It was equally good for Mississippi State to take care of Tuesday night business. The Bulldogs notched a ninth win in their last eleven games and improved to 30-18. They also remained unblemished incontests with the Delta Devils, extending the record to 23-0. Mississippi Valley State left 14-36 with their third loss this season to MSU. It could have been two more as Tuesday was originally to be a double-header in makeup of an April rainout.
But the schools dealed-down to a single game, as playing the SWAC program actually harms State's RPI more than the win helps the record at this May point. In fact the Bulldogs would have passed on the game anyway with a hard afternoon rain that delayed things a half-hour, except it served a useful purpose. Coach John Cohen missed the game as his penalty for a NCAA suspension following post-game ejection Sunday at Alabama. Had the game not been played, Cohen would have had to miss MSU'S Friday series opener at Florida.
Pitching coach Butch Thompson served as designated head coach for the evening, nothing new to the veteran assistant. "Umpire Jeff Head was like, ‘are you 1-0 now?' I said we've had to do this a couple of times in four years!" Aides Lane Burroughs and Nick Mingione took care of in-game matters with lineup and order as Cohen organized in the afternoon, since he was exiled to the office at game-time.
Thompson had his own work and worries anyway. He started righthander Will Cox but earlier than planned went to lefty Mitchell. From that point, "There weren't a lot of moves there," said Thompson. "Once Ross got in he settled the game down."
The second-year freshman did just that, working 4.2 frames and throwing 52 pitches. He allowed one base hit with a walk, struck out four, and was not officially charged with a run. It proved just what the Bulldogs needed after the scrappy Delta Devils forced a 3-3 tie in the third inning.
"I just came in to throw strikes and get the game moving, try to contain the lead until our bats came around." Which they finally did to make Mitchell a winner and give fellow lefty Jacob Lindgren the first career save on his 2.0 hitless, scoreless innings.
For a second-straight game Bulldog bats came around for double-digit base hits, a dozen this evening including two doubles by SS Adam Frazier and a two-run triple by LF Taylor Stark. Still it was not an efficient offensive evening as 13 Dogs were left stranded in eight innings. This was due to the grinding effort from MVSU starter David Lostra who worked, and worked, and worked into the seventh inning.
"They gave us a good game before, so we knew they were going to come out and fight," Frazier said. "We had to hang in and fight and score late, like we always do I guess."
Lostra (3-9) deserved something better than another loss for his 6.2 turns, charged with all six State runs on nine hits. He did walk five with four strikeouts.
It didn't look as if Lostra would hang around long when State shoved three runs across in the opening inning. Frazier singled and RF Tyler Fullerton drew a four-pitch walk. One out later they were joined by C Mitch Slauter on another walk. The Devils might have escaped damage on a grounder to second base but Edmund Cheatham had trouble getting the ball out and settled for a force at the middle-bag, allowing Frazier to score.
And, giving Stark his first at-bat since hurting a hamstring in early March. He made good use of it with a deep fly the retreating centerfielder could only get a bit of glove on headed backwards. "I was just trying to find something I could drive. I've only taken four, five batting practices but that's probably a good thing." The triple scored Slauter and Casey for a 3-0 lead. Few thought that fast lead would have to hold up so long.
Initially the Devils were hitting Cox well the first two innings with only a couple of singles to show for it. But one out into the third Cheatham yanked a double over third base. 3B Sam Frost handled a hot grounder off Luke Brumfield's bat but threw way wide of first base for a two-base error and MVSU run. Cox wild-pitched Brumfield along, then was roped for a long single to the leftfield wall by Seth Milliorn. The runners held up to see if any catch was made, so only Brumfield scored.
But two were still on and just one out for Cox. "I thought the ball was up," Thompson said. "He'd either throw a cripple pitch with the fastball up or a breaking ball that was a big-miss down. I thought he got in a little groove but got to the third inning and the tough part of the lineup and they made him pay."
So Mitchell was summoned to hold the line. He didn't entirely succeed as Trey Lacy grounded-in the tying run, but was able to strand the go-ahead Devil. That started a stretch with Mitchell retiring 12 of 14 faced, allowing only an infield single in the fifth. "I was throwing straight fastballs, maybe six off-speed. They weren't hitting it good and I kept putting it off the plate."
His degree of domination was needed because the Bulldog offense was getting nothing much done on Lostra. They did load the bases in the fourth inning with two outs only to strand all on a fly ball. A leadoff walk of Slauter in the fifth came to nought, as did Frazier's two-out double in the sixth.
The Valley southpaw finally wore-down in the seventh, starting with a plunking of Porter. State was playing for a lead and bunted him along but soon had two outs. Stark reached on an infield hit for Dogs on corners and still a tied tally. Valley held a mound meeting to talk it over but left Lostra out for one more batter.
On the 128th pitch 2B Matthew Britton went opposite-way for a base hit through shortstop and the go-ahead run. Only then was Lostra excused with sidearmer Cody Parker taking over. He nailed CF Hunter Renfroe to load the bases, then on full count walked Frost to force in Stark. Frazier made it 6-3 with an infield single to the left side, though a fine diving stop limited the damage to one more RBI and a three-run margin heading into the eighth inning.
It was enough. Thompson thought the long inning might have taken something out of a tiring Mitchell. "But we'll take the runs!" A leadoff, four-pitch walk brought lefthander Lindgren from the bullpen, to bounce a come-backer and double-play ball. Lindgren did give a two-out walk in the ninth and righthander Jonathan Holder was warmed and ready. "I was going to give him one more hitter because the guy was lefthanded," Thompson said. Lindgren rewarded the choice by grounding Billy Linney out.
Frazier was 4-of-5 on the evening with a run and RBI. "I was messing around with a leg-kick in BP, and I guess that freed me up a little bit!" Stark didn't look as if he'd missed a week, much less six of them, with 2-of-4 batting, two RBI and a run. The hamstring did not bother him at the plate or in the field, as he made some fine catches including a really tough get on a damp field right after his first-inning shot.
"I thought it was going to be worse than it was but it felt pretty good." Brumfield and Milliorn had two hits each out of the five total for Valley, and Cox was charged with four hits and three runs though just one of them was earned.