Of course Georgia could have clinched the series Saturday had they not let a 7-1 Friday lead, in which those Dogs scored six times in the fourth inning, get away. Still this interesting formula worked out better the second time-around…and left MSU Coach John Cohen fuming five whole innings later. "And really some things we can't control that happened in the fourth inning, again," he said. The obvious implication being his disagreements with the umpiring crew about calls and plays which would have prevented any big outburst.
Cohen wasn't alone in his opinion of the officiating, as UG Coach Dave Perno was on the field arguing the strike zone with ump Tony Walsh after just two of his batters were up, and downed. Both skippers pressed things to the point of ejection a few other times for that matter, and if Walsh's view on things was debatable his hearing was excellent. Twice in the bottom of the ninth he glared into the Dog dugout after a dubious low strike-three on 3B Nick Vickerson for out-two.
The final out though was a perfectly-spotted fastball on LF Luke Adkins by Georgia's Cooper Moseley, leaving the tying runs unscored for his first save. Mosely worked the last two full frames with no damage on a hit, two walks, and three strikeouts to get his first save. He had loaded the bags by plunking C Cody Freeman, giving up a pinch-hit double to Jet Butler, and walking SS Jonathan Ogden. But he neutralized it all with a pop-out of 2B Sam Frost, then getting the top two in State's order and not giving slugger 1B Connor Powers a chance to use the strong breeze blowing out to left.
"We had a chance to come back and obviously when it really counts we don't have great at-bats," said Cohen.
Justin Grimm (2-2) picked up the winning decision and earned it despite four runs and five hits in his 6.0 complete innings. He walked two, struck out four, but more than that dominated his first five frames after the home team had taken a quick 1-0 lead. And, given his offense the chance to cash-in on their fourth turn.
Cohen started freshman Chris Stratton and got three excellent innings out of the righthander. Trouble was…right, the fourth time-around. "I pretty much just gave it to them," Stratton (2-3) said. "I guess I got a little tired; I'm not sure, we don't do ‘tired' around here." Though, his coach did agree with his rookie moundsman after he'd tossed 81 pitches with four runs on three hits, three walks, and a team season-high eight strikeouts.
"What happens to freshmen, in high school they're used to throwing 60-80 pitches and being through a game. The SEC says we can force you to get to 60 pitches earlier. You can't expect an incredible outing out of a freshman every time out. He got a lot of punch-outs but that's not economic." As in, Stratton needed five, six, or more offerings to get the Ks, and that toll mounted quickly.
"They were very patient at the beginning, when I'd get them two strikes I would get them swinging but they took pitches until they got strikes. And it worked out for them." Not at first, as he struck out seven of the first dozen-faced and stranded Georgia Dogs in the second and third. Stratton also had a 1-0 lead coming out for the second turn. Vickerson singled to lead off and eventually was scored by DH Russ Sneed's single.
From there though Grimm had the Dogs' numbers, facing the minimum for four-straight frames. He did have a couple of baserunners, leading off the second and fourth, but each was caught stealing to erase themselves.
Stratton's breaking ball had Georgians guessing through three, but in the fourth the top of the order came back up. A single, hit batsman, and walk loaded the bases as State's starter began leaving most everything up above the zone. That included a full-count fastball to Kyle Farmer that looked close enough to all but Walsh, tying the score on a walk.
Christian Glisson put his side ahead with a fly ball caught on the leftfield line, scoring Robert Shipman from third. On a 2-2 count State made the move with C.C. Watson summoned, though Taylor foiled it by bouncing one off the new pitcher's glove for an infield safety. Watson walked the bags full giving Levi Hyams his chance. On 1-2 he checked the swing, though Cohen's animated reaction brought a warning. The coach was even less happy as Hyams pulled a single through the right side for a 5-1 Georgia lead. And, another pitching change. Greg Houston got the fly-out to end the inning.
He also took care of the Georgia fifth, but a leadoff double by Glisson and sacrifice set up Verdin for the RBI single and 6-1 advantage. Corey Collins kept it there with a strikeout and line-out.
Meanwhile Grimm had gone 14-straight Dogs with no damage. His sixth was another matter as Vickerson doubled to leftfield and Adkins walked. Powers was not bunting but his chopper to shortstop served the same purpose, and Grimm hit Sneed right in the hat to fill the paths. RF Ryan Collins flew-out to left for one run, and wild pitches successively scored both Adkins and Sneed. Only then did Grimm get the third strike by Shepherd, with the lead cut to 6-4 and his stint finished at 98 pitches.
Having closed it up Mississippi State was quicker on the pitching trigger. So when Collins struck out a pair but walked the #8 batter Farmer, the call was for Luke Bole to sit Glisson on an up-and-out called strike.
UG's Steve Esmonde was given the two-run lead to protect in State's seventh and needed a stout effort from rightfielder Verdin to do so. With Frost on base and two outs, Adkins lifted a drive that might have cleared the fence without the wind. With it, the ball tailed towards the gap and Verdin had to run it down in front of the 374 marker.
Georgia's order was starting over in the eighth again though, and with Verdin on first via walking Hyams dropped a double between right and center fields. Devin Jones replaced Bole, to give up the sacrifice fly by Cone for that little extra padding. Mosely found it sufficient.
Hyams had two of Georgia's nine base hits and a pair of RBI. Vickerson and Sneed hit safely twice for State and the former scored twice, but the host Dogs had just seven total safeties. Lack of hitting in general and clutch batting in particular had Cohen exercised. But not quite as much as another day of dubious umping. His Saturday comments will likely not be received well in Birmingham, though the State skipper did say he won't forward any highlights to the league office. It's for private team viewing only.
"We're going to see some video and see where there are some real things we can't control about this game. It changes the whole nature of the game. But it happens; it's just happening to us the last two days, which is frustrating. When the things you can't control punch you in the face, and you see it on video, it's frustrating."
Georgia, going for a eighth-straight series win against MSU, should start righty Michael Palazzone (3-2, 9.15) Sunday. Though six State moundsmen were used Saturday, Cohen is more upbeat about available arms for game-three. Another freshman, Chad Girodo (1-1, 5.09), will get the start as the coaches figured once Nick Routt's sore arm-muscle was evaluated early in the week. "We'll have Ben Bracewell (Friday's closer) to back him up, we didn't use Caleb Reed today, so I feel solid about our bullpen. Then again pitching isn't so much the issue, it's what we do at home plate." Or, equally, what somebody standing behind home plate does.