Diamond Dogs Win One For The Skipper

The Diamond Dogs didn't specifically go into Coach Ron Polk's final Governor's Cup game against arch-rival Ole Miss trying to win one for the skipper. "We've got bigger worries than that right now," noted pitcher Aaron Weatherford. "But it's always good to win for him. I'm just glad we could do it for him tonight."

Mississippi State did indeed do it for themselves and their coach, battling to a 6-5 victory over Tuesday evening. A soft single to rightfield by 1B Tyler Moore scored CF Grant Hogue to break a 5-5 tie in the bottom of the eighth, and Weatherford sealed the deal by stranding the tying Rebel at second base with a game-ending grounder.

The win—which came in Polk's 150th meeting with Ole Miss at either MSU or Georgia—also put the Bulldogs back ahead in the annual metro-area event 15-14, including the old Mayor's Trophy. State is 2-0 in the Governor's Cup games played at Trustmark Park, where 7,862 watched this renewal of the rivalry. The Bulldogs left Pearl 15-21, but feeling much better about themselves.

"We needed this one," said Weatherford. "Against a rival like this, in an atmosphere like this, it's great. And the fans needed it as much as we did." Ole Miss is now 24-13.

Both sets of fans were treated to an entertaining evening in the ‘TeePee' with three lead changes and two tied scores. The last deadlock came on a steal-and-error combination, as Rebel centerfielder Logan Power took third base as Weatherford faced his first batter and came on home when Bulldog C Ryan Duffy's throw got into the outfield. Weatherford was able to keep it at 5-5 with consecutive strikeouts.

Rebel reliever Nathan Baker, who had entered in the Bulldog sixth inning, began the bottom of the eighth with a walk to State order-topper Hogue. RF Ryan Collins followed with a sinking-single that his counterpart Jeremy Travis got the glove on and appeared to knock out himself. With two Dogs on and no outs righthander Jake Morgan was brought in for one batter and one out, a fly ball from LF Jason Nappi that was still sufficient to let Hogue advance to third.

Righthander Justin Cryer was summoned to face Moore, who liked the 1-0 offering. "I pretty much knew he was coming fastball there because he'd just thrown the first one high," said the freshman first baseman. "He was also juicing-up pretty good. I just tried to put a good swing on it, and we were able to score a run on it." Because his looping drive drifted far enough towards the rightfield line that gave Travis no chance to reach. "I thought it was in whole time but Coach Polk was yelling to tag!" said Hogue, who didn't have to step back to the bag after all. Cryer did manage to leave the bases loaded on fly balls to his shortstop.

But Weatherford wasn't losing this one. Especially when designated hitter Cullan Kight, a sixth-inning Rebel hero, flew one into the rightfield corner that Collins chased down a step outside the line. "It was unreal," Weatherford said. "I wasn't sure he was going to catch it, I was just glad it was going to be foul!" Shortstop Sean Stuyverson kept it intense with his single and steal, but Weatherford shot down pinch-hitter Michael Hubbard on a fastball strikeout and SS Ryan Powers came up with a great grounder-grab and throw to first.

"It was a changeup, and Ryan made a great play," Weatherford said. "I can't take credit for the whole deal!" State was charged with just one error all evening, the run-scoring throw in the top of the eighth, but more than offset that with several sharp and a few superb stops-and-throws by infielders.

"That's what we've been looking for all year, just letting our pitchers be comfortable and throw ground balls," 3B Russ Sneed said. "Tonight we had a lot more opportunities for us to make harder plays. Defense was the key because the pitchers threw ground balls."

Weatherford (1-0) got the decision as State's fourth hurler of the evening, with three strikeouts and a hit on his line for 1.2 innings. Starter Tyler Whitney went five-plus frames, charged with four Rebel runs on five hits, a walk, and two strikeouts. Michael Busby went 0.2 innings with no damage, and Forrest Moore set it up for Weatherford with his 1.2 turns with a run, a hit, a strikeout and walk.

Baker (1-4) took the loss for Ole Miss.

