Mississippi State (22-6) was able to collect enough hits and runs to offset an unusual pitching approach by the visiting Governors (19-5) and take the midweek victory. But the Bulldogs had to do most of their damage at the end, scoring nine of the runs in just the last three turns to break open a much more competitive contest than the final figures showed.
“They’re a scrappy team, they fought back and never gave up,” said Porter. Austin Peay State certainly did not give up their preordained plan of running out a different moundsman almost every inning. Only one Governor threw more than a single frame and that was in the early going of a 4-4 tie. It might have looked like a write-off approach by the Ohio Valley Conference club; it wasn’t.
“It’s a creative way to do it the middle of the week,” Coach John Cohen said, noting how APSU used their weekend starters for short Tuesday stints. For half this game it looked like something the Bulldogs were baffled by. “It’s hard when you see a different arm every inning,” Cohen said. “The risk is if you throw guys who aren’t throwing strikes, and that’s what really set us up.”
Because after breaking the tie with a run in the sixth inning, the Bulldogs jumped on the next three Governors for the rest of the scoring with three tallies in the seventh and five insurance runs in the eighth. It spared State from the sort of ninth-inning stress they’ve faced too often this month.
“That’s big,” said designated hitter Porter who accounted for three RBI and scored twice himself, with a two-run homer in the opening inning. “Usually late games something crazy can happen, but we did a good job making their pitchers throw a lot of pitches and seeing a lot of balls.” A whole lot of balls as Bulldogs walked eleven times to go with as many base hits.
The late outburst made a winner over the fourth State pitcher of the evening, RHP Myles Gentry (3-0). He did not enter until the seventh, and had to keep the contest tied 5-5 going into the stretch. Gentry would work the final 2.2 innings with one hit and two strikeouts. He was supporting the staff’s real workhorse, as LHP Ross Mitchell took over midway of the second inning and ground through 4.2 turns with a run on three hits, three walks and three strikeouts.
“I wanted to come in and try to get my ground balls and let my defense do some work,” said Mitchell. “They made the plays as usual. (The Governors) hit some god pitches early, and we knew if we kept pitching own in the zone we’d get them out.”
That statement demanded some faith because State starter Will Cox was getting down in the strike zone too. Trouble was the Govs hit those low strikes; not hard, but properly placed to score twice in both the first and second innings. Cox would absorb four runs on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts, but deserved better.
“I thought Will located some pitches down in the zone, and they just hit them,” Cohen said. “It seemed like we got to the bottom of the zone and man, they went down and got them.”
A single and one-out double set up the first inning challenge, as with two outs Cox was hit—not hard, just chipped over the middle base—by Reed Harper for the first two APSU runs. Cox did pick off Harper to end that inning and returned with a 4-2 lead off Governor starter Jared Carkuff. SS Adam Frazier bounced a double past the first baseman. CF C.T. Bradford pushed a bunt to the right side trying for a hit, and succeeded as Carkuff bobbled the ball. But the pitcher magnified it with a glove-flip that got past his first baseman.
Bradford made third base on the error as Frazier scored State’s first run. Renfroe evened the scoreboard with his fly ball, though rightfielder Gautier made a great diving catch for the first out. 3B Alex Detz singled but took himself out, as well as left 1B Wes Rea with full-count, as he was caught short stealing second. But Rea walked anyway giving Porter his chance to swing. The drive cleared rightfield easily for his first home run of the season and the 4-2 scoreboard.
Which the Governors immediately cut into with a leadoff walk and single to the seventh and eighth batters. A bunt advanced them for the top of the order and Rolando Gautier dropped a RBI-hit behind second base. That finished Cox for Mitchell, who tagged Dylan Riner hard on a successful sacrifice-RBI-bunt, then got a called strikeout to preserve a 4-4 tie.
Mitchell did stabilize things though with four scoreless innings, as a double-play erased a pair of fifth-frame singles. But APSU’s conveyor-belt pitching plan was clearly bothering Bulldog batters. Kacy Kemmer threw a couple of turns, though he had to strand a pair in the MSU third after a leadoff double by Renfroe and Rea walk. Ryan Quick sat State’s side in the fourth, and in the fifth Casey Delgado left Renfroe on second as Rea popped-out.
Zach Hall was on the hill for the MSU sixth with one out Porter before Pirtle dropped a fly ball down the right side for a cheap double. He stole third base with two outs, and a hard bluff to home contributed to a walk of LF Jacob Robson. On a 2-2 count to Frazier, Robson took off for second ahead of the pitch…and Pirtle headed home. Hall simply froze and didn’t throw anywhere as the lead run crossed.
It didn’t hold up. Mitchell walked Gautier, and had to hold on to a bunt-single by Riner. With a pair on and meat of the order up LHP Chad Girodo was called on, and he got a grounder that worked as well as a sacrifice bunt. Girodo walked the bases full on four pitches to Craig Massoni and was promptly replaced.
Gentry entered to get two ground balls. The first, off Cody Hudson’s bat to shortstop, tied the game and forced the middle runner. The next ended this threat, as well as Governor scoring.
State regained the lead with the decisive half of the seventh. Bradford walked to lead off and was running as Renfroe covered with a grounder to shortstop. APSU tried setting up a double-dip by intentionally walking Detz, but Rea foiled it with an up-the-middle grounder that nearly took Hunter Lindley off the hill and caromed into centerfield. Bradford broke the tie.
Porter made it a two-run lead with a single scoring Detz, and Pirtle hit his way on to load the bases with one still out. Righthander Tommy Hagar took over the