Powers Walk-Off Gives State 4-3 Win in 10th

Connor Powers says usually when he tries to go deep he grounds-out or strikes out. But this once, with Mississippi State and Kentucky deadlocked in the bottom of the tenth inning, he was seriously swinging for the fence. "Yeah, I kind of was," Powers admitted. "I knew what was coming."

Not only did the Bulldog first baseman get what he expected, he was able to convert that anticipated fastball from Wildcat reliever Logan Darnell into a walk-off shot over right-centerfield. The 4-3 victory gave Mississippi State (20-19, 6-11 SEC) a split in the weekend series, after Kentucky (20-17, 5-12) took an extra-inning win of their own Friday night.

A season-high crowd of 10,201 watched game-two, the 23rd five-figure gate at Dudy Noble Field since 1987's expansion. Only those dressed in blue left disappointed by this overtime affair.

Powers was the first and only Bulldog needed in that tenth, after reliever Jared Wesson had maintained the tie by striking out Wildcat Chad Wright in the top of the frame with a pair of runners in scoring positions. He came to the plate just as rain began, though Powers claimed not to notice. He was focused on what his head coach had said about Darnell, recruited by Coach John Cohen during his Kentucky tenure. "I told our guys don't be late," Cohen said, "he throws hard. I want you to be early and get the barrel out in front and don't get beat."

Powers did have enough patience not to go after the first fastball, as he figured another would be forthcoming on 1-0. "I was looking, for sure. He has a good fastball, it just kind of ran into my bat I guess!" And ended up behind the fence for his 12th homer of the season and first walk-off of his career. "It was all him," said Cohen. "When he swings the bat like that he's as good as anybody in our league. We needed him right there, for sure."

Mississippi State got something else it had been needing even more, solid relief work. After starter Nick Routt threw 103 official pitches first Chad Crosswhite and then Wesson were able to take care of the last four-plus innings with no more Wildcat runs charged on two hits. Wesson (2-0) picked up the winning decision with 2.2 turns, a hit and two strikeouts. It was the best effort by MSU's bullpen in weeks, and a welcome sight to all involved.

"We've had our struggles, but we believe in ourselves and believe in our stuff," Wesson said. "We just have to compete, and that's what we did."

Routt was not too upset that his streak of four-consecutive complete SEC games came to an end. The rookie lefthander simply took care of business, allowing three runs on seven hits but striking out eight; no small feat given Kentucky's bat control. And he walked just one batter in his 6.0-plus.

"Nick wasn't his best today but he was good enough, he goes out and gives us a quality start," Cohen said. The same could be said of Kentucky starter Chris Rusin who lasted 7.1 official innings with three runs and seven hits, and eight strikeouts also. At times the Wildcat lefty was overpowering, no surprise to his former head coach.

"Chris Rusin is one of the best in this league," Cohen said. "I watched him do this to everybody in the league last year. What we needed to do was stay beneath his breaking ball, we just didn't do a good job of it. But we did get him to 120 pitches and so we got him out of the game."

That was a long time off when both starters hung a pair of 0's to open their stints. Routt's second out was scary though, as Andy Burns lined a shot straight for his chest. He got glove in way just in time to deflect, then scoop the carom and throw over. He walked the next batter before a fly-out and then check-up in the dugout. Routt showed no ill effects the second time out either, then fanned the bottom two of UK's order to start the third.

But a routine grounder to shortstop was dropped, and Routt plunked Burns for a pair on. The gaffes bit because Friday night hero Chris Bisson punched a hit through the middle to score Chad Wright.

Rusin had just a plunking of RF Nick Hardy against him, until LF Brent Brownlee legged out an infield single in the third. A fielder's choice later with two outs C Scott DeLoach singled for Dogs on corners, and 3B Russ Sneed knocked a sinking drive into center…that Kat Marcus Nidiffer snared at shin-level to preserve the 1-0 lead through three.

Rusin nearly frustrated State further in the fourth. A leadoff walk of C.Powers was negated by a force-grounder at second. But 2B Jet Butler was able to single through shortstop and on 2-2 count DH Jason Nappi took one off the arm to load the bases with one out. Then two as SS Ryan Powers popped out. Nine-hole hitter Brownlee got behind and on 2-2 just put the ball in play to the left side.

