A whole lot indeed; the most by a Mississippi State squad since 1999 and a comparable 27-4 romp over Arkansas-Little Rock. Bulldog batters pounded out 24 total base hits including five doubles, a triple, and three home runs. Butler got in on the longball fun, slugging his second shot of the season; with other homers by LF Ryan Duffy and C Cody Freeman.
In fact the best real competition this evening was to see which Diamond Dog would come away with the most hits. Butler and Duffy went at it all eight State offensive innings and while Butler began with four-straight safeties Duffy came on at the end to win with five. Between them the two seniors had eight RBI (six by Duffy) and five runs and were 9-of-13 swinging. And yes, they were always swinging.
"I ain't trying to walk!" said Duffy…who for the record has just two such free passes for the whole season. "I think my on-base percentage is ten points higher than my batting average!" Twenty, actually, but the point is valid; he was up there to swing Tuesday along with the rest of the order. Or most of it rather as ironically leading batter 1B Connor Powers failed to register a hit in two official trips, but still got a cpuole of RBI on an errored grounder and sacrifice fly.
In all eight Dogs had two or more hits with DH Trey Johnson going 3-of-5 with three runs and a RBI. Nine batters drove in a pair of runs or more, and the only batter without a RBI, 3B Nick Vickerson, scored three times himself. Only one inning (the second) did State fail to score and they more than made up for that lapse with an 11-run explosion in the endless fifth frame, and six more in the eighth. The technical term was, rout.
Yet, "We needed a game like this," Coach John Cohen said. "These are the games a lot of teams in our league had earlier in the year. We're just kind of catching these games later in the year which I think is more beneficial for guys to get some confidence."
It certainly didn't hurt the confidence of five Bulldog pitchers who got work. Beginning with freshman Matt Lane as he worked the first four-full frames allowing a run on four hits with three walks and a strikeout. The lone blemish came in the third as two walks moved a runner in position to score on Josh Brumfield's single. He also had a pair on in the fourth with no outs, then struck-out three straight to finish the stint strong.
"I was pleased with what Matt did out of the gate," Cohen said. "He's been throwing great pens and we wanted him to have this opportunity. His command wasn't as good as we wanted but he was in the 85-89 range, his changeup was good and his breaking ball was OK. This hopefully will catapult him to something down the road because as many midweeks as we're going to have he's going to need to pitch for us."
But Lane didn't get the official decision. That went to second arm Greg Houston (5-0) based on working two middle innings with a run on three hits. Chad Girodo threw the sixth and allowed a one-out home run to Kenneth Rowan; Devin Jones had a scoreless, hitless eighth. The other Brave tally came in the last inning off Corey Collins with two hits and two strikeouts.
Alcorn State's Troy Williams (1-5) took the loss, and took it very hard. His coach left their midweek regular out on the hill for the first five full innings, to absorb 17 runs on 15 hits. Though, eight of State's scores off Williams were unearned as the Braves committed four errors and various uncharged mistakes in the field to turn a big fifth into a huge inning. Josh Roberts tossed two innings with four runs on three hits, and Marsalis Charles was shelled in the eighth with six runs on six hits.
With such poor pitching the inevitable risk was some State swingers getting into bad batting habits and spoiling their recent run of success. Butler said this was understood, though, even after the game became a blowout. "You have to stay locked-in even when things get out of hand. A lot of guys had good nights; in fact most everybody had a good night."
Including, Duffy said, the Dogs who didn't bat. "We had some young guys pitch tonight that did a really good job, that's confidence for them. It's nice to pitch when you've got a lead, you know."
Nice indeed. And likely necessary as Mississippi State leaves a nine-game homestand behind and goes back on the SEC road this weekend to Alabama. These next-door league neighbors and perpetual rivals begin the second half of conference season with matching 5-10 records, and in a three-way tie with Kentucky for 8th place in the current standings. That's the cut-line for participation in the SEC Tournament of course, and makes this weekend something of a showdown. The winning squad will have some control over their SEC tourney fate; the loser falls behind and will have to scramble back over the remaining four weekends.
"It's a huge weekend for us," Cohen said. His team is also coming off a pretty big weekend, too, when they took two of three from Tennessee while Alabama was being swept at LSU. While State's freshman pitching continues to develop, the series victory hinged on sudden life shown by the Bulldog offense. Dudy Noble Field has been good for the Dogs in their homestand with .363 batting for the nine games, 13 home runs and 98 RBI.
Powers has led the charge and was SEC Player of the Week for his feats against the Vols. But he isn't the only upperclassman who is suddenly playing like, well, like a senior according to Cohen. The combination of veteran bats and young pitching is now scoring some successes, and just in time…if they can maintain.
Cohen is optimistic. "Since I've been here this is the best our kids have come together as a group, in the locker room, the dugout, in practice. Our kid have really come together and its because our seniors the last two weeks have really decided they're going to lead this team. They've done a remarkable job and I feel very, very confident we're going to play well at Tuscaloosa."
"Hopefully we can continue this and take it into a good weekend," said Butler.
Cohen confirmed that Caleb Reed will start Friday's game at Sewell-Thomas Field, with Chris Stratton getting game-two. "And probably Luke Bole on Sunday, I think he feels a lot of confidence," the coach said. Cohen also updated the status of sophomore pitcher Nick Routt, who has been out over a month now with a forearm muscle strain in the pitching wing.
"He threw today from 90 feet, he came over and said he felt really good. Is it next weekend, we don't know yet, he's got to get on the mound. We feel he's going to get on the mound sometime either this weekend or the beginning of next week and that's going to tell us what we need to know. But he did come back and tell us he felt really good. He started trying to create a little more arm-speed and I think he felt comfortable with that."