And speaking of falling, Duffy nearly did that as he arrived at home plate after the fourth homer of his season and first walk-off of his baseball career at any level. "The hurricane rushed me and was trying to take me down!" he said of being met by the entire MSU roster. In fact homeplate ump Guy Mitchell did end up on the ground in that throng. Fortunately no further input from the blues was needed after Duffy's shot cleared.
Momentum had taken one final turn in the top of the ninth as C Scott DeLoach tagged out Eagle pinch-runner Nick Smith trying to score from third on a grounder to shortstop, then threw out Taylor Walker trying to steal second. State was an out into their half of the last inning against Collin Cargill who had entered for this turn as the fifth and final USM pitcher. The righthander grounded-out 3B Russ Sneed, who earlier in the evening had slapped a solo homer himself for another short-lived State lead. But the Dogs had a good book on Cargill and Duffy knew what to expect.
"I was looking fastball, that's all the guy throws so I sat back and found barrel and good things happened." It wasn't quite so simple as Cargill was both quick to the plate and wild, but after a ball he sent a fastball right down the middle-chute that Duffy put all the barrel on. He wasn't absolutely sure it was out, so "I started running because I knew if I didn't get to second my coach would probably kill me! But half-way I started jogging."
Cargill took the loss for a 2-2 record, while Pace picked up his first college decision and a winning one at that. He worked the last four-plus frames in relief of starter Chad Crosswhite, and that length of stint was a surprise all around after Pace had tossed three days before in Sunday's game with Auburn. The converted infielder wasn't planning on any extended work.
"I told Coach (Butch) Thompson I'd be able to gut-out an inning or two. But I came in and got my adrenalin going, and I kept coming to the dugout telling them one more, one more..." And yet more until he completed what Crosswhite started, the two holding a tough USM order to nine hits. The four frames was more than Pace had tossed in his previous two appearances combined. He survived four runs on six hits with no walks and one strikeout.
"Paxton competed his heart out tonight," said Coach John Cohen. "It was his first time in this kind of situation, so he balks and has a big miss that moves a runner over. But he's a kid that wants to be out there and that's something we're in need of."
Not to be overlooked though was the job Crosswhite did in his five-plus, limiting the Eagles to two runs on three hits with a strikeout and two walks. "Chad gave us everything he's got," Cohen said. "When he gets to the 50-60 pitch mark we've got to get him out, especially if we're going to use him any part of the weekend. He just pitched, I thought he did a great job early without great stuff. He went to the breaking ball and did a nice job locating both sides of the plate."
And both hurlers tipped their caps to a defense that, while not perfect with two charged errors and a couple more miscues, tied the school record with five double-plays.
Such assistance meant Crosswhite was able to roll through the first three frames facing the minimum thanks to two of the twin-killings. One was a strikeout-throwout as USM's James Ewing was caught going for second. "It's not his best role, to start against a quality opponent, but he did it for us," Cohen said of Crosswhite.
Meanwhile the Bulldogs were putting up some early runs off Eagle starter Seth Hester. In the first with one out LF Luke Adkins, a former Eagle outfielder, singled through the middle. 1B Connor Powers worked the count to 2-1, then unloaded a drive that cleared the fence right of the wall. It was his ninth homer of the season. Adkins was back up to begin the MSU third and lined a double into the rightfield corner. This time Hester didn't throw C.Powers anything hittable with a four-pitch walk. 3B Russ Sneed was swinging away on the first chance, punching a single through shortstop that scored Adkins. Consecutive grounders to shortstop limited the MSU lead to 3-0 through three.
Which soon stung as the top of USM's order, third baseman Taylor Walker, took Crosswhite deep to left for a leadoff homer. A plunking and infield single, then a one-out walk had the bases loaded up. Crosswhite ended this threat by coaxing a one-hopper to C.Powers, starting a tough and close 3-6-1 double-play that had the pitcher stretching for the relay throw.
