Just enough to give host Mississippi State the rubber game in their SEC series and a priceless boost to Bulldog momentum at the end of April. State ends the month 27-17 and 10-11 SEC, having won five of the last six league games. They took Friday’s opener 4-0.
#22-ranked Ole Miss left a frustrated 28-16 and 10-11 SEC also. This was the first time the home team had won the annual intrastate series since 2007.
“It’s a big rivalry, and to come out here and get this big series win, I know how big it is,” winning pitcher Luis Pollorena said, adding. “And I enjoy beating Ole Miss.”
No Bulldog was picky about how they won this game and series. So they were not at all upset to have done it with two, yes, just two total base hits. Even by Mississippi State’s modest offensive standards this was a dismal showing at the dish, and neither of those safeties drove in a run. In fact the only score coming via batted ball was on 1B Wes Rea’s routine fly-out.
But, before the sacrifice score Rebel pitching had literally gifted the three other scores. Mississippi State hung a four in the first inning with just one base hit; the rest came via two walks and three hit batsmen. “That’s how you win 4-2 games with two hits,” Cohen said.
That, and some pretty impressive pitching beginning with Pollorena. The junior lefthander claimed not to know he was getting the Sunday ball until during batting practice while he was shagging flies as usual. Yet Pollorena had to suspect a role was reserved after his 5.1 relief innings against Ole Miss batters a week ago at neutral-site Trustmark Park. Then there was Cohen’s Saturday comment after a 6-2 loss that lefthanded pitching looked like the way to go in game-three.
For that matter Ole Miss was not surprised as they took the six-lefthander (one a switch-guy) lineup of the first two games and stacked righthanders for Sunday. Pollorena didn’t care. “They’re a real aggressive team,” he said. “I just kept on doing what I was doing, I trusted Mitch Slauter and Coach Thompson and trusted the defense more importantly.”
It worked as Pollorena (3-0) lasted 5.1 innings again, this time as the starter, with four scattered hits, two walks, and a career-best seven strikeouts. Counting prior successes against Southern Mississippi, it was his third career victory against an in-state opponent.
“It’s a huge win for Luis,” said RHP Caleb Reed. “He came out and shoved it in the zone for us and gave us a chance.” In closer Reed’s case a chance to complete the victory. The senior righty delivered. Reed did give up the two Rebel runs on a double off the wall in the eighth and solo homer in the ninth. But that was mere detail en route to his 20th career save, eighth of this season and third against the college he was raised a fan of.
“It wasn’t the prettiest thing in the world, I gave up the two runs,” Reed said. “But we’ll take a series win and get out of here.”
Rebel pitchers had to exit wondering how they let a two-hitter get away. Relievers Dylan Chavez, Hawtin Buchanan, and Brett Huber completely dominated Bulldog batters, giving up just one base hit the last seven turns with four combined walks and six strikeouts. Only once after the first frame did a Dog get as far as second base.
But then all the necessary damage had been done in the opening inning, to or more often by starter Tanner Bailey (1-1). He did not get an out at all and ate the four runs, all earned, on one hit with two walks.
After two days of pitchers getting inside strikes called, Bailey wasn’t as fortunate. SS Adam Frazier watched two close ones go by for a leadoff walk, and C Slauter bounced a single through shortstop. DH Trey Porter loaded the bases by taking a fastball off his left wrist, allowing a mound meeting while Porter was checked. He would leave the game, but not before scoring.
3B Daryl Norris watched Bailey’s 3-1 offering sail high for a free run and pitching change. Lefthander Chavez got the hasty call and a called strikeout of LF Hunter Renfroe. But in succession he hit both CF Brent Brownlee and LF Trey Fullerton to force in two more runs; then Rea lifted a fly ball far enough to plate Norris for the 4-0 lead. The Bulldogs had batted around with just one hit to show.
And it was just enough as Pollorena went to work against the reversed Rebel batting order. He gave up a one-out single in the first and stranded that runner with a come-backer from Ole Miss slugger matt snyder. A leadoff double in the third was erased by the pitcher himself, as Pollorena fielded a one-out comebacker and ran Preston Overby down between bases.
