"We had some really good swings," said Coach John Cohen as State (32-18, 13-13 SEC) sealed the series with a second win over the Rebels (27-23, 11-15). This victory also moved Mississippi State into a temporary tie for first in the SEC West with 12-12 Alabama, as that series at Auburn was delayed a day by weather. A 12-12 Arkansas was leading South Carolina in a very late starting game.
In fact this game was held up a whole hour for heavy afternoon rain to drain. But weather only delayed the Dogs taking another series in Oxford. Oh, and perhaps gave MSU pitcher Nick Routt that much more time to recover from a Thursday night bout with tonsillitis that pegged 103 on the thermometer.
"So I wasn't feeling too good," said Routt, who stayed away from the team all game-one and missed the dramatic 7-6 win. "I made the trip today and was feeling better on some medicine, and I was able to pitch." Pitch pretty well, too, lasting 5.1 innings with three runs, five hits, a couple of walks and three strikeouts.
If not full-strength, Routt (2-2) gave his team exactly what they needed for the Friday schedule. "I didn't really have my slider today, I was bouncing it and hit that guy in the head with it. The fastball was working good, and the team played great defense behind me. It was a good team effort today to get the win."
Not just good defense; the Bulldogs were very good and often great with the glove this night. The infield played errorless ball, with just one mental mistake on a fielding play. And the outfield belied a still-soaked turf to make outstanding gets of not just high flies but well-lined drives. That same speed in the field also showed up on the basepaths with four straight steals (two by Brownlee) and more taking-extra-base moves or run-and-hit attempts that kept Rebel pitching off their stride.
And this pressure was really useful because Ole Miss starter David Goforth threw bullets. Whether accurate or not, the scoreboard radar read 95, 96, and even 97 on his best stuff. "I don't see how anybody consistently gets to him," said Cohen. "I mean he's throwing a 90 mph cutter! He's one of the best arms in our league and every time he pitches against us he's nails."
But Bulldog batters chipped and chopped and eventually got seven of their nine total hits off Goforth (4-7) who took the loss on five runs, a walk, and six strikeouts. It took a while though as he held State hitless the first two impressive innings. Fittingly it was homeboy Brownlee notching the initial safety, legging-out a grounder to the shortstop in the third. SS Jonathan Ogden hit a high fly that landed in short center for another single, and both were bunted up by Bradford.
1B Ryan Collins got behind a couple of strikes, and settled for fighting off another fastball to the hard right side. That was good enough Brownlee to make the initial run. Two were down when 3B Jarrod Parks pulled a grounder down the third base line that his counterpart went in foul ground to field before throwing wide of the opposite bag for Parks to reach—on a ruled hit—and Ogden to score for the 2-0 lead.
Routt had thrown 20 pitches getting through his first inning, stranding a pair. He rolled through the next two frames on 22 tosses combined, and was two outs into the bottom of the fourth with a runner on (hit by pitch) when Will Allen came back up. The Rebel first baseman had flown-out to center his initial chance; this time he went to rightfield and cleared it for a tying two-run homer.
"The home run, it was a good job of hitting with a guy on first and him looking to go the other way," Routt said. "I threw it on the corner and he poked it over the fence."
Both sides garnered a fifth-inning run to keep it even. In the top, Ogden dropped a one-out double in the leftfield corner. Bradford hit it hard and nearly forced a first base error, but his ground-out still advanced Ogden to third base. Collins took the count full, and got something just a bit off-speed he could take straight into centerfield for the go-ahead RBI. Ole Miss matched that but was let-down settling for a single score, after Preston Overbey lined a double off the left-field wall, with Brownlee smashing into it as well.
"I thought I broke my nose at first but I was alright," he said, and Brownlee got the ball back in fast enough to hold it to a two-bagger. Austin Anderson's bunt was fielded by Parks easily, but he looked back to third base before turning, too late, towards first. So all were safe and the top of the order up as well. Routt walked Tanner Mathis to load them up. Blake Newalu hit a short fly that 2B Nick Vickerson went a long way into leftfield to make the catch in front of Brownlee. But his momentum meant no chance of holding the lead runner from scoring on a sacrifice.
And the remaining runners advanced as LF Jaron Shepherd reached a row-deep into the right-side seats for a foul-fly catch. A walk loaded all bases again before Routt escaped on a high pop-foul C Cody Freeman stayed with.
The Rebels regretted those missed chances greatly, quickly. New 2B Adam Frazier singled, and with two outs DH Trey Johnson worked a walk. Brownlee and Goforth waged quite a fight, the Bulldog staying alive with a foul-off to build the count. On 2-2 both runners were going, with the pitch bouncing away from the catcher anyway. Given twice as much RBI potential, Brownlee delivered with a line-shot through the middle.
Besides the 5-3 lead this produced Ole Miss' first pitching change as Brett Huber entered. And, walked both Ogden and Bradford, so he needed the one-hopper back to his glove to strand three Dogs.
Routt returned to get one out into the sixth, before plunking Hamblin. But as Cohen later explained, "The reason we got him was he was developing a little bit of a blister on his index finger. But he competed very, very well." With the tail end of the order up, it was an ideal setting for Devin Jones to show his middle-relief stuff. He walked the #8 batter on five pitches and was immediately yanked so Tim Statz could salvage things. Consecutive line-drives to centerfield snared by Bradford maintained the lead.
Statz got in some danger in the seventh with a one-out single and plunking, and some sluggers due up. Except he rolled Matt Tracy over to Ogden, who went down to the knees for the stop but towards the middle-bag where he could make the 6-3 double-play.
By the time he returned it was with an even bigger lead. Freeman skipped one up the middle that the shortstop couldn't handle, for a base hit. Johnson bunted him up one base, and a dirtball advanced Freeman even closer. A walk of Brownlee put Dogs on opposite corners, and with two outs it was Bradford coming through. He hooked a clean double to rightfield plating the pair for a 7-3 lead, and another pitching change with R.J. Hively loading the bases before ending the inning.
Statz got a line-out/double-play to erase an eighth-inning plunking, only to have his stint end with a walk, wild pitch, and single opening the last Rebel chance. Thursday night closer Caleb Reed, naturally, got the call again. And much like game-one, he rolled a double-play that while allowing one more Rebel run did erase the other two. Alex Yarbrough, with bases empty, grounded out to end the evening at 11:19.
Reed's 11th save put him alone in fourth-place on the MSU best-season list. Despite the later struggles, though, Statz deserved plenty credit for keeping this game in Bulldog control. For 2.2 innings the junior left had a run on two hits and a walk. And, some very key outs of big sticks. "He really got some poor swings on some good changeups," said Cohen.
Both Brownlee and Ogden were 2-of-3 at the end of MSU's order and scored twice, while Brownlee drove in two. Bradford and Collins also had a pair of RBI. Leadoff man Mathis was the lone Rebel with two hits, though Allen had the biggest knock of the evening. The key for State, though, was limiting the home team to a lone longball…and playing offense their own way.
"What we lack in power we feel we can pressure our opponent on the bases," Cohen said. "And we're going to keep doing it."
Mississippi State will try for the first series sweep in Oxford since 2003, sending righthander Chris Stratton out to mach with Ole Miss lefthander Austin Wright for the 7:00 opening. The Bulldogs will also try keeping pace in the SEC West, having jumped up in front with a six-SEC game winning streak and overall run of eight wins.