It still came far closer than Southern Mississippi (12-5) wanted after the Eagles sent their entire order up in the first inning and pushed four runs across. But the portion of the 7,947 that hung around for the finish got to see some dramatics. State p(12-6) pushed a couple of scores across the dish to get within striking distance and had the sacks filled at the end. Unfortunately they stayed put.
That crowd, the second-largest ever at Trustmark Park for any game, also saw State's first loss at the facility in six trips to Pearl. When the Bulldogs return in a month to face Ole Miss in the Governor's Cup, Cohen intends to make things more competitive start-to-finish. In fact he spent as much of this post-game looking even farther ahead in the rebuilding process at State.
"We've got to get better. Our effort, our talent, everything. I thought Southern did a great job tonight, they did it with Mississippi talent. I promise you Mississippi State is going to get the best talent in Mississippi on our team."
The Bulldogs certainly must upgrade their pitching crew, especially for midweek games. Senior righthander Ricky Bowen, who has struggled with control in previous weekend starts, was given the game and lasted only one-third of an official inning. Bowen (1-1) took the loss allowing the first four USM runs on three hits with two walks.
Not that immediate relief did much better as Michael Busby absorbed three runs on four walks and a hit in his 3.1 innings of work. And weekend regular Greg Houston had an uncharacteristic outing with three runs on five hits in 0.2 official frames.
"I think we were twelve batters in before we had a strike one," Cohen said. "We gave ourselves no chance, no chance, to win that game." At least not until a trio of young pitchers took a inning in-turn with no more damage while an all-substitute offense chipped away at Eagle relievers. Southern Mississippi did not substitute in the field or at the plate all night.
If necessary though USM starter Todd McInnins could have gone longer than his five-full. He was dominating for much of his stint, not giving up his only hit until the third inning and the lone run in the fifth. McInnnis went to 3-1 with his win, with four hits and three strikeouts.
The Eagles took advantage of a shaky State start by batting-around in the bottom of the first. A leadoff walk was negated somewhat by a single that blooped so close to second base that CF Grant Hogue was able to force the hung-up lead runner. But Brian Dozier dropped a double in the left gap and cleanup batter Bo Davis was able to bounce a two-run single past the drawn-in first baseman. A walk later, Joey Archer lined a single into center for the 3-0 lead that finished Bowen.
Busby inherited a two-on, one-out situation. He got a fly-out to start the stint but a little lift from Travis Graves fell behind shortstop for the 4-0 score. The frosh was able to keep it there for a couple of innings.
State had a chance to get something going in response as McInnis walked 1B Connor Powers and 3B Russ Sneed. C Scott DeLoach bunted both up a post for LF Mark Goforth, who looked at a 2-2 changeup for strike three. SS Ryan Powers hit it well but the USM shortstop only needed to stick up the glove for the line-out.
From there McInnis retired five more before Sneed finally notched the first Bulldog hit, dropping a soft single in center in the top of the fourth. DeLoach's following single was sharper, but on another 2-2 count McInnins got Goforth to roll it up the first-base line. The dribbler certainly seemed on the chalk as it was scooped but the ump ruled it still fair as the tag was made.
Busby had a pair down in the fourth as well when a close ball call went against him. It seemed to rattle the rookie as he walked two more to fill the paths and tossed another ball to Corey Stevens. State made the mid-count change with Greg Houston, a weekend regular reliever, assuming the jam. His first pitch was knocked into right-center for a two-run single. Davis also took third on the hit, and was able to make it 7-0 when Stevens drew DeLoach's throw on a fake steal of second.
"Some balls they hit hard," Cohen said, "some of them not so hard. But I'm very disappointed with how we pitched to start the game, we have some veterans I thought should be beyond that."
Ryan Powers led off State's fifth with a single, then evaded a tag attempt by the shortstop so CF Grant Hogue could reach on the fielders choice. McInnis was able to roll a double-play with Powers getting to third, and he scored the first Bulldog run as Adkins singled to right.
Southern slapped three-straight singles to start their fifth, though the lead man ran himself off the paths. This meant only two were on bases when number-nine batter Josh Fields pulled a 3-1 Houston offering off the railing above leftfield for a 10-1 score. Though stadium groundrules don't call that a homer in AA play, it was part of the college rules for this night.
Reliever Forrest Moore would have ended the inning on a fly-out but catcher's interference was ruled. A walk loaded the bases and Moore had to go full-count before a pop-out ended the fifth.
Cohen put a complete new squad on the field in the sixth, including righthander Caleb Reed on the mound for a three-down inning. In the seventh righty redshirt Paxton Pace made his MSU debut and after a leadoff walk got the top of the USM order without drama. Lefty David Hayes took care of the bottom of the eighth with just a two-out hit to his account.
State's revised order was able to scratch out some stats for themselves in the waning innings. In the seventh with Hardy on first via walking, new 2B Frank Radow hopped it past third base for a double. A one-out fly from LF Jason Nappi scored the sacrifice for a 10-2 tally. In the eighth Justin Bussey got plunked to begin, and two outs later Cody Freeman hit his way on. A walk of Hardy loaded them all and brought lefty Cody Schlagel from the USM bullpen.
Radow was able to flare it into centerfield and two runs score, and a third runner came in as the throw got past third base. CF Brent Brownlee lined out to rightfield.
But it wasn't finished just yet. Righty Collin Cargill began the last inning for Southern only to walk the top of the revised order—Nappi, DH Johnny Allen, and Busse—and fill the sacks without a down. Lefty Weathers was rushed into action to face 1B Ryan Duffy.
Duffy chopped a wicked hop that the third baseman couldn't handle, scoring Nappi and keep it bases-loaded with no outs. 3B Jared Parks battled off some strikes before flying out behind shortstop, but Weathers walked both Freeman and Hardy giving Radow another chance to come up big. All evening ump Tony Walsh had been tight on the outside corner with right-handers swinging, but Weathers got his 1-2 throw just close enough for the called K.
The evening ended only a minute short of 3:30, with 12 USM hits to eight for State. But the real numbers came out the pen with seven Bulldogs pitching and five Eagles going to the hill. Cohen said he had no idea yet who he would start Wednesday night when State hosts Alabama-Birmingham.
But the skipper made it clear that the day's action begins long before that schedule 6:30 first-pitch time. "Way before UAB shows up we're going to have some competition without anybody there," he warned.