Norris, the designated hitter this non-conference contest, did indeed designate his share of hits. He drove in one run with a first-inning single, then broke the evening open with a three-run double in the fourth. For good measure Norris even touched home twice, contributing to six of Mississippi State’s runs.
“I got to swing the bat some and get on the mound,” he said. “I didn’t really do as well as I wanted on the mound but I got to throw a few pitches before this weekend.”
Norris took that turn in the top of the eighth and had to work around a one-out double and pair of walks that loaded them up with two down. But he was able to go full-count and strike out Jacob Reese to notch a third strikeout in the frame.
His hurling didn’t factor in any decision the way all those runs and runs-batted in did. The winner was State starter Kendall Graveman (2-0) based on the first 5.0 innings with three Eastern Illinois runs on seven hits, a walk, and two strikeouts. With a healthy lead at that point Coach John Cohen was able to stick to the mid-week script and give four more moundsmen, such as Norris, an inning each of work.
“This is exactly what we planned on,” said Cohen as State improved to 13-4. The Panthers left 1-11. But not without making things interesting on the stat sheet at least, their ten base hits only one less than what the home team tallied. And after falling behind 4-0 in just one inning Eastern Illinois threw a scare into State with two runs in their third turn with potential for more.
But the Bulldogs settled in, kept getting on bases, and in just one more big innings made sure of success to end their extended season-opening homestand. “We had some messy innings but we obviously swung the bats better,” Cohen said. That they did as seven starters in the order hit safely at least once. LF Nick Vickerson topped both the order and the linescore going 3-of-4 and scoring twice, including the opening run of the night. His leadoff single was followed by an RBI-double from 1B Ryan Collins for a lead before anyone was outed.
That was at the expense of EIU starter Troy Barton (0-1) who went on to allow six runs on seven hits with three strikeouts and walks apiece. He lasted a couple of hits beyond 3.0 innings.
Only once did Norris hit Barton. That was an out into the first inning as he chopped the fourth curveball offered to the right side and just under a Panther glove to score Collins. State made it 4-0 after one with a RBI-double from C Cody Freeman, and a run-scoring grounder by SS Jonathan Ogden.
The third time Norris came up was with bases loaded, one out, and a reliever on the hill. Panther Adam Clark filled an open first base by walking 3B Jarrod Parks to face Norris, who went full-count against nothing but straight stuff.
“It was a fastball-in, they threw me six fastballs in a row. I got the last one.” Got it good, too, dropping a deep double into leftfield scoring Vickerson, Collins, and Parks. RF C.T. Bradford hit his own two-bagger to score his classmate and after advancing on a wild pitch was able to come across with the ninth and final run as Freeman flew it to leftfield.
“We’ve been working to get hits with runners on base and we did that tonight,” Norris said. “We didn’t score enough innings as we wanted but we were able to put a couple of big innings together.” The margin could have been much greater had State cashed in on two other bases-loaded opportunities, in the second and fifth. That latter time it was Norris making the final out, though in some parks his opposite-field drive would have cleared the right-fence.
“He’s hit so many stinking rockets right at people, for him to have a ball hit the ground in the outfield was big,” Cohen said. “To have balls get through and some miss-hits get through is big, because that’s what gets you going.”
Eastern Illinois still gave a good fight despite falling behind early and big. Order-topper Zach Borenstein had singled in the first; in the third with a teammate on base he lined a drive that got by CF Jaron Shepherd for a triple and RBI. Cam Strang scored Borenstein as his short fly ball fell between three Dogs for a double and 4-2 difference. And they chopped a run off the 9-2 deficit in their fifth as Reese scored on a one-out grounder.
Still State was confident enough to open the bullpen gate for individual innings. Andrew Busby struck out the sixth-inning side on 13 pitches and was immediately replaced with the chance to throw this weekend. Chad Girodo was two outs into the seventh before walking the nine-hole hitter, then getting tagged by Borenstein for a RBI double. He was 4-of-4 with two RBI and a run, while Stang went 2-of-5 with a pair of RBI.
Norris got his three strikeouts around a one-out double and walk, and a two-out walk. Those free passes were the only sour note to Cohen. Bradford didn’t issue any in the ninth with a hit around his own three strikeouts. In all Bulldog pitchers scored a dozen combined Ks, nine by first-year guys.
“We liked the way Daryl threw the ball. Chad has got a real slider he’s developed over the last two weeks and if he can throw it in the zone he’s going to be able to help us out of the bullpen. I’m not 100% sure C.T. was ready to go, he probably needed five or six more pitches in the bullpen. But we had to get him one more dress rehearsal before we get into the weekend also.”
A weekend at #2-ranked Vanderbilt, no less. Though the Bulldogs have one more game before opening SEC season, visiting Lipscomb University in south Nashville for a 6:00 game. Junior Nick Routt is booked to make his 2011 debut after a calendar-year off with elbow problems, though Cohen plans on at most 50 to 60 pitches in the southpaw’s first stint. If he struggles this first time back Friday reliever Caleb Reed might be needed, which was why the righthander did not toss Tuesday.
The most encouraging aspect to tonight’s win for the Bulldogs was with the offense. Instead of chipping out a run here or there they put together the two big turns. Not that they are counting on such outbursts in SEC series, of course…but scoring runs and hitting for average is the best confidence booster this club can have at the moment.
“Definitely, this weekend is going to be big for us,” Norris said. “For everybody to come out and get a win, and take some good at-bats, is really good for us.”