But this one could very easily have ended up a SEMO win, after they pushed a lead run across in the top of the eighth inning and maintained the margin into Mississippi State's last chance. It took a defensive breakdown by the visiting team to extend the evening long enough for the Bulldogs to get that lucky seventh slider to Powers, and unlucky swing for the Redhawks.
"We did so many things wrong tonight, but we still found a way to win," Coach John Cohen said.
The only way State was going to win was getting SEMO reliever Shae Simmons out of the affair. The righthander had entered to throw the fifth inning with his team trailing 6-5 and was able to blank the Bulldogs for four-plus frames until his offense changed the scoreboard around. He worked a full five frames with just one two hits and a lone run against him, with six strikeouts and two walks.
And the tying run that kept Simmons from a decision wasn't entirely his fault either. Trailing 7-6, the Bulldogs got a leadoff baserunner as DH Cody Freeman singled…the first base hit off Simmons after facing 16 prior batters. It didn't seem much of a start when RF Ryan Collins popped-out on a sacrifice try and DH Russ Sneed's long drive was run down on the warning track. Even a single to short centerfield by CF Jaron Shepherd needn't have hurt the Redhawks much.
But pinch-runner Nick Vickerson was rounding for third and centerfielder Blake Slattery's throw was not cut by the shortstop. Instead it came through and skipped under the third baseman's glove. Even better for the Bulldogs it went through the dugout fence gap, allowing Vickerson to jog home with the tying score. "We had good fortune the ball found the dugout right there," agreed Cohen.
Shepherd made it to third himself but didn't score, meaning extra innings. State reliever Greg Houston had been summoned in the top of the eighth to end that inning with two more Redhawks left unscored, and he took care of the ninth in order. A one-out single in the tenth meant nothing and set him up to be the winner. Powers made it so, after one-out walks of LF Luke Adkins and SS Jonathan Ogden. Redhawk Trent Wise followed the same pitching plan as his predecessors, but… "I thought they were going to throw hard-in eventually," Powers said. As soon as the ball left bat Bulldogs poured from the dugout knowing it was a goner, and Powers' fifth homer of the young season.
Wise (0-2) took the loss with an official one-third of an inning, while Houston went to 2-0 with the win. In 2.1 scoreless innings he kept things simple. "It was just a lot of fastballs, trying to get the ball down and fill it up and get strikes. And it worked for me. I felt if could just spot-up they would do the work for me. Our defense did great today."
For the most part that was true as State had one error charged compared to four for SEMO.
Nick Routt got the State start but would only put in three complete innings, with four runs on five hits and three strikeouts. He walked just one Redhawk and only one of his runs was earned due to that lone error; a fielding mistake that set up SEMO's critical four-run third inning. Trailing 3-0, the Redhawks cracked three-straight hits off Routt to open the frame and score their first run on a single by Kenton Parmley at the top of the order. A one-out wild pitch plated Slattery, and when Routt hit another batter the bullpen got busy. But the next two runs weren't pitching faults as with two outs Routt rolled a sharp grounder that Sneed couldn't handle cleanly.
Parmley came in to tie the score, then a liner to second base saw first-time starter 2B Sam Frost underestimate the altitude. The shot went off the top of his glove for a deflected single and go-ahead RBI scored by Jim Klocke. "I'm just watching and…I'm speechless," Cohen said afterwards. Routt ended the inning, and his stint, with a line-out to third.
SEMO starter Logan Mahon didn't have a much better day himself. A two-out walk of Powers and ground-rule double from Freeman had Dogs on corners in the bottom of the first, and Mahon overthrew his catcher's mitt for a free run. In the second inning Powers got to swing with two teammates on bases and roped a single into leftfield that scored Shepherd and Frost for a 3-0 lead. Mahon's offense gave him a lead briefly but in the fourth he walked Frost before Adkins singled. A bunt by Ogden pushed both along where State could even the score on Powers' sacrifice fly to center.
That still left an out to go and two Dogs on. Freeman corrected that by crushing a shot over left-centerfield, his first homer of the season, for a 6-4 advantage. Mahon finished the inning before Simmons took over. And take over he did, working around a couple of walks, a hit batter, and dropped strike three to keep the home team stuck on six runs.
"Give a lot of credit, he did a great job to the ninth inning," said Powers.
Reed wasn't shabby himself though, retiring the first six-faced. But he hit the leadoff batter in the sixth and it hurt State worse when Casey Jones dropped a drive beyond Collins' reach for a three-base hit and RBI. A ground ball scored Jones for the 6-6 tie and C Wes Thigpen had to throw out Slattery to end the inning. Reed sat the side in the seventh and was two outs into the eight when Jones singled and took second on a dirtball.
With a pinch-runner on the middle base State pulled in the outfield slightly, and Kody Campbell made them pay with a roped double to the centerfield track. "We wanted to pitch the guy-on deck, he'd struck out and hadn't done anything else," Cohen said. "We wanted to go outside, and threw it in the strike zone. It was one of the few mistakes Caleb made all night." A walk brought Houston from the bullpen for a fly-out, and ultimately the one-run deficit wasn't too much to overcome.
"Caleb did an outstanding job," Powers said. "We really didn't help Routt behind him, his game is get ground balls and we have to make plays for him. But he did a good job with what was going on and then obviously Caleb and Greg did great jobs." Cohen had considered using closer Devin Jones but with a four-game weekend in store relied on Reed and Houston to carry it through.
"You've got a doubleheader tomorrow and you've got to ride one guy a little bit and we did that with Caleb. I thought he pitched really well except for one pitch. And Houston was really fresh and the ball is coming out of his hand pretty good."
"I would have liked to have won in the ninth," Houston said. "But I'll take the win any way we can get it!"
State won despite being out-hit ten to seven safeties, though they offset this with just two big swings by Powers and Freeman. And the Dogs left ten unscored runners, compared to six for SEMO. Power tied his career high with six RBI while Freeman's first game of the year not only produced the longball but two more hits. In short the 3-4 spots in the MSU order accounted for all the RBI and all but two hits.
Which was enough to get this Challenge started well. "Especially with how last weekend went it was important for us to come out and win this game," Powers said.
"We won, I'm pleased with that," Cohen said. "But we have to get better. It's just got to be better all around. We're not doing things as we are in practice. There are just so many freaky things happening to us. But the ball left the ballpark at the right time for us."
The Bulldogs return to their field at 11:00am Saturday to meet Michigan State, and at 2:30 they are scheduled for the rematch with SEMO. Pitching plans had not been set immediately after the game ended, though freshman Chris Stratton will get one of the starts. "I have to sit down with Butch (Thompson) to decide what the better matchup is," said Cohen. "It'll be some form of Stratton, (Luke) Bole, and maybe even (Chad) Girodo." All three are true freshmen. This would leave either Corey Collins, pending any bullpen assignment Saturday, or Tyler Whitney for the Sunday assignment against the Spartans.
"We're going to start counting lefties and seeing how they hung in there vs. lefthanded pitchers today," Cohen said as the coaching staff started evaluating Michigan State.