Both starters hung up a couple of zeroes to open their stints, though OM's Brett Bukvich did allow a two-out double to Nappi and walked Moore in his first inning. For his part Whitney retired six-straight, until the third when Kyle Mills swung on first pitch and dropped a double into the right-centerfield gap. Stuyverson bunted him to third base, where with two outs he scored without a hit. State C Brooks Lewis, in his first start, let Whitney's pitch glance off the mitt for a passed ball and free run. An infield hit and wild pitch had Fuller Smith on second before Whitney fanned Travis.

The Bulldogs answered as Hogue worked a one-out walk and Collins followed with a deep drive that hopped once, caught the top of the fence and skimmed over for a ground-rule double. Instead of scoring Hogue had to come back to third, but a grounder to first base by Nappi brought him on home with the tying run. Collins was left at third though as third baseman Cody Overbeck nicely scooped a hot hopper by Moore to keep it tied 1-1.

Until the bottom of the fourth, that is. DH Cody Freeman, back after missing two weeks with a kneecap injury, lined a single through the left side; and 2B Jet Butler's soft safety fell behind shortstop. Powers was able to follow suit as well as with two outs his blooper cleared Stuyverson's glove by a foot and Freeman was able to come home on a still-shaky leg.

Righthander Rory McKean got the quick call to face the top of MSU's order. His first pitch got by the catcher, advancing both Dog runners into scoring positions. His sixth, a full-count offering, was grounded to second baseman Zach Miller and booted for a 3-1 lead. It stayed there into the sixth as with Mills on third base Whitney got nine-batter Brett Basham to ground to third base and Sneed's throw beat the runner by a shoe-size.

Four Dogs reached base in the bottom of the fifth and none got past second base. The missed chances loomed larger as the top of UM's order loaded all bases on a walk and consecutive singles. Having probably pushed Whitney a batter or two too long, Busby inherited the no-out jam. Overbeck smacked a drive that would have cleared most college fences; it was a step short of the pro park's warning track and sufficient to score Fuller Smith as well as let the other two runners advance.

Sneed was able to throw out Travis as he tried to come home on Matt Smith's one-hopper. But a wild Busby pitch advanced Power to third with M.Smith taking second. Both coaches made moves that meant rookie pitcher Moore was facing pinch-hitter Kight, a left-on-left matchup. Kight was hitting in place of Mills who had two doubles in as many appearances, but on full count the sub came through with a one-bounce shot 2B Jet Butler could only knock aside as both runners scored unchallenged for a 4-3 Rebel lead.

And the fun was really just starting as Baker entered to strand a pair of Dogs in scoring positions in the bottom of the sixth. The seventh was another matter as T.Moore singled his way on and Freeman reached, his bunt errored on the throw by the Rebel first basmen M.Smith to put both runners in scoring spots. They had to stay put on a ground-out by Sneed, then hold up to see if Butler's grounder down the line would get past third baseman Overbeck. It did and each made the plate without a throw while Butler reached second with a two-RBI double. State had the lead back 5-4.

Pitcher Moore opened the eighth with a walk of Power, then on 2-0 with Overbeck at the plate made a pick-throw to first…but clearly moved the lead foot homeward first for a balk even a sportswriter could call. So when shortstop Powers made a great diving stab—and better throw to first—there was no double-play opportunity. It also meant Power was in position to steal third off Weatherford, and come on home with the tying score on the steal-and-error. But the Bulldogs held things there and had the right response in their eighth-inning turn.

"We were just trying to get a lead so Aaron could shut the door for us," said T.Moore. "That's what this game is all about, competition and battling back-and-forth."

State finished with a ten to seven edge in hitting, as Collins, Moore, and Butler all tallied a pair of safeties. Mills had both Rebel extra-base hits. Ole Miss had one more strikeout but also issued six walks, including to the game-winning runner Hogue. The State centerfielder stole bases twice, in the same inning in fact, for his 20th theft of the season.

Not that stats meant as much for a Bulldog team that just needed something to go right. "We've had a lot of tough nights lately," said Weatherford. "Fortunately this one came together for us, we caught some of the breaks for a change."

"In this atmosphere, against them, it's always good to beat a team like that," Hogue said. "Hopefully this will maybe get us going, we're halfway through SEC play and you never know what will make a team start clicking. So it was special tonight."

Gene's Page Top Stories