“It was just fastballs in-and-out and being able to control that,” Pollorena said. “I was bringing the slider down with two strikes and making them chase, and elevating the fastball high to change it.” Ole Miss helped a bit too by swinging all the more aggressively on minus-counts and missing big.
Just not always. An out into the fourth Snyder went deep, with Renfroe timing his reach just right to rob a home run. “Off the bat I got a good read on it, and I knew I was close to the fence. I knew it was going to be real close.” In the fifth another leadoff double was wasted as Pollorena responded with three strikeouts, including a check-swing call of order-topper Tanner Mathis.
All the while Pollorena was popping in the 90 mph range, even touching 91 a few times. “Yeah, they told me that and asked what I’d been drinking! I was more worried about control than velocity. I looked up and saw 91 and it surprised me, too.”
But Bulldog bats were still getting nothing done on their own, nor Rebel pitching giving away bases now. Chaves retired a dozen-straight with very little trouble. The closest call was a Rea high-drive caught on the leftfield track in the fourth.
Slauter snapped the streak with a one-out single in the bottom of the fifth and Ole Miss instantly changed to Buchanan. The lefthander began by plunking new DH Philip Casey, but got a couple of quick fly-outs to stand the pair.
Pollorena’s crisis came in the sixth with a pair of walks around a fly-ball from Yarbrough. With Will Allen coming up, first of five-straight righthanders, Reed got the call. Allen fought one off but Frazier ran it down on the grass to hold all runners. Ole Miss smartly opted to try a left-handed pinch hitter against Reed, and if not for 2B Matthew Britton’s fast footwork it would have resulted in a run. Britton’s throw just beat Will Jamison to the bag to maintain the shutout.
Ole Miss kept shuttling in south-siders in the bottom of the order, though of course all had been starting batters the first two days. “I knew they were going to dump lefty after lefty after lefty on me,” Reed said. “I’d got mentally prepared for it before the game.” Zach Kirksey began with a base hit but Reed got help on two quick fly balls.
“The first couple of innings I was sinking it really well to them and they were just swinging over the top of it. I was throwing breaking balls in fastball counts and got them to fly-out a couple of times.” Mathis was sure he’d been nicked on an inside number but ump Tony Maners called him back, so Mathis could ground out to second.
Buchanan ran out of steam, or location, in the seventh as with one out he nicked Casey and walked new 3B Sam Frost. An aggravated Rebel staff hooked him for righthander Huber. It was a good move as on full-count with the runners going Renfroe missed the off-speeder and Casey was thrown out at third base.
Added margin would have been nice as Reed met the meat of the order in the eighth with Andrew Mistone singling in leadoff. With one down, this time Snyder got all of a hanging off-speeder. Fortunately for Reed it went to the deepest park-part, caroming high off the centerfield wall for a one-run single instead of two-run homer. Reed responded by grounding out Allen, then Jamison lined to rightfielder Brownlee who did have some struggles with the sun.
Kirksey threw a scare into the home crowd with a home run to open the last Rebel chance, taking Reed’s breaking ball over rightfield. That was all for any rally because Reed wrapped it with a strikeout, come-backer, and ground-out.
That late flurry gave Ole Miss eight base hits, half of them for extra bags. None were by second baseman Alex Yarbrough as his 22-game hitting streak was snapped by going 0-for-4. “We had him guessing a little bit,” said Pollorena who had three of the outs. Though, “We were saying we should just walk him and end the hit streak!”
No such measures were necessary, though the Bulldogs would not have minded borrowing some of Yarbrough’s hits for themselves. Still even with just two base knocks for the day there was no open anxiety as the game progressed. Not even when the Rebels made a too-late bid to offset all the early-game damage.
“Nah, we knew we were going to win the game,” said Renfroe. And with it the weekend, the second year State has taken this SEC series and third time in Cohen’s four campaigns. The Bulldogs also enter May in the top-half of the Western Division standings and tied for seventh SEC overall. They even get to enjoy it a little this mid-week with no games due to final exams. The schedule resumes Friday at Alabama.
“It’s probably a game-changer,” Renfroe said. “It puts us in really good position for going into a Regional or the SEC Tournament. This series helped us tremendously.”