State Rallies Past Tigers 7-6

No, the Diamond Dogs aren't picky these days. They'll take runs and get outs absolutely any way possible. Or, as Coach John Cohen said, "We're having to do some strange things to win some games right now." Fortunately Mississippi State did enough necessary things to defeat Memphis 7-6 Wednesday night at Dudy Noble Field.

The visiting Tigers (9-12) gave Mississippi State (12-9) a real run, scoring three times in the first inning and leading 5-1 midway of the fourth. But the Bulldogs settled down some early pitching issues and after wearing down starter Ben Paullus took advantage of erratic Memphis bullpen arms. A four-run seventh inning, where only one score was batted home, put State in front just enough to stand up.

It was a case of taking and making runs by whatever means, according to RF Luke Adkins. "Right now, definitely," he said. "It's hard to string together four hits, we need those walks, forcing errors, stuff like that." Stuff like twice scoring on passed balls with the bases loaded, and getting what proved the winning run on a jammed-sacks walk. The Bulldogs did slug three home runs, all solo shots; and not a single MSU at-bat produced more than a lone RBI.

Still it was sufficient to outlast a Tiger team that out-hit State 12 safeties to eight. And, a strong effort from Paullus who worked six complete with three runs on five hits, three walks, and a strikeout. When he left the game his team was in front 5-2. It was his first replacement Marcus Barnes (0-1) that absorbed the setback allowing four runs on three hits with a walk…as well as the pitches that catcher Shawn Ablett failed to stop in the seventh inning.

Chad Girodo was on-record after throwing the whole sixth and seventh innings with no scoring and a single hit; thus he picked up the decision an evened the record at 1-1. But the key to victory was the earlier mid-relief work of Corey Collins, who had to enter ahead of schedule in the top of the very first inning and slow the Tiger assault. He put in 2.1 innings with a run on four hits, a walk and two strikeouts.

"I thought Collins was great," Cohen said. "He got ground balls that just got through holes--some strange holes--and bounced off gloves. But after we got it under control in three innings I thought we pitched really well."

Rookie Trey Johnson, also an alternate outfielder, got his first college start and second total appearance. It wasn't a long outing because with two Tigers on via singles, third baseman Jacob Wilson lifted a drive to straight-center that carried farther than CF Ryan Collins could run and reach. The double scored two teammates. A hit-batsman later Johnson was lifted ahead of the evening's pitching schedule for Collins, but on his second pitch Trey Wiedman bounced a base hit up the middle for a 3-0 score.

"I know Johnson is a much better pitcher than he showed tonight," Cohen said. "He's got to be able to throw the changeup early and locate that. He throws one belt-high that ends up going over the centerfielder's head. He hasn't pitched that much and that's our fault, we need to get him out there more so he can execute pitches."

The Bulldogs did get one of those runs back in the first inning as Adkins legged-out a triple, and scored on 1B Connor Powers' single. Collins kept it 3-1 for an inning by stranding one Tiger, but got tagged in the third frame after a leadoff plunking and base hit. With one out and both runners moving Wiedman rapped a single through the open six-hole and Wilson beat the throw to the plate. Collins had to throw three strikes by #9 batter Derrick Thomas to leave a pair in scoring positions.

Adkins delivered another one-out triple in the bottom of the third, but this time Powers was called out on pitch well off the plate and C Cody Freeman grounded to third to keep the Memphis margin 4-1. MSU reliever Luke Bole, taking his assigned turn in the fourth, wasn't as lucky on a one-out triple by shortstop Chad Zurcher. Leftfielder Tyler Huelsing fought-off three strikes before roping one that LF Ryan Duffy took a bad angle on for a double and the 5-1 margin.

That brought Greg Houston in to strand one runner, then take care of the fifth before Girodo got the ball and kept the Tigers from expanding the lead while his own offense went to work. Paullus had retired 11 of 13 in one strong stretch. "He was mixing up well," Adkins said. "Coach Rock (former MSU aide Daron Schoenrock) over there knows us and we've all been around so I'm sure they've got a good scouting report. They did a good job throwing with him."

Until Cohen began making some moves, that is. The first came with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, when Jet Butler was subbed-in to swing. He took Paullus' first offering over rightfield for his first homer of the season. Two outs into the sixth it was DH Russ Sneed going long, over leftfield, for another solo shot. This after Powers had walked to lead off the inning and get picked-off. Paullus fanned Duffy with Collins on first base, which ended his evening after 90 pitches.

Lefty Barnes was greeted by SS Jonathan Ogden with a tall shot that cleared left of the centerfield wall to get the Dogs within a run. Butler—hitting from the right side this time--singled and was bunted-over by 3B Nick Vickerson. Adkins bounced one that Tiger second-sacker Adam McClain got to, but going hard the other way so he couldn't get the throw off in time.

Memphis was very careful with Powers and didn't mind loading the bases on a 3-1 ball four, then calling righthander Robby Graham to face Freeman. Except his first pitch got through the catcher's mitt for a passed ball and tied score as Butler came home. Freeman worked a walk and Graham was done. Righty Heath Hatfield was rushed in…only to have one of his own offerings miss the mitt. This time it was Adkins scoring from third and putting the Bulldogs ahead at last. Sneed walked to re-load all posts for the third time in the inning.

Collins and Graham battled until the Bulldog watched ball-four miss his shins, forcing in Powers and opening the Tiger bullpen gate yet again. This time it was Dane Sharp, another righty, and he ended the rally with a couple of pop-flies. But Mississippi State had a 7-5 lead now for Devin Jones to protect. He didn't do it well, despite getting two quick outs. Because a walk of the nine-batter brought the top of the order up.

And both centerfielder Drew Martinez and Zurcher delivered singles, the latter an RBI hit scoring Derrick Thomas. Bracewell was summoned to salvage the situation and needed just one pitch to ground Huelsing out leaving a one-run margin. In the ninth he struck out two and got a one-hopper back to his own glove for the ending out. It was Bracewell's second save of the season.

"It was a good win for us," Adkins said after going 3-of-4 with two triples and two runs. "We'd been struggling offensively lately, and that's what we've been trying to achieve; is put together good at-bats in a row. We were able to get some in the seventh inning that really helped us out."

Butler was 2-of-3 with two runs and the RBI. With his first-inning hit Powers moved into a tie for 10th on the Bulldog career RBI list with Brad Winkler at 172 each. No less than five Tigers had a pair of hits, with Jacob Wilson scoring twice.

Coming after a tough weekend at Florida where State played the top-ten Gators very well only to lose three times, this was as Adkins said a good win. No matter how it was achieved. "I'm pleased our kids came back tonight," said Cohen. "They're competing well, practicing well, doing all the things we're asking them to do. We're in the middle of not making very good decisions and I think its because the kids are putting a lot of pressure on themselves. That's our responsibility as coaches.

"Hopefully this weekend we can get this thing turned around a little bit and have some opportunities to score some runs against a Georgia team that's struggling but is very, very capable." State hosts the Eastern Division Bulldogs who are also off to a 0-3 SEC start, making this a very early must-win series for both sides. As of now State will start Kendall Graveman and Chris Stratton in the first two games, with Sunday a TBA depending largely on whether Nick Routt is available. The sophomore has a strained ligament in the pitching elbow and is doubtful at this point.

But then offense has been more of the March issue for State than the pitching. Either way, the case remains of figuring out some way, some means of creating runs and managing outs. "It's a great opportunity for us to get some wins," said Adkins. "Some much-needed wins. Georgia got swept with Auburn, I think its going to be a good series and hopefully we come out on top."

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