Vandy Surges Past State For 15-8 Win

Eight runs would normally be sufficient on a SEC Friday night to feel reasonably sure of success. Unfortunately, not so for Mississippi State. Not when Vanderbilt could nearly double that offensive output to open the weekend series with a 15-8 victory at Dudy Noble Field. "What is it, Murphy's Law?" suggested third baseman Connor Powers. "It's getting to that point."

A tough point indeed. Vanderbilt batsmen pounded out 18 hits, including three home runs and seven doubles, as the 17th-ranked (ESPN) Commodores improved to 22-10. Their league record evened at 6-6, which is still last in the Eastern Division as South Carolina stayed a win ahead. Mississippi State fell further into the West cellar at 3-10, 14-19 overall.

State's offense wasn't exactly anemic, either, with eleven total hits and home runs by Powers and 1B Tyler Moore. In fact the Bulldogs scored in the first four innings and led as much as 7-3. Which the visitors shrugged off by scoring four runs in their sixth inning and five more in the seventh to turn the outcome totally around.

"Playing against a veteran ball club that has a lot of really good kids on the team, when you've got them down you've got to keep them down," said Powers. "You can't let them back in the game." Or let the starting pitcher keep hanging around. Yet Vanderbilt starter Mike Minor was able to just outlast the home team. Despite giving up those seven runs on nine hits, the lefthander was still on-the-record when his offense got in high gear.

Minor (4-2) threw six full frames, walking three and striking out six before turning things over to a trio of relievers. Russell Brewer, Sean Bierman, and Mark Lamm all got to throw an inning apiece, with State's other run coming off Bierman on two eighth-inning hits.

State starter Chad Crosswhite was assessed nine of Vanderbilt's safeties and the first seven runs, struck out one and walked two. But the decision didn't end up on his record; that was the fate of Michael Busby who took the hill with no outs and two on in the top of the sixth. In his 1.1 official innings the freshman (0-3) gave up five runs on six hits, taking a third-straight losing decision in a relief role. Andy Wilson worked the last 2.2 frames with three runs on three hits and a couple of strikeouts.

"We didn't pitch well in the middle part of the ball game, didn't make a couple of plays," Coach Ron Polk said. "And all of a sudden they got contagious hitting."

MSU got on the board first as with two outs Minor walked DH Jason Nappi. Powers missed on a 3-1 offering; he was more controlled on full-count and still got more than enough metal on ball for a line-drive over right centerfield. "I just tried to relax and not over-swing. I tried to make a two-strike adjustment and hit a line drive, to be honest I didn't know how it got out!" But it did, his 11th home run of the season and fifth in the last three games.

The Commodores hacked the lead in half as shortstop Ryan Flaherty took the first pitch of the second inning over the other fence, his seventh homer. But Minor was in even more trouble the second time up. He did pick off SS Russ Sneed after a leadoff walk, but with two down C Johnny Allen legged out an infield bouncer and 2B Jet Butler followed with a single past the diving third baseman. With the count full Hogue made the bases the same by taking ball-four. RF Nick Hardy had grounded out his first meeting with Minor; this time he got a little loft on contact and dropped a chink single in front of the rightfielder.

Allen and Butler made home to expand the lead to 4-1. And in the third inning Moore made it 5-1 as he took Minor over left-centerfield for his seventh longball of the year.

That solo shot loomed larger in Vanderbilt's fourth inning to hit. Because with two out and a ‘Dore on first Brad French reached as Powers had to charge and gamble on a slow bouncer. The ball got on through, ruled an error, putting runners on first and third for Shea Robin. The catcher hooked a hard shot over third base and into the corner, allowing both teammates to score on his double.

Crosswhite kept it at 5-3 by flying nine-hole batter Brian Harris to left. And his offense immediately got the runs back, beginning with effective use of the short game. Butler surprised Minor by dropping a leadoff bunt in front of the mound. It might have been a hit anyway, but the pitcher doubled the effect by throwing wide of first base to put Butler on second base. Hogue followed with his own bunt-single, and Hardy sacrificed both along. Minor got Nappi to pop-out but Powers still had another chance to swing, and his drive hit the base of the centerfield fence for two more RBI and a 7-3 scoreboard.

"It felt good to have a lead, but we weren't able to close the deal," Polk said. "We just didn't pitch well in the middle part of the ball game."

Because the Commodores were getting a read on State's starter and came back with another pair of scores after, again, two were out. Pedro Alvarez singled, Flaherty walked, and Dominic de la Osa plated the lead runner on his single to center. Crosswhite's dirtball made it 7-5 as Flaherty came home, before White fanned on full count.

Crosswhite's tour ended with a leadoff single and RBI-double by Robin in the sixth to make it 7-6 with the tying run on second and no outs. Righthander Busby, who'd gone two-thirds of a frame with two runs allowed Tuesday night at Memphis, got the call and flew out Harris. Order-topper David Macias sliced a single into center for the even-up RBI, then stole his way into scoring position.

He might have done so as Liddle singled over shortstop. But Macias was held at third, while Liddle assumed the throw was going home and tried to stretch for second and was thrown out. Still State couldn't get out of the inning tied because as Alvarez took ball-four the pitch went off Allen's glove for a passed ball that let Macias make home. With two outs and two on de la Osa dropped a double inside the left-field line that scored Alvarez for a 9-7 Vanderbilt lead.

Busby issued a leadoff walk in the seventh, which hurt as Harris doubled over the rightfielder for a one-out RBI. Macias' third base hit had runners on opposing corners and lefthander Wilson taking the mound. And serving up a three-run blast to substitute batter Parker Hanks. Alvarez doubled and scored when de la Osa's grounder was thrown away at first by Powers for a 14-7 difference at the stretch.

The Bulldogs scratched out an eighth-inning run off Bierman with a two-out walk of Butler and singles by Hogue and pinch-hitter Andy Rice. Which Vanderbilt's Macias negated on one swing in the ninth, homering two rows deep into leftfield. It was his fourth hit in six at-bats for three RBI. Alvarez and de la Osa each had three safeties with a double apiece.

Hogue and Powers had a pair of hits for State, and Powers posted his second four-RBI game of the year. Still all that mattered to him was the scoreboard. "I made two errors. You've got to play defense. It kind of let them back in the ball game. But I mean, that's the one thing about baseball: if you ever give up on yourself you're done. Nobody on our team is doing that."

The Bulldogs will try to play a more complete game Saturday, with righty Ricky Bowen (2-3, 6.64era) scheduled to start the 2:00 contest against Vanderbilt rookie righthander Caleb Cotham (4-2, 3.82). With SEC season nearing half-way Mississippi State is in an increasingly deep hole, but Polk still strikes the even-keel note. "We're just trying to keep these puppies going," he said.

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