Hitting the leadoff Eagle in the fifth did no harm either as Crosswhite rolled a 6-4-3 doubler, then flew out the nine-hole hitter. But when he put Walker on to open the sixth State went to the pen. It wasn't Pace's fault Brian Dozier reached on catcher's interference; he did take charge for consecutive RBI-singles through shortstop that tied the score with two still on and no outs yet. Pace also froze mid-stride as Ewing showed, faked, then showed bunt again, drawing a balk.
A passed ball brought Davis home and a sac-fly off the bat of Joey Archer made it 5-3, advantage Eagles. Yet Pace was tough enough to shrug this off and get his team back in the dugout, and then go one more, and then more.
Besides, Hester wasn't long for the game either as he was tagged by Duffy for a double and walked DeLoach. That brought lefty Wade Weathers, the closer in USM's victory over State in Pearl, to face the bottom two in State's order. RF Ryan Collins couldn't get the bunt down but did work a full-count walk to fill all corners. SS Ryan Powers made it 5-4 with his single through the right side, though the rightfielder was playing in so DeLoach had to hold at third base while Southern Mississippi again changed pitchers.
Righthander Jonathan Johnston was welcomed by Hogue with a fly ball that scored DeLoach with the tying run, advanced the other two Dogs, and brought yet another reliever. Righty Kyle Lindsay got a big break when Adkins lashed a liner right into the second baseman's glove, so that a grounder ended the inning with a 5-5 tie.
It was still even in the bottom of the seventh when with one down Sneed turned on Lindsay's first offering and lined a no-doubt shot over leftfield for his fifth homer of the season. Lindsay was left in after a talk and managed to leave a pair of Dogs on with a strikeout.
Pace had left a runner at third base in the top of the seventh, then saw Dozier reach on a push-bunt to the right side in the eighth. Davis made good contact, right to second-sacker Butler to start State's fifth double-dip. But the inning wasn't over as Brunty not only reached on a base hit, an attempt to throw-in behind went into the visiting dugout for two free bases. "Collins was trying to be aggressive and go back-door," Cohen said. "We have a set play, if he bounces it we might even get an out. But that didn't kill us as the next guy hit a gap-ball." Indeed Archer re-tied things with his double landing just inside the leftfield line.
Rightfielder Collins had to make a long running grab against the foul-fence to keep the even scoreboard. After a line-out by the top of MSU's order to open the bottom-eighth, Cargill entered and left one Dog on the paths.
Pace was on his 48th pitch when pinch-batter Josh Fields lined a leadoff double to leftfield. With the #9 batter up State played for the bunt and it came right to the charging Sneed who looked at third before taking the sure out at first. It worked out well as Walker grounded right to R.Powers for the throw-home and tag. DeLoach ended the inning by throwing out Walker, which also would have ended Pace's night. "I was done," he said.
Fortunately he nor anyone else in home-white had to throw another pitch as Duffy ended the evening at 9:54. "That was a battle all the way, one through nine," Duffy said. "They're not going to quit and we're definitely never going to quit. We competed our butts off tonight, and we've been doing it every game for a while now. Maybe it will start changing for the better. Eventually it better start going our way."
Adkins was 2-of-4 against his former club with two runs scored, while Sneed drove in two on his two hits. Centerfielder Bo Davis led USM with three hits in four chances.
With his theft of second in the fourth inning, Hogue reached 20 for this year and became only the second Bulldog ever with two 20-steal seasons joining Mike Kelly (1977, '79). He had 25 steals as a junior.
State was able to make it 2-for-2 against CUSA teams this midweek following a 10-0 romp at Alabama-Birmingham. This win came harder but meant more in the long run, Cohen thought. "We don't know just how to put things together yet, but we will and this is one of those steps. When you have success in these moments you go back to them in your mind in the future, so hopefully we'll be able to use this."
Soon, hopefully, as Mississippi State leaves Thursday morning for a weekend series at Tennessee. Cohen, who was finalizing the 25-man roster right after this game, said lefthanders Tyler Whitney and Nick Routt—he was actually warming up if needed for a 10th inning tonight—will as usual start the first and second games, and probably Forrest Moore on Sunday based on how Crosswhite recovers.