"Today we played well all the way around," said Crosswhite. "We hit the ball and played good defense and that's what happens when you do. We put together some things."
Indeed for State this might have been their best-balanced outing of the month. The Diamond Dogs tallied over twice as many hits as Memphis, nine to four; got superior pitching start-to-finish; and made all the fielding plays. Even if it came at the expense of a "struggling" Tiger team according to Coach Ron Polk, it was the sort of performance State had been searching for. And at a pace Polk favored for a change.
"The good thing is it's one of the quickest games we've played," the coach said. "It's nice to have a two-hour, twenty-minute game, I'm so used to 3:20 or 3:30."
This game kept moving because Crosswhite and the four mound-mates who after him took care of an inning apiece did what the State staff hasn't done often enough: throw strikes. A squad that leads the SEC in walks only issued one free pass all evening. It started, properly enough, with the starter. After throwing four-straight balls to open his short stint last Friday at LSU, Crosswhite spent the weekend working on a ‘leak' in his windup.
"And the front shoulder has been ‘flying out'," he said. "I corrected that tonight and it felt a lot better all around." The junior looked much better, too, working those five complete innings with just the one second-inning run against him on both the hits he allowed. Crosswhite equaled his career-best by striking out eight to get the win and improve to 3-5, finishing on a ten-outs tear.
Polk, noting Memphis' team batting average of .244, had an idea this was the sort of game to give Crosswhite a needed shot of year-ending confidence as well as get some quick work for the relief staff. "I knew if we threw strikes we'd have a chance to have a pretty good pitching performance."
Andy Wilson, Greg Houston, John Lalor, and Aaron Weatherford each tossed a harmless inning in relief. Tiger starter Brennon Martin (4-4) took the loss, working 5.2 innings with three runs charged on seven hits. He struck out six and walked a pair.
Crosswhite's corrections showed immediately as he struck out the first-inning side. The second turn was more challenging as Cole Shelton led off with a single and stole second base. Consecutive ground balls moved the runner the remaining bases with K.K. Chalmers earning the RBI with his bouncer to shortstop.
It would be Memphis' only scratch of the scoreboard. Crosswhite responded with an inning-ending strikeout, then ran all the way back through the Tiger order to take care of his stint.
Meanwhile Martin opened with a couple of scoreless frames and was an out into the third when SS Ryan Powers singled his way on. CF Grant Hogue followed with a base hit to short centerfield but Powers took a chance and made third without a throw. The aggressive move paid off as RF Nick Hardy's fly ball allowed Powers to tag and score the tying run. Moreover, even though the throw-in was cut off by the pitcher Hogue dashed to second.
A walk of 1B Tyler Moore had a pair of Dogs on, and on 1-1 Hogue was stealing. That might have distracted catcher Daniel Kaufmann into mishandling Martin's pitch because Moore scrambled to second base for a pair in scoring positions. And on 2-1 C Ryan Duffy did score them with his single to leftfield for a 3-1 scoreboard through three.
Martin recovered sufficiently to keep it a two-run margin into the sixth, and almost got through that inning on a great effort by shortstop Brett Bowen to rob Jeff Flagg of a hit, force Butler at second and nearly get a double-play. Flagg was ruled safe by a toe, though, and a single up the middle from LF Jason Nappi finished the Tiger starter. Righthander Matt Yokley was greeted by Powers with an infield single to load all bases for Hogue, who popped the first pitch out to first base.
But two outs into the bottom of the seventh Yokley saw Duffy bounce a base hit just past his diving second-sacker. Butler made it hurt with a drive deep into the right-centerfield gap that turned into a RBI triple and another pitching change. Righty Garrett Hatchel got 3B Russ Sneed to pop-foul out behind the plate.
The extra run was nice but unnecessary as Weatherford shook off a one-out single by whiffing the third- and cleanup-batters for his seventh save of the season.
Memphis' only other real chance to score came on a single, sacrifice, and fly ball off Wilson as he opened the sixth. Another fly to leftfield left the runner at third base. Lalor's eighth-inning walk was erased as Duffy threw out Chris Newsom on the attempted steal.
Duffy was the lone Dog with a pair of hits, driving in half the team's runs and scoring another himself. The five total runs made for the third-lowest total in any Bulldog game this season, won or lost. Besides being fast, the evening was a welcome chance to "have fun" as Crosswhite put it. "It's been a long year for us, pretty tough. But I was glad we just put some things together and win one and get ready for Arkansas this weekend. Everybody's attitude is great, it really is. We're all kids just being kids, I guess."
Kids who know their season ends this weekend as Mississippi State is out of SEC Tournament contention. The visiting Razorbacks currently cling to the eighth and final slot in the league meet, and come in with obvious motivation. The final series also opens a day earlier, per SEC end-of-schedule policy, so Crosswhite won't be starting. Polk has changed the rotation for the final series to RH Ricky Bowen on Thursday, RH Lalor on Friday, and LH Justin Pigott Saturday.