The Raiders improved to 28-10 while State slipped under break-even at 20-21. The teams finish their midweek series with a 6:30 Wednesday rematch.
As for round-one, MSU Coach John Cohen glanced at his Blackberry before asking reporters "Want me to just read off my list here?" Referring, he meant, to the log of mistakes and miscues kept during the defeat. But the most glaring involved Brentz, who came in batting .466 with 19 homers and 46 RBI. "We went over the scouting report literally 20 minutes and the resounding message was we're not going to let #7 beat us," Cohen said. "Walk him we don't care, hit him we don't care, he's not going to beat us. Astonishing."
As in, Brentz hitting safely off the three (out of four used) Bulldog pitchers he faced. The sophomore accounted for the game's first run, singling his way on and scoring via a double by Rawley Bishop in the opening inning. That came off State starter David Hayes, as did Brentz' fourth-inning leadoff single that ultimately became another run when Darlington grounded him in on an offering from reliever Lee Swindle.
It was Swindle who took the decision, too, as in the top of the fifth he was tagged for five-straight hits; the last Brentz' three-run blast over leftfield. He would add a single in the eighth that did nothing more than increase his season average. And, frustrate State's coach further.
"I don't how to describe what it's like to be that prepared for exactly what's going to happen, and not be able to do anything about it," Cohen said. "You're throwing 0-2 pitches in the strike zone on the best hitter on their team; you're throwing a breaking ball in the middle of the strike zone to the best hitter on their team. And we're telling you you can throw to the backstop and we're happy. That's disappointing. We have a plan and that plan is just not happening for whatever reason."
Swindle fell to 1-3 with the loss, having worked with ties of 1-1 and 2-2. His line showed six runs, five earned, on as many hits with a strikeout and walk. Lefthanded rookie Hayes worked the first three innings with two runs on four hits and a walk. Lefty Tyler Whitney, the regular Friday starter, chose to throw an inning instead of just a 40-pitch bullpen as scheduled and gave up two more runs on three hits in the MT seventh. That included the two-run shot for Darlington.
Only Jared Wesson was unscathed, throwing the last two frames with a couple of hits and one strikeout. "Obviously Wesson was a bright spot for us tonight, we're excited about he did," Cohen said. "Swindle threw some good pitches, he threw some not-so-good pitches. David went out there and quite frankly just kind of got through the innings, he gave up some really hard-hit balls and got some outs and that part was fine."
The Raiders made liberal use of their staff, too, throwing six arms at State as needed. Chad Edwards (6-1) took care of the first five complete innings, maintaining a 7-2 lead built in the top of his last turn to earn the decision. He allowed six hits and three walks with as many strikeouts. Coty Woods got the last stint and successfully closed the evening after State had rallied a bit and put two on base to open the ninth, picking up his ninth save.
Twice the Raiders went ahead a run, in the first and fourth innings, and each of those times the Bulldogs had an answer. But when the bottom two in the MT order hit their way on in the fifth against Swindle there was no halting them. A double by centerfielder Nathan Hines and single by designated hitter Grant Box plated the first two runners, then Brentz made his big noise for the five-run lead.
Box drove in his second RBI in the sixth, then with a double and one-out shot by Darlington gave Middle Tennessee all the margin needed. The Bulldogs did some late inning damage to make the margin a bit more respectable in their eighth inning, with 3B Russ Sneed launching a two-run homer (#7 for the season) over leftfield and C Cody Freeman scoring a solo shot (#3) of his own. Consecutive doubles by RF Ryan Collins and SS Ryan Powers cut the deficit to four runs before Middle Tennessee could summon Tyler Hyde to keep it 10-6 going into the last inning.
After a couple of walks to start the MSU ninth and a 1-1 count to Sneed, the Raiders quickly got Woods to the hill. He struck out Sneed and pinch-batter Mark Goforth before Freeman flew out to right.
"It's fun to see these guys compete, it's great to score a four-spot late," Cohen said. "But you're down eight. It would be nice if we put together some things early in the game. It's a work in progress, we know what all the issues are."
CF Grant Hogue had three base hits to top the Dogs, while Sneed, Freeman, and Collins all had a pair of hits and accounted for half of State's dozen safeties. The Raiders had 15 hits though with Box, Brent, and Bishop combining for ten of those in the middle of the order. And even many of the MT outs were well-struck balls caught on the warning track.
While some Bulldogs made good contact too, it wasn't nearly enough again. "I'm not going to say that's baseball," Cohen said. "I'm going to say they get all the breaks because they deserve them. They're putting the bat on the right spot and making the pitches when they need to. It's not luck, we're not unlucky. I don't want to hear anything about bad breaks because you make your breaks. And in the future, we will."
Cohen did say some of the Dogs are playing worthy of praise, most notably Hogue. With three steals tonight Hogue tied Mike Kelly ('79) for the third-best season total by a Bulldog, 27. And his 52 career thefts rank 5th on that list. But the 11-game hitting streak for Connor Powers ended as he was officially 0-for-1 with three walks…most semi-intentional as he usually came to the plate with someone on base ahead of him.
Losing to Middle Tennessee isn't the upset it once was; after all the Raiders thrashed State 20-5 last season when the teams split a series in Winchester, Tenn. Still Cohen couldn't immediately shake his frustration and how this particular loss developed. "Maybe we're putting too much pressure on our kids, maybe they're trying too hard," he said. "We're just making big, big mistakes.
"We've got a bunch of kids who are trying real hard and that parts' pleasing, but it's obviously not good enough. It's not showing up on the scoreboard which is the only thing that matters."
State will try to salvage the mid-week split Wednesday by using a long list of pitchers on the ‘all staff' night. "We have five guys that we're going to expect an inning or two out of," Cohen said, not ready to list a starter.