said. "Will got ahead of us and we couldn't get the key hits."
Now the Bulldogs have to play from behind if they want to lengthen their stay in Hoover, and make up some of the damage done to their NCAA hosting case. "It's a must-win," said Rea.
Polk, who shuffled his lineup for this game due to various injuries, also changed the pitching schedule by going with usual game-two guy Pigott. State would be expected to come back with usual series starter RH Chad Crosswhite, though Polk couldn't confirm it immediately after the loss. "I don't know right now, we've got to think about it." Not that there is much time for thinking as the Bulldogs will be back on Regions Park barely a dozen hours after leaving it.