It paid off as third baseman Burns had to hurry his throw and sailed it; Brownlee would likely have been safe anyway so the hit-and-error resulted in just one official RBI but a 2-1 MSU lead as Hardy and Butler scored. That lead lasted only as long as it took Bryan Rose to work his way around. Reaching on a base hit in the top of the fifth he advanced on a grounder, wild pitch, and scored on an infield single by Bisson to even the scoreboard 2-2.

Russin got away with a two-on, no-out start to his fifth as C.Powers lined a shot right to shortstop for an easy double-play at second. A called strikeout of Brownlee ended the sixth with R.Powers on first base. Meanwhile defense kept it even for State. Sneed made a diving stop of Keenan Wiley's hot hopper and had a choice of outs; only to delay long enough that his throw back to second was high and late leaving both Kats safe. Sneed made up for that on Nidiffer's similar grounder and stepped on third base for out-two, and Routt got a line-out to center.

Routt returned to face the top of UK's order again, only to give up consecutive singles to Wright, Burns, and of course Bisson for a 3-2 Wildcat lead with two still on and no outs. That was enough and Crosswhite got the ball. Gunner Glad bunted his teammates up and after a couple of close misses—one that had State's dugout angry enough ump Dennis McComb issued a warning—pinch-batter Corey Farris walked to fill the bases.

Crosswhite came back for a first-pitch grounder by Wade that was a made-to-order double play. Still State now trailed 3-2.

Not for long though, as CF Grant Hogue one-hopped the leftfield fence for a leadoff double. DeLoach didn't execute an ideal bunt as it rolled to the left side of the mound where Rusin could glove and make a throw to third. But it worked out even better because the pitcher's sidearm try tailed wide; Hogue scored and DeLoach was on second with the go-ahead run and still no downs. And when Sneed failed twice to bunt, his fly ball went far enough right-of-center that DeLoach could tag up and take third.

Except Rusin was able to leave un-scored on a grounder and strikeout, leaving everyone even going into the eighth. An out into their half Kentucky had Nidiffer on the paths and State was putting southpaw Wesson on the mound. He flew-out left Rose and after an infield single got Burns to lift a can'ocorn to Hogue to preserve the 3-3 tie.

With one down in the bottom of the frame a Nappi single finished Rusin for righty Henry. "I thought that was the turning point," said Cohen. "Because once he left we had a chance to take better swings." State counted by pinching with Ryan Duffy, who turned on the first offering and hit it through the gap created by UK trying to hold Nappi. And the runner not only made second safely but sold rightfielder Rose into thinking he was stopping there; instead when Rose paused Nappi turned it on and got to third without a throw. All very promising…

Except when Brownlee made sharp contact it was a liner directly to second baseman Wade's glove. A flip to first completed the twin-killing. In the ninth, for the first time all afternoon Bisson failed to reach by flying out routinely to left. Brownlee had to work harder on a deep drive by Glad, reaching up for a rob atop the fence to maintain the deadlock. "He made a heckuva play," Wesson said. "I know we play in one of the biggest parks in the country, so I was praying stay in, stay in!"

"I knew the wind was going to be an issue on anything hit from center to left," Brownlee said. "So I got back on it as far as I could, threw my glove up and had to catch it. I think it was going out. I scraped-up my elbow getting it!" Wesson ran down the inning-ending grounder himself. "Just a fastball away, it was hit right back at me and I fielded it. I didn't even want a chance of throwing it away!"

Sneed made a bid in the MSU half, his drive coming up short of the centerfield wall. State would have to wait another inning for a walk-off. Meanwhile Leadoff Wildcat Wade took one for the team in the 10th, and with two outs Wesson walked pinch-hitter Spencer Korus. Both were running on 0-2 and advanced safely, so Wesson had to come with a well-spotted fastball to strike out order-topper Wright looking. Minutes later every Dog was celebrating the team's success as Powers trotted home.

Both sides had nine hits, with Bisson going an official 3-for-4 with all three of his team's RBI. Brownlee was the only Bulldog with a pair of hits. And while Powers got the hero's welcome, he said credit was due elsewhere. "Our bullpen did a great job," he said. "It felt good to get some runs up there to help our pitchers out."

"I think it's huge," Brownlee said. "We want to come out tomorrow and compete just like we did these two games. We fell short yesterday but today we did better and it showed out there. I think we're ready to come out tomorrow and compete even harder."

Cohen left the media to meet with his staff and decide who the Sunday starter would be.


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