The win was State's first of the year either in extra innings or by a lone run. For Sneed it was his first longball of the season, and relieved an otherwise frustrating evening. "I wasn't going 0-for-5," he said of his approach to the plate. "I was coming out of my shoes. They'd started me off fastballs inside, I was hoping they were going to do the same."
Dunning did, though it wasn't quite as inside as what his predecessors had gotten Sneed out with. Instead this one ended outside the park. "I didn't even look up, off the bat I could tell it was gone," Coach Ron Polk said.
Sneed's shot made a winner of his team and his teammate, as Chad Crosswhite threw the top of the 11th and struck out all the bottom third of USA's order. It was a return to old days for Crosswhite (1-2). "I was just glad to come out and throw strikes, whatever I could do to make the team win. That's what I did for my two years coming out of the pen. The rest of the pitchers had done well so I was trying to come in and throw strikes."
Crosswhite had taken over from John Lalor, whose four scoreless innings (six strikeouts, one walk) got the game into extra innings. "It was good to get out there and just let some go," Lalor said. "We needed to win an emotional game here." State starter Jared Wesson struggled in his one-plus inning, giving up the first four USA runs on four hits with a pair of walks, before freshman Forrest Moore battled through five innings with a pair of runs, five hits, and two Ks.
Dunning (1-1) took the loss on that lone toss, the sixth Jaguar hurler of the evening.
Sneed showed some glove prowess to help Wesson out of the first by snaring a line-shot to start a double-play. But Wesson led off his second turn with two walks, then was tagged for consecutive singles by Sean Laird and Russell Harben for the first USA score. With the sacks still full Moore was rushed to the hill to face the #9 batter.
Jake Overstreet lifted a fly ball that sacrificed in former Dog Bunky Kateon, followed by RBI singles from Ray Kruml and Clint Toomey. David Doss's sac-fly to center made it 5-0 before the inning was ended. Moore erased his third-inning walk with a pickoff, and returned for the top of the fourth after his offense had chopped four runs off the deficit.
USA starter Kevin Nabors had worked around a couple of Bulldog base hits in the first and a two-out double by 2B Jet Butler in the second. In the third two were down as DH Jason Nappi doubled to right-centerfield. C Cody Freeman's hot grounder was errored at third base for Dogs on corners and a walk of 3B Connor Powers filled all stops. Nabors got to talk with his coach, but 1B Tyler Moore still drilled a two-run hit through the left side to get State on the board and activate the USA bullpen.
Four balls walked Sneed and re-loaded the bases for Butler, who got enough barrel on ball to drop a fly behind shortstop, score Powers and Moore, get State within a run, and chase Nabors. Reliever Lance Baxter immediately plunked CF Mark Goforth, but got order-topper RF Grant Hogue to ground right to the shortstop and leave the tying runner standed with two more teammates. It stung more as the Jaguars got one of the runs back in their fourth on a Harben double, bunt, and chink-single by Kruml for the RBI and 6-4 difference.
Moore kept it there with a couple of scoreless innings to end his stint with Lalor taking over for the top of the seventh. Centerfielder Goforth made a superb running catch to out his first batter, then Lalor sat five straight. Still Baxter was equally able to hold back the Bulldogs at bay through six, only to set up big trouble in the seventh. Powers and Moore singled their way on, and while Sneed's bunt to the mound only forced the lead runner Baxter hit Butler to load the paths.
Goforth's ninth place in the order was taken by pinch-batter Jeff Flagg, who lifted a deep enough fly to rightfield for Moore to score and Sneed to take third as the tying runner. Hogue again made good contact but again right to the shortstop for the middle-force as Baxter escaped with a 6-5 lead and Miles Etheridge got the ball. Only to hand it over to sidearmer Johnson after a leadoff walk of Collins. Except the replacement also issued a free base, to Nappi. The Jaguars guessed rightly that State was planning to sacrifice both along.
And they played it wrongly as Freeman dropped his bunt just down the right line. Catcher Doss got the ball cleanly but looked at the third corner, then rushed a bad throw that went into rightfield. LF Ryan Collins came all the way from second for a tied score with the go-ahead run at third and insurance on second.
So after striking out Powers, the Jags took no chances with Moore and walked him for forces at every post. The move paid off as Sneed blooped out to second and Butler grounded out to the mound to keep things knotted 6-6 going into the ninth. Another lost chance to lead seemed about to bite as USA's Laird led off with a double. Unfazed, Lalor struck out the bottom two of the order and fanned Kruml with pinch-runner Clint Reynolds on the move.
Lalor had another challenge in the tenth with a leadoff single by Toomey and successful Doss sacrifice. An intentional walk was given for the force just in case, but Lalor fanned Ryan Bohanan and Laird popped out to strand two, too, ending his tour. In the bottom of the frame with Freeman on first and two outs Johnson pitched to Moore and got a fly ball. Play resumed just long enough for Dunning to serve Sneed his fastball.
Only two of State's runs were earned, but the Bulldogs weren't apologizing for any help. They edged the Jags in hitting, 12 to 11, with Moore's three safeties in five trips setting the pace.
Maybe it was just a midweek success, but simply getting a tough win—and doing it in dramatic fashion—might be the spark Mississippi State required. "It's been a struggle, it really has," Crosswhite said. "For the fans, we're trying our hardest. I'm just glad Russ came through with a big one, that's what you need."
The Bulldogs are still home this weekend, but in conference competition with a three game series against Georgia. Polk was not able to offer a rotation for the weekend. He did say Ricky Bowen and Lee Swindle will start games, but doesn't which day or who the third opener might be.