Adkins, Powers Shots Give State 6-5 Win

Luke Adkins was honest. "You don't want to do it like this all the time," the Diamond Dog outfielder said. "But it's fun!" A whole lot of fun, in fact, as solo home runs by both Adkins and Connor Powers in the bottom of the ninth completed Mississippi State's 6-5 comeback win over visiting Alabama-Birmingham.

The Bulldogs, who trailed all afternoon, used that pair of big flies to remain unbeaten on the young season at 4-0. The Blazers lost their 2010 debut, and did so in crushing fashion. They had rung up the first three runs of the afternoon in the opening inning, and were protecting a 5-4 margin going into the final frame with righthander Nick Graffeo on the mound to close it out.

Except his arrival coincided with the heart of Mississippi State's order coming up for the last chance, beginning with #2 batter Adkins. The leftfielder had put in a productive Tuesday already with a couple of singles, reaching via error, and runs having scored in two of his at-bats. He also had an idea how the Blazers were going to attack him.

"Early in the game they got me with a breaking ball, looking, late in the count. And I'd hit a couple of fastball hard. So I was kind of looking for a breaking ball and he put it there." Graffeo's offering was right where the lefthanded hitter could hammer it over rightfield. "I had a good feeling," said Adkins. "I was hoping because I was doing my little trot around the bases!"

This meant Powers was up with the bases empty, but UAB coach and former MSU aide Brian Shoop was not going to put him on easily. He soon likely wished he had as Graffeo grooved a fastball. "I think he rushed," Powers said, adding "I think Luke kind of did that to him, I think he rattled him a little." Powers rattled the ball a lot, depositing it very close to where Adkins' shot had landed. It was his third home run of the season—all of them solos—and 41st of his Bulldog career.

The victory itself was the third time in four outings Coach John Cohen's club has come from behind. "For whatever reason we're having better at-bats and defending better at the end of games," he said. Cohen could have added that the Bulldogs pitched it better towards the end as relievers Kendall Graveman, Ben Bracewell, and Devin Jones each threw a complete, hitless, scoreless inning with four strikeouts and no walks among them. Jones (1-0) picked up the decision having tossed the ninth.

All the Blazer damage was done in the first five innings, really in the first two at the expense of starter Luke Bole. He allowed four hits and as many runs in 2.0 turns with two walks and no strikeouts. Yet the true-freshman's coach was complimentary afterwards.

"From afar you think he didn't pitch that well. But he had good stuff, his breaking ball was tight. His command wasn't what we wanted, but he did a great job containing the running game for the most part." The Blazers stole just one base for the afternoon. The real winner on the MSU mound was another rookie, Chad Girodo. Though a lefty like Bole, his varied breaking balls and locations cooled off Blazer bats and kept the deficit from growing for 4.0 innings. Girodo allowed two hits with three strikeouts and a run.

UAB also wanted to work a lot of arms in their opening contest, with second pitcher Ryan Wooley throwing 4.0 frames; the second-through-fifth. He took three hits, two runs, and struck out three and was in position to get the win until Blazer relief fell through at the end.

Because midway of the second inning the home team was trailing 4-0 and getting frustrated. "We put ourselves in that situation, there are some things we've got to fix," said Powers. "Obviously we've got to clean up our game."

Specifically a couple of fielding miscues. The first was on the opening at-bat as 2B Nick Vickerson let a grounder get by glove-side. A one-out steal had Nick Crawford in position to score on Digger Towe's single, and a follow-up double that caught leftfield-line chalk by John Frost drove Towe home. With two down Andrew Manning made it a 3-0 game on his single.

"I think they came ready to play," said Powers. "And we weren't. It just didn't look like we were there."

Bole had other trouble in the second with bases loaded and one down. He missed C Cody Freeman's mitt for a free run scoring Mikael Saway, yet steadied to draw two fly outs that stranded a trio and kept the margin at just four runs. That would matter as the game developed further.

Because Girodo did his job in the middle stretch while the Bulldog offense tried to find openings. It wasn't easy as excellent contact went unrewarded. State left the bases full in the first inning, and mustered just one run—on a sacrifice fly from RF Jaron Shepherd scoring 3B Jet Butler—in the second. Wolley sat the side in State's third and got out of two-on with no-outs in the fourth.

"To their credit we pounded some balls right at them and hit into double plays," Cohen said. "They were just in the right place." The missed chances hurt more when UAB's Towe tagged Girodo for a leadoff home run in the Blazer fifth.

The Bulldogs did get that one back though as Shepherd reached on a deflected grounder and worked succeeding stations on ground balls. Thus he was in position to score on a wild Woolly pitch.

Righty Beau Pender succeeded Woolley for the MSU sixth and stranded one. He was an out into the seventh when Vickerson walked and CF Brent Brownlee was plunked. Adkins made it a 5-3 score with a single under the diving second baseman, and this time Powers didn't need to swing as he was walked to load the bases. A walk of DH Russ Sneed forced Brownlee across, and Blazer righty Blake Huddleston had to get a strikeout of lefty pinch-hitter Ryan Duffy and Butler fly ball to keep his team in front.

Until the ninth, anyway, when Adkins and Powers showed how quickly State could turn defeat into another victory. That it came on longballs was a little bit sweeter, since it kept Blazer glovemen from doing their thing. "We hit the ball hard all night," Adkins said. "We had runners on first and third and would line out or start double plays. Finally balls started falling our way at the end. We've got to do a better job at the beginning of the game."

Then again, these Bulldogs have done pretty well so far making the end of games matter, such as the season-opener when Adkins delivered a walk-off hit to beat Rhode Island 9-8. A three-run deficit to the Rams on Sunday was overcome in time, too. So State is gaining early confidence that they can indeed come through in pressure situations.

"It's definitely a positive thing to know," said Powers. "We keep our poise and we don't panic or try to do too much."

Adkins was 3-of-5 for this affair with two RBI while Powers had a pair of hits. State out-batted the Blazers ten to six, and both sides had two charged errors. MSU's were more costly though. "They were average plays you have to make," said Cohen. "You clean up those two plays and it really changes the whole ball game."

Of course what is changing the game for Mississippi State this season already is the work of first-year pitchers, whether in starting or relief roles, as well as some sophomores who have their own designated duties such as starter-turned-closer Jones. Cohen even paid Girodo a remarkable compliment by comparing him to his own former MSU teammate and program legend Jon Harden. "He has a similar breaking ball, and he works quick," said the coach.

"I think we're seeing glimpses of some guys who are going to be very special on the mound. Our whole dugout feels when Ben Bracewell and Devin Jones go out it's over. We were thrilled with Chad, he did exactly what he's done since he walked on campus. He can locate three pitches in the strike zone."

Cohen said that Nick Routt will get Friday's start to the series with Southeast Louisiana, and freshman Chris Stratton the Saturday start. "We don't know about Sunday yet, really we're waiting to see about the weather forecast because it can change some things."

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