"Some times to get going you've got to have some good fortune," Coach John Cohen put it after his team improved to 14-10, with a 13-2 home record. Memphis left at 9-13.
"It's good to come out with a win," said Butler, who pushed in another State score with a ground-out and crossed the plate himself after initially reaching via plunking. And if this one wasn't pretty, it was welcome as it snapped MSU's four-game losing string. "It seems like forever, but everybody did a pretty good job. We didn't do everything perfectly but we executed at some big times."
Bulldog pitching executed just enough to get the job done as well. On this ‘staff' midweek night State sent four men to the mound as scheduled and while the Tigers made good contact on several the Dog hurlers did keep things under sufficient control. The decision ended up on the record of freshman Caleb Reed, number-two arm of the evening, as he worked the longest 4.0 inning stretch. Righty Reed (1-1) was touched for three hits and a run with three walks and a strikeout in his first college victory. The credit he said was due elsewhere on the field.
"Defensive play behind me was phenomenal, they made every play. The outfielders went and got it or the infielders made great plays for me." State wasn't charged with an error, while Memphis booked one boot and misplayed some other balls that created scoring chance MSU usually used. Senior Chad Crosswhite handled the last 1.1 frames to get his fifth save of the season, striking out a pair with no hits or walks.
Tiger starter Josh Ross (0-1) only worked 1.1 innings but still absorbed the loss on two runs, two hits, three walks and a strikeout.
State sent righthander Drew Hollinghead to the hill first, and he had to battle in his two innings. In fact the very first offering was slapped past shortstop for a single, and wild pitches advanced second baseman Chad Zurcher to third where he could score on a hit up the middle by rightfielder Trey Wiedman. Hollinghead got away with a couple of safeties in his second before giving Reed the responsibility.
Reed was able to work through three innings without allowing any scores, though four Tigers reached on singles and walks. He stranded a pair in the top of the fifth with long fly balls. But in the sixth inning UM shortstop Brad Bowen hit one even longer, and over leftfield for a leadoff homer. Reed finished out his stint with three more I-got-its to centerfield.
"I try to go after every hitter and get strike-one," Reed said. "Tonight you could tell when I fell behind I paid for it, but when I got ahead it worked out in my favor."
And by the time he was done the score was much in his favor. State had answered UM's run with their own in the first inning. CF Grant Hogue reached by being hit, stole second and took third on a grounder so he could score on Butler's bouncer to the right side. The next inning Ross got in trouble with a wicked hop off the bat of 3B Russ Sneed and walk of RF Nick Hardy. An out later #9 batter Frank Radow reached on another tough bounce-hit to fill the sacks. Hogue didn't have to swing on his second time-up either, walking on 3-1 to force Sneed across. And, force a pitching change as righty Dane Sharp stepped into the situation. He solved it with a pop-out and grounder to shortstop, but State did lead 2-1.
A leadoff single in State's third by 1B Connor Powers didn't hurt even after working his way around to third base. But LF Brent Brownlee opened the fourth by walking his way on and stealing both second and third, the latter on Radow's covering strikeout-swing. With two on and two down, Butler delivered his second RBI by dropping a bunt single the surprised Tiger third baseman couldn't handle in time as Brownlee raced across. Sharp had to leave the bases full to keep it a 3-1 scoreboard.
"It was open," said Butler. "He was way-back and I got an opportunity to do that a couple of times. Sometimes it can be a game-changer."
"Jet feels comfortable with a kill-bunt to the left side," Cohen said. "He's been one of the few guys able to master it so far."
Memphis put righty Worth Tate on the mound for the Bulldog fifth, only to have him greeted by an infield single from Sneed and consecutive stealings. A walk of Brownlee could have set up a double-play; but he took off with Radow swinging behind him. It worked out better than planned as the grounder one-hopped between third base and third baseman. "He spun on the ball and got a big hop to the pull side," Cohen said. Not only did Sneed score but Brownlee never stopped and came all the way home for the two-RBI play and 5-1 lead through five-full.
Sidearmer Mark Jobe was pitching for Memphis in State's sixth and immediately hit Butler. For his part C.Powers hit the pitch, his drive tailing away from centerfielder Chris Newsom and off his glove for an official double with Butler stopping at third. With one out the Tigers opted to put Sneed on first and again set up a twin-killing.
Cohen foiled it by pinch-batting lefthander Ryan Duffy, who was able to lift it just long enough for a sacrifice-fly scoring Butler and giving the Bulldogs back their four-run cushion.
State's Greg Houston got away with a couple of seventh-inning walks. A leadoff single in the eighth was another matter as UM's Chris Newsome took second on a fastball to the screen, and third base on his own footwork. So a line-out to left off the bat of third baseman Jacob Wilson cut their deficit to three. A hit and walk had the tying Tiger at the plate, and Crosswhite rushed out of the bullpen to face a lefthanded pinch-hitter. He got Drew Martinez to ground right to the second baseman for a rally-stopping force and final margin of MSU victory.
Of the seven MSU safeties six came from a trio as C.Powers, Sneed, and Rawdow each got a pair of hits. Powers, who walked his other two trips, had a third-straight game with multiple hits. Zurcher and Heath Hatfield had a pair of knocks for Memphis.
State was fortunate to slip the Wednesday in between a series of rain showers. The Dogs will probably get wet on their Thursday trip to Fayetteville, too, as they play at league-leading Arkansas this weekend. The Razorbacks have swept their first two SEC series while State is 2-4 after being broomed at Georgia. Cohen knows this is a tough March stretch for his squad. "It'll be a tough environment for us. I think they and Georgia are the best two teams in our league. So to get them off the board early on might be a help, but every week in the league is very difficult."
Cohen said the rotation remains unchanged in weekend-three, with Tyler Whitney and Nick Routt getting the calls for Friday-Saturday and game-three a t.b.a. depending on how Crosswhite and/or Forrest Moore are utilized the first two days.