Dogs Rally In Pinch(es) For 5-4 Win And Sweep

Coach John Cohen meant to give Connor Powers his first down-time of the season. But trailing Valparaiso 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth and the tying runners on bases, Mississippi State's skipper summoned his regular first baseman from the bench to hit in a pinch. "I loved the opportunity," Powers said.

He delivered on it, too, with a two-run double that plated Luke Adkins and Mark Goforth to complete a four-run frame and give the Bulldogs their chance to win it in the ninth. Which they did, as Adkins drove in pinch-runner Nick Hardy from third base. The 5-4 final completed Mississippi State's sweep of the Wednesday doubleheader. The Bulldogs, who took game-one 9-2, improved to 10-4 on the season while the visiting Crusaders left at 4-8. And heartbroken, after taking a 4-0 lead into the eighth inning.

"We're having to scratch-and-claw a lot," said Cohen. "It was huge, having some guys come in and have big at-bat late in the game. It was good for us to come back."

Good, and dramatic. For seven innings State was shut down and out by Crusader Alex Berry, who belied his early-season stats and two struggling previous starts to dominate the Dogs. Boosted by a four-run third inning, the righthander was in complete control going into the eighth and only left after a trio of singles to open the inning. But once State started stringing things together and Valparaiso had to resort to their bullpen, thing changed for the Bulldog-better.

Berry also had something of an advantage in that Cohen started his 14th different lineup in as many games, and this one wasn't up to the offensive challenge. "I put in a new group in the second game and felt those guys would embrace the opportunity. They didn't play as well as I wanted them to, but give (Valparaiso) credit. Their first guy pitched good, he had just 80-something pitches through seven innings and just kept throwing it around the plate."

Not until the eighth did State get a read on the tiring Berry, and it took a substitute-swinger to start the comeback. Like C.Powers, regular third baseman Russ Sneed had been taking this game off. But sent in to lead off the eighth in place of #9-batter 2B Frank Rawdow he reached on a single down the right side. RF Ryan Collins took advantage of the Valpo shortstop moving towards second for an expected steal by punching a single through the vacated spot. Adkins swung on his first pitch and Berry's 98th for a shot by the diving second baseman that scored Sneed and got State on the scoreboard at last.

Steve Godwa took the ball from Berry and got two quick outs, but the second came on a strikeout/wild pitch that allowed Collins to race home for a 4-2 score. Mark Goforth was sent in to pinch-hit and worked the count for a walk that had Dogs on corners and the tying scores aboard for Powers, who'd spent a long time watching.

"I didn't really perform that well the first game, I think I was 0-for-4. But whenever you're in a situation like that you just wait for the opportunity to com in and do the best you can." After working around some sliders he got a Godwa fastball and drove it. If not for a shift in the breeze he would have put State ahead with a homer; still his drive tailed away from the rightfielder and carried far enough to hit the base of the fence. Goforth didn't slow coming first-to-home behind Adkins for the 4-4 tie. VU's Jared Miller kept it even into the ninth with a strikeout to strand a pair.

But he faced Sneed to open the ninth and gave up a drive deep enough to left-center for a running double and winning run at second. Collins needed three pitches before laying down the sacrifice that put Sneed at third base, with Hardy called in to run the rest of the way. Adkins looked at ball-one, then pulled the ball to the right side. The throw-home had no chance as Hardy slid home to end the evening.

The run made a winner of State's third moundsman, Jared Wesson, who had thrown the top of the ninth. It was his first work all season, and Wesson had missed the Hawaii trip entirely with back problems. "Coach said I was definitely throwing, I didn't know which game but I was going to be ready. In the eighth I got ready in the pen." He proved ready by striking out his first foe of the season, then, after a single, striking out the last two in Valpo's order with hard low stuff.

"I tried to work the zone down, and I felt good. I haven't pitched, I'm fresh so I should be throwing pretty good!"

The real winner of the affair was Drew Hollinghead, having entered in the top of the third after Valparaiso hung their four scores on the board. He kept Mississippi State in striking distance for his six-plus innings in tense relief with only a hit and two walks allowed against three strikeouts. Even if he didn't get a decision, Wesson was certainly decisive.

"Drew came in and pitched good," Cohen said. "He was able to throw his breaking ball in the strike zone." Hollinghead had to take over from freshman starter David Hayes after giving up five hits and four runs in two-plus turns. "David had the one bad inning and we needed to get him out," Cohen said.

His first two innings were harmless with only a walk and infield hit. And even the third frame wouldn't have been so damaging if leadoff Crusader Billy Cribbs hadn't reached on an error at shortstop. Then the whole right side of MSU's infield misplayed a sacrifice bunt from Damon McCormick that turn into a hit. Order-topper Steve Scoby joined his partners on the paths with a clean hit to right, though the lead runner stopped at second.

It didn't matter because Kyle Muhlsteff lined a double to left-centerfield that scored all three. And the Crusader second baseman scored on a single up the middle by David Klein which finished Hayes. Righthander Hollinghead was greeted with a hit but rolled a double-play and fanned Kyle Gaedle to end the outburst.

Hollinghead retired ten of the next dozen foes faced, with only an errored grounder in the fourth and two-out walk in the sixth against his account. And holding the Crusaders to those four scores proved sufficient in the end as Dog batters delivered their hits, and runs, in the pinches.

Cohen acknowledged that the week of travel and play in Hawaii took a toll, as did a vigorous Tuesday practice and workout session. "I'm trying to get their biological clock back in the right direction," he said. Still he was frustrated by the game-two work of that latest, and probably most unusual so-far, batting order. Especially three check-swings that turned into ground- or pop-outs. "I don't know if I've ever been a part of anything like that in my career," Cohen said. "The exciting thing is we had some good pitching performances."

He also saved most of the regular bullpen for the weekend series with South Carolina. Cohen said lefthanders Tyler Whitney and Nick Routt would get the first two SEC starts, but he wasn't sure as of today in what order. Righthander Chad Crosswhite will be available in relief if needed but Cohen wants to save him for Sunday work, as regular righthanded starter Ricky Bowen threw game-one Wednesday.

Game 1 article

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