13th Inning Thriller Won by MSU, 5-4

[Premium Article] Mr. Friday Night Paul Maholm continued to live up to his reputation as a workhorse by pitching a 10 inning, 4 hit, 6-strikeout game. The 106-pitch performance was the longest of his career and the longest of any pitcher in the SEC this season.

In what was billed as a showdown of two future stars of Major League Baseball, evidenced by the numerous scouts sitting behind home plate with their radar guns on every pitch thrown, Maholm's Bulldogs were the 5-4 victor. Maholm's counterpart, Jeremy Sowers, a 1st round draft pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2001, was not as fortunate as last season in Nashville, where Sowers threw a complete game, seven-hit shutout. Last season the Commodores intentionally threw Sowers on Sunday to counteract Maholm's win on Friday night.

The 6-1, 175-lb. Sowers, who saw his pitch count go up to 100 in just the sixth inning, finished his night's work by completing the 7th inning. He gave up two runs on 8 hits, striking out 11.

Maholm surrendered two early runs in the first inning. Warner Jones led off with a single down the 1st base line, Rucker Taylor drew a walk and Maholm beaned Ryan Klosterman to load the bases. Two runs crossed the plate on fielder's choice hits before Maholm pitched out of trouble.

"I just tried to settle down and throw strikes, like I know I can. There was just one pitch that got away and hit the guy, but I just tried to get ground balls and get out of there," said Maholm.

Maholm cruised through the next 6 innings, facing the minimum 18 batters until Vandy's version of smallball produced 2 runs on a bunt sacrifice moving two runners into scoring position. Jeff Boutwell scored one on a liner to left field to give Vandy a 3-2 lead.

But the Bulldogs had no intentions of throwing in the towel in the bottom of the ninth. Freshman Jeff Butts led off the inning with a liner to the gap in left-centerfield, followed by a perfect drag bunt by Jon Mungle that was mishandled by the pitcher. Maniscalco moved the runners to second and third on a fielder's choice. Steve Gendron was intentionally walked to load the bases, one of his two walks, for Matthew Brinson. Brinson flew out to the warning track in right field, scoring Butts, tying the game at 3.

Jonathan Papelbon took over for Maholm in the 11th and set the 'Dores down in order. Right fielder Worth Scott tried to win it with a 12th inning blast to right field that gave Vandy a one run lead 4-3.

After Gendron and Brinson were quickly retired to begin the 12th, freshman Brad Jones singled to left. Then Tatum singled to right, moving Jones to second. Brent Lewis smoked a grounder down the first base line scoring Jones and tying the game again, forcing a 13th inning.

Papelbon made quick work in the 13th and the remaining thousand or so fans could sense a rally when Maniscalco hit a one-out double to right center. Gendron singled to left moving Maniscalco to third. Brinson was intentionally walked to load the bases for a possible inning-ending double play.

True freshman Craig Tatum stepped up to the plate for his 7th at bat in the contest, after 13 innings of catching Maholm and Papelbon, two of the hardest throwers in the league, and deposited the first fastball he saw into right field scoring Maniscalco and giving the Diamond Dawgs a 5-4 victory.

Tatum has been the hot bat for the dogs after the Lipscomb series and mid-week games against UNO.

"I was ready to go home. I was tired of catching; too many more innings and I wouldn't have been able to walk tomorrow," said Tatum. "I figured they had been throwing me first pitch fastballs all day so I was tired of taking them. I was just going to swing at the first one, so maybe we could get out of here."

"That was huge for the whole team and I think it was big for him, knowing that from now on he will have confidence with two outs and the game on the line," said Maholm.

The Bulldogs need more timely hits from their freshmen in these close games that were all to common last season. True freshman Joseph Hunter launched his second career home run. The two-run shot tied the game at two in the 4th inning.

The Bulldogs left 16 runners on base to Vandy's 8 and struck out 17 times against 4 pitchers, and you know this didn't please head coach Ron Polk.

"If you had told me before the game we would strike out 17 times against their pitchers and leave that many on base..." said Polk. "Thankfully we were at home and the home team does have an advantage in extra innings."

"This is a team that is first in the league with us defensively and pitching wise. We knew that coming in and we told the boys that these games would be low scoring, very close, good defense," said Polk. "We would need timely hitting and we got a timely hit from Craig Tatum."

"There is going to be a lot of close games in this league this year because it is a pitching dominated league. There are 30 battles in this thing and we have 29 to go."

Attendance: 2,238

Brian Emory is a free-lance correspondent for Gene's Page. Brian is student at Mississippi State Univeristy. You can contact Brian by email at johnbemory@msn.com.

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