"Clemson is a great ball club and they're going to bounce back, we don't have anything given to us yet," said Coach Ron Polk. "Our boys know that." But those boys also know how well they played Friday to move within a single win of Omaha.
"Today we just made great swings and did our job," said RF Mitch Moreland, who did the biggest single portion of the job by driving in three runs on a pair of hits and scoring twice. It was Moreland's two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth that re-tied the game at 5-5, and his RBI-double the next inning that helped pad the margin sufficiently for security.
Moreland's shot—which came moments after his father learned Mitch had been drafted by Texas in the 17th round—was one of five homers hit out of the yard Friday. Clemson tallied there longballs for four of their runs. State just popped a pair but each did as much to boost Bulldog emotions as game position. It was DH Connor Powers' two-run bomb in the fifth that put his team's first tallies on the scoreboard after falling behind 2-0.
State rallied from that deficit, then again from 5-2, as both offenses took their turns and their hacks. "Then they came back, we came back, it was up-and-down," said Powers. Happily the Bulldogs ended up on top once again at NCAA tourney time. "It seems the whole time in post-season we've come up with big hits," said Moreland. "Whoever it is, it happens."
Even with the 14 combined scores, 20 total hits and nine extra-base knocks, there was some pretty fair pitching on a windy day that made Dudy Noble Field play much shorter than usual. Both Clemson's Daniel Moskos, selected fourth overall Thursday in the Major League draft, and State starter Chad Crosswhite put in five-plus tough innings of real work. Crosswhite was dealing with cramps as much as Tiger batters in his stint, so all things considered his allowing four runs on four hits with five strikeouts and a pair of walks was an admirable effort.
Lefthander Moskos looked even stronger yet his line turned out worse, with six runs charged on nine hits against four strikeouts. At times Moskos (3-6) looked every bit the elite draft pick, only to ultimately yield to some stubborn State swingers.
The hero-arm of the afternoon belonged to Bulldog bullpener John Lalor. The righty inherited a 5-2 deficit in the sixth and managed to hold the Tigers right there long enough for his offense to get in the real swing of things. "I didn't have a whole lot of time to get loose," he said. "But the adrenalin got flowing after that I had a good time out there." Good enough to go 3.0 innings with just two hits—one the eight-inning homer by Clemson's Doug Hogan—and three whiffs. Lalor (3-1) earned his first winning decision since March 29 against Memphis.
Aaron Weatherford took care of the ninth inning to record his fifth save of the season and second in post-season play. "John and Aaron did an outstanding job," said Crosswhite.
Crosswhite was competitive early himself, retiring the first six Tigers faced with help of a pickoff by C Edward Easley. A third-inning walk did no harm either, though Crosswhite was at 53 pitches by then. Meanwhile Moskos also kept it scoreless through three though with more drama as in the third turn the bottom of State's order loaded the bases on consecutive singles by 3B Russ Sneed, Powers, and SS Jet Butler.
Having filled all corners Moskos did better against the top, coaxing a pop-out from CF Jeffrey Rea and grounding LF Joseph McCaskill into a double-play. "We had right people up, you have to take advantage against a guy as good as Daniel," Polk said. And failure to cash in on gilded opportunity soon stung all the more in the fourth as a high Butler throw and blown call (depending on replay angle) at first base had leadoff Tiger Wilson Boyd on to lead off. Marquez Smith punched a single through the spot 1B Brian LaNinfa would have otherwise been defending, putting runners on corners with no outs.
Andy D'Alessio drove in the first Tigers run with his hit to rightfield and Smith took third, where he could score on a first-pitch fly ball from Taylor Harbin.
It was still 2-0 at the half-way point when the lower portion of MSU's order got another shot at Moskos. This time they made it pay off as LaNinfa lined a single the CU rightfielder couldn't quite snare. An out later Powers got his second hit off the starter, this one with more authority. "He threw me a fastball middle-away, he got behind in the count 3-1 and I was looking fastball." Even without wind-aid it would have cleared the fence; the breeze merely carried Powers' tying two-run shot a few rows further.
The deadlock lasted just two Clemson batters into their sixth as Crosswhite walked Smith on and cleanup batter D'Alessio turned on a 2-1 fastball that went a bit further than Powers' homer. After a pitch to Harbin trainer Jay Logan came to check on a cramping Crosswhite, and shortly after LH Jesse Carver was toeing the rubber…only to serve up a solo homer to Harbin for a 5-2 scoreboard. A single later with still no outs Carver was replaced by Lalor.
His hasty preparation was sufficient as Lalor struck out Alex Lee and Addison Johnson around a sharp pickoff of Hogan by Easley. "Any time you have a pickoff play it turns some things around a little bit," Polk said. Still State was back down and this time by three runs.
And this time, Moskos not only couldn't keep his team ahead but also left the field with the Tigers trailing after a four-run Bulldog burst in their half of the sixth. McCaskill got it going with a double off the fence, and Easley's hot one-hopper skipped by the CU third baseman's mitt for a single and RBI. It might have stayed a 5-3 score as Moskos got two strikes ahead of Moreland, who almost seemed to check his swing before following through.
"I was trying to battle and got enough of the ball," he said. Enough that it somehow kept sailing until getting over the fence a few strides right of the centerifeld wall. Suddenly it was back to tied, and 2B Brandon Turner put himself in go-ahead scoring position with a double to the left-center gap. LaNinfa's grounder was botched by second baseman J.D. Burgess for Dogs on corners, which mattered. Because it meant Turner was on third when reliever Stephen Clyne rolled a double-play and able to cross for a 6-5 lead.
And inning later it was 8-5. Rea led off the MSU seventh with a single and got around to third on a Nick Hardy bunt and Easley grounder. Clyne couldn't keep the runner away from home as Moreland lined his second double of the day. Then he swapped places with Turner on the second-sacker's own two-bagger, also to rightfield, to pad the MSU margin.
The extra scores came in handy for pitching peace of mind as Hogan slugged a two-out solo number in the Clemson eighth. Lalor kept it at 8-6 with a pop-out of pinch-hitter Ben Paulsen, then handed the pill to Weatherford for the ninth. Much like his Tallahassee Regional appearances the closer walked a leadoff man, but a strikeout, fly ball from the top of CU's order, and foul-flyout of Wilson Boyd ended the afternoon, though shortstop Butler tripped over Hardy making the grab.
"We were focused today and made some good swings," said Moreland, with half of State's dozen hits going for two or four bags. Clemson did have their three shots but only five other safeties.
State's victory puts all the pressure on the visitors, who will start righthander David Kopp (6-2, 3.67 ERA) in their must-win situation. Bulldog southpaw Justin Pigott (6-6, 4.31) gets the ball for the 11:00 am start. ESPN2 will carry the contest, and Mississippi State is making an extra 1,200 standing-room tickets available for more fans to help re-set the super regional gate record broken Friday.