State Tops Hatters 6-3 For First-Round Win

Stetson was pitching to win a tournament, while the Diamond Dogs were playing to win a game. The latter approach proved wiser, as Mississippi State earned a 6-3 victory over the Hatters in the opening contest of the Tallahassee Regional at Dick Howser Stadium.

Regional #2 seed Mississippi State pushed runners home in four-consecutive middle innings while limiting third-seed Stetson to one productive frame. "We got a couple of timely hits, for the most part we pitched well," Coach Ron Polk said. "And it's good to win the first ball game." The Bulldogs (34-20) advance to a 7:00 Saturday match with the winner of Friday evening's game between host Florida State and fourth-seed Bethune-Cookman.

State had more than a few timely hits. The Bulldogs punched out 13 total safeties off a pair of Hatter hurlers, as many hits as State totaled in two SEC Tournament games last week. "We had some good at-bats," said 1B Mitch Moreland who himself had the very best hit of his team's day with a solo home run in the third inning. "We got back in double-digit hits which is something we haven't done in a while." Eight Dogs in all batted safely at least once, and LF Joseph McCaskill led the list with three base knocks, all singles.

This provided sufficient scoring to support starter Chad Crosswhite and a couple of relievers. "Once the hitters got some runs it was just cruise-control then," Crosswhite (8-4) said. The sophomore righthander didn't exactly cruise through his 5.1 innings of work, but he did scatter six hits with no damage done while walking two and striking out four.

John Lalor replaced the starter an out into the sixth inning to strand a pair of inherited runners, but also gave up all three Stetson scores in the seventh. Ricky Bowen came out to retire all he faced in the last two frames and earn his team-best fifth save, striking out three.

Stetson (41-20) didn't approach this tourney by the proverbial book, opting to save ace righthander Corey Kluber for the second day. Instead lefty Chris Ingoglia was given the ball, and while the Bulldogs understood the tactic they also felt a bit insulted at the presumption. It took a while to get to Ingoglia and he stranded the first six Dogs to reach base.

Ingoglia (9-6) was able to match Crosswhite's tour at 5.1 official, but he was tagged for ten hits and five runs (four earned) with a walk. Justin Dechert threw the last 2.2 turns with a run on three hits. Stetson pitchers combined for seven strikeouts.

Crosswhite certainly didn't coast through his early innings either, as he had eight Hatters reach and needed to strand all to keep the game scoreless through the top of the fourth. The day was overcast and only 80 degrees but still muggy enough to drain the starter's battery quickly. "The heat got to me and my legs got tired," Crosswhite said.

Still he worked around consecutive singles in his first inning, stranded another runner in the second, and overcame a potential third-turn jam after a dropped grounder and walk had a pair of Hatters on with no outs. A line-shot to the leftfielder and double-play ended that threat. "When they turned that double-play it got some spunk back in me," he said. The pitcher also got an assist to keep his shutout through four, as with a runner taking off from first Jeremy Cruz lifted a drive to right-centerfield. RF Jeff Flagg, who hadn't started in the field for weeks with back problems, took off towards center and made the diving stab to prevent a run.

State's offense was frustrated as well, particularly in the third after loading the bags with one out. Consecutive errors, of a grounder by 3B Russ Sneed and fly ball by CF Jeffrey Rea, had Dogs on corners. A sliced single by McCaskill was too soft to score anyone, and Ingoglia escaped with a double-play grounder from C Edward Easley.

But in the bottom of the fourth he met up again with Moreland, a fly-ball out in the first frame. "He started out first-pitch fastball and got behind in the count, so I was kind of sitting on next-pitch fastball and got it and barreled it off," Moreland said. Off and over rightfield for a 1-0 lead. And still State didn't press the advantage after filling the sacks again on Stetson gaffes, a Flagg hit, and intentional walk of Sneed. Ingoglia struck out SS Jet Butler and Rea to keep it 1-0.

State was able to manufacture something the next time around though. McCaskill already had two hits and nothing to show for them. His third base hit, in the fifth, turned out better as Easley moved him around on a single to center. Easley tried stretching his own luck and was thrown out at second, but still the lead runner was on third. Moreland earned his second RBI of the day, with a dribbler that never left the infield but bounced long enough for McCaskill to race across the plate.

Bulldog batters had the gauge of Ingoglia by now, as LaNinfa led off the bottom of the sixth with a double scorched past first base. Flagg's grounder wasn't meant as a sacrifice but worked as well, moving LaNinfa up to third where he could score as Sneed hit safely through shortstop. Butler blooped a single over the right side that had Stetson's coach visiting the mound.

The coach was soon back with the hook as Rea singled to rightfield for a 4-0 lead and runners on corners as the throw-home was errored. Righthander Dechert assumed the one-out, two-on situation and he finally got an outing of McCaskill…which still produced a run as the grounder scored Butler from third.

Meanwhile Crosswhite had got an out into the top of the sixth before a walk, single, and two balls brought an abrupt end to his stint. "The heat got to me and I started leaving balls up," he said. "They made the right decision." Polk said he'd planned to make the quick move but let Crosswhite throw two more pitches to give Lalor a bit longer to loosen. The righthander inherited two runners and the 2-0 count, which he made 3-0 before putting a pair in the strike zone. Each time Cruz started towards first base, though, so he was foolish to let a close full-count pitch go by for ump Perry Costello to ring him up. Lalor went full-count before fanning Josh Clendenin.

Lalor returned to a 5-0 lead, only to give away the three runs State had scored in the sixth inning. A one-out walk and two-out double from Braedyn Pruitt ended the Stetson shutout, and when Lalor hung a curveball high cleanup batter Justin Bass cranked a two-run homer to rightfield that had the Hatters back within 5-3. A called strikeout ended that rally.

State got one of those scores back in the bottom of the frame, again with unintended assistance. Dechert had two down before LaNinfa and Flagg singled. A wild pitch advanced both runners, then with Sneed facing 2-2 Dechert began to deliver…and lost his grip for a balk that scored LaNinfa for the final 6-3 cushion. Stetson's last six batters couldn't knock anything out of the infield off Bowen.

The Bulldogs didn't just pitch and hit, they played the field far better than a Stetson team used to post-season games in Tallahassee. The only error was a third-inning drop of a grounder by 2B Brandon Turner, still getting back to game-speed after his May hamstring issues. Turner handled five more chances routinely. The Hatters were charged with five errors and mis-handled several other opportunities to get outs of careless MSU runners.

State will be back on Howser Field at 7:00 Saturday evening, weather permitting, for the crucial winner's bracket showdown. Polk will start lefthander Justin Pigott, but will wait for the matchup to settle his lineup and order.

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