"What Devin and Caleb did tonight was impressive. When you don't swing it, like we didn't tonight, you have to get it done on the mound. So we're pleased with that."
Indeed the Bulldogs did not swing the sticks all that well against a procession of four Pioneer pitchers, with just six total hits. But what they did do was manufacture just enough opportunities to scratch out a couple of runs in the first and fifth innings, which proved more than sufficient the way MSU moundsmen were working.
Maybe more impressive was that despite a five-hit shutout and career-best seven strikeouts (one walked), Jones (2-2) was not all that overpowering. "I probably didn't do that very well tonight but overall I got into the seventh inning and gave our team a chance." A chance the club cashed in on, unlike in the previous two Jones starts where lack of scoring offset excellent outings. Run-scoring hits by 3B Jarrod Parks and 1B Ryan Collins in the opening inning were just what Jones needed this night.
"It's always good to have run support, I could settle in and relax. Our guys did a great job of that and I felt absolutely no pressure tonight, even when the bases were loaded." That being his one true test, in an absolutely-pressurized fourth inning.
Kody Kerski (0-2) took the loss on 4.0-plus innings with three runs, two hits, three strikeouts and six walks. The other three Sacred Heart pitchers issued no free passes but the damage was done by then. State also kept the Pioneers on edge with hard baserunning, stealing bases five times without a failure.
"He (Kerski) had some good stuff, had a little velo(city) on his fastball early, his changeup wasn't too bad," Collins said. "He kind of got helped out early by the shadows but we got to him around the fifth inning. We were just trying to draw some pitches, his last outing he walked some people so we were trying to be patient up there."
But not so patient as to turn down early opportunity, as leadoff Dog DH Nick Vickerson reached on a full-count walk and with one out successively stole both second and third base. He could have scored from any sack though as Parks lined one deep and just over the centerfielder for a true triple and the first RBI. Parks was scored on a fly-ball single by Collins for the 2-0 lead.
"The last few times Devin has pitched we haven't provided much run support," said Collins. "So getting those two in the first inning and later on getting extra cushion was big because he's been pitching his butt off all year."
Jones was able to hold that margin for his next four turns with just a walk in the second and third innings. Things got very serious in the fourth though. Collins made a smart diving stop to rob a leadoff double, but Rob Griffith reached as Parks' throw-across pulled Collins off the bag. Consecutive singles loaded the bases, bringing Cohen out for a talk. But not to lecture. "Basically it was just to get a breather, let me settle down and play the game and stuff like that," Jones said.
Jones showed his stuff, fanning Chris Whittemore on three strikes before Rocco Gondek flew out to rightfield. "I just settled in and relaxed, the strikeout I was just trying to get a ground ball! Thankfully he struck out and the other guy popped up and we basically got out of there."
"I don't think Devin had his best stuff tonight but he competed when he absolutely had to and did a good job putting up zeroes," said Cohen.
Kerski was at 88 pitches after just four frames, and when he walked Parks to open the fifth Sacred Heart made the change with righthander, and true sidearmer, James Ineson. Collins executed his sacrifice bunt nicely before SS Jonathan Ogden dropped a single in front of the leftfielder for Dogs on corners. LF Jaron Shepherd was at the plate as Ogden delayed his steal and made second safely with the defense watching Parks at third.
Shepherd grounded to the first baseman for an easy throw/tag at home of Parks. Still Ogden had made third and scored easily on Ineson's wild pitch. CF Brent Brownlee reached on an infield hit, as did C Wes Thigpen on a tough grounder the third baseman couldn't come up with. Shepherd scored on the hit for a 4-0 lead and another pitching change. Chris Dionisio flew 2B Sam Frost out to end this inning.
Still the Pioneers couldn't get to Jones despite a two-out shortstop error in their sixth, and he sat the seventh-side to end the stint. As Reed readied the MSU offense padded the lead. A couple of errors—fielding by the third baseman and a wild pickoff from Dionisio—meant three bases for Ogden. It also meant a buggy-whip swing single by Shepherd produced a RBI.
Reed overwhelmed hitters with two strikeouts in the eighth and ninth both. Six different Dogs got a base hit, and Ogden scored twice. Leadoff Pioneer Steve Tedesco had two of his team's five hits, a low total that reflected how well MSU hurlers spotted their stuff. State had watched the broadcast of Sacred Heart's midweek game at LSU and read the results from a split of four games at Southeastern Louisiana, and in batting practice the Pioneers were rapping drives all over.
"They can swing the bat," Cohen said. "They're going to be tough to get out for two more games. They're not great runners but they swing the bat. We're going to have to play defense and do the same thing tomorrow. If we can get the same effort on the mound we can feel good about the weekend.
Stratton (3-0) will get the Saturday start, with game time moved back to 6:00 instead of the usual 2:00. Sacred Heart will come with righthander Troy Scribner (2-0) who had been their usual Friday man, so the Bulldog offense will need to help the hurler out some more to keep the series on track.
"It's always good to get that first one on a weekend, just to get things rolling," said Collins. "Especially this last weekend before we go to SEC play."
The game counted as State's eighth 'quality start' of the season, which means six or more innings with three or fewer earned runs by the opener. The Bulldog staff had only eight such starts all of 2010.