State Rallies Past Rams 9-8 In Opener

That black eye, the result of a scrimmage pitch that came in too high and tight, certainly looked bad. But it did not interfere at all with Luke Adkins' vision there at the plate, game tied in the ninth inning with two outs and bases packed. "I was just looking for something to drive," said the Bulldog leftfielder. "And he put it there."

He being Rhode Island reliever Dan Johnson; it being a first-pitch fastball grooved right…there, where Adkins could drive it well beyond the centerfielder. His base hit drove in C Wes Thigpen from third base with Mississippi State's margin of 9-8 victory over the Rams in the season opener for both squads. It wasn't an elegant debut for the Diamond Dogs who booted the ball five official times, saw the starter last just three innings, trailed most of the afternoon, and went into the last chance down two runs.

None of which ultimately kept them from getting that first ‘W' on the 2010 ledger. "I don't think our focus was where it should have been, as a team it looked like we were a little jittery," said 1B Connor Powers. "I mean, we lucked-out."

Yet luck counts too, and Mississippi State mustered enough of that to offset their own issues. Besides, "This is great," said Adkins. "Because there is going to be a time down the road we're going to need to come back. To have one early, we can look back and know we've done it before."

Adkins' game-winner, which would likely have cleared the bases in more routine settings, made a winner of reliever Greg Houston for working the top of the ninth and keeping his team within those two runs. Houston had a hitless stint with one strikeout. But the real ‘winner' on the staff was long-reliever Caleb Reed. And it really as a long afternoon for the sophomore righthander as he put in 5.0 complete frames, most of his young career, battling around six hits for two runs with a lone walk and seven strikeouts.

"I was just ready to go for as long as they needed me," said Reed. "Coach (Butch) Thompson has been preparing me for these kinds of situations and I'm glad I got the opportunity." There was a lot more to this preparation than most knew, too. For his first sophomore stint Reed came out throwing sidearm, having only added the drop-down delivery this week at his coach's suggestion.

"I started throwing it like six days ago in the bullpen and three intrasquad games," Reed said. "Today was my first game to do it." If this was the first such showing then his future as a drop-down guy can only be bright. "He's kind of the chosen-one in terms of lowering the arm and the first time he really took to it," head Coach John Cohen said. "He can make it move a little more from that arm-slot."

Mississippi State needed the new-look Reed, as well as a different look period after Rhode Island rattled sophomore starter Nick Routt for six runs on seven hits in the opening three innings. He had four strikeouts and a walk. Ironically Routt, a control-guy as a freshman stalwart, came into this year hitting five to six mph faster on the gun. "He's getting more velocity and less movement," said Cohen. "That and we threw the ball around the yard."

Almost literally, and two of Routt's runs as well as one of Reed's were unearned. Had the Rams taken just a little more advantage of such openings the game might well have been beyond saving. Tim Boyce worked 3.1 innings as the starter with a pair of mid-relievers following until the late Bulldog heroics that left Johnson the loser.

A MSU error produced the first Ram run, as a drive by second baseman Oliver Palmer left RF Ryan Collins unsure whether to charge or sit back. It skipped through to score shortstop Mike Lebel. State answered in their first turn as Powers drove home Adkins from second with a seeing-eye single, and in the third inning the Bulldogs took a 3-1 lead. With two outs and one on 2B Nick Vickerson's pop-fly was lost by Lebel in the sun to fall for a double. Collins was up and sliced a two-run hit through shortstop.

But Routt ran out of luck in the third as the first five Rams all reached on hits, walks, and errors. Run-scoring singles by Zoey Angulo and Palmer tied it up and when first baseman Tom Coulombe bunted Routt's throw was wide of first for the go-ahead run. Rightfielder Rob DeVeney's grounder got under the glove of 3B Russ Sneed for a 6-3 scoreboard, before Routt finished his day with a strikeout.

A bases-loaded walk of Vickerson in State's third was all the Dogs got that time as Boyce threw a bases-loaded strikeout, and Reed's afternoon began with a two-out hit from Angulo. Palmer doubled down the leftfield line for the RBI. But Boyce didn't get out of the fourth himself as he walked Sneed, setting up Powers for a second RBI on a smash to leftfield.

From there Reed was able to get control of Ram batters for the most part. "We were trying to go sinker-in and slider-away, it was effective all night," he said, as Rhode Island didn't get the same fastballs they'd seen earlier. "I thought the game really turned around in large part when Caleb came in," Cohen agreed. The only other harm to Reed came in the sixth when the defense didn't finish off a double-play, leaving Angulo on base with two outs and the dangerous Palmer back up. He didn't get a fourth hit but his roller did go right through Sneed for the run.

It took a great running grab by CF Jaron Shephard to keep the deficit at 8-5. And in the seventh Reed did hit a pinch hitter to fill the paths with two down. Normally it would have been a spot-relief change, but… "I didn't want them to take me out," Reed said. "I shook my head at them when they looked at me from the dugout, I was ready to stay out there and compete." And win, as he got a one-hopper to first base from Lebel. His afternoon ended emphatically as Reed fanned three in the eighth, albeit around a leadoff sigle and walk.

State's rally began with a pair of seventh-inning scores as SS Jonathan Ogden's pulled drive landed just inside the leftfield line to plate C Wes Thigpen. A delayed steal put Ogden at third where he scored on Shephard's grounder to the other side of the infield. Still the Rams led 8-7 midway of the ninth after Brian Bodjiak had retired the 2-3-4 batters in State's eighth.

But he gave a leadoff walk to DH Ryan Duffy in the ninth and Cohen put Trey Johnson on first to run while URI changed moundsmen. Their Johnson advanced State's with an errant pickoff move, and Thigpen battled back from two strikes to walk. Shephard was intentionally passed and the outfield drawn-in.

Pinch-batter Jet Butler had a good hack but got just under it, his fly ball not going out far enough beyond shortstop to risk Johnson coming home. That left it up to Collins to keep the game going and he did with a bouncer too deep to shortstop for a play. Adkins already had a pair of hits but wasn't enjoying the night. "Hey, they caught about every ball I hit so I guess I kind of deserved it," he said of the first-pitch cut. Which, he admitted, he didn't watch through the eye blackened a couple days earlier as he tried to get out of the way of a Routt pitch. "I just put my head down and started running."

Adkins' three hits led State, which had 13 total safeties with four other Dogs collecting a pair. Collins drove in three runs and Powers two. Six of State's base hits came from four first-time college batters, and all five of the errors were charged to veterans oddly enough. "Talk about a weird game," said Cohen.

"We did everything we could to try and not win the game defensively. Offensively we did a nice job, we put together positive-count situations and hit the ball really hard at people. Defensively for the last three or four days we've been really stiff and rigid."

But then a win should help loosen everyone up in time for Saturday's game-two. True frosh Chris Stratton will get the State start while Rhode Island had not named their opener. Cohen said he will juggle the lineup for Saturday, partly because CF Brent Brownlee won't be available again with flu. "He can't even raise his head right now." Butler will probably get the start at third base, the coach added, and Cody Freeman will take his turn at catcher as State plans to rotate backstops regularly this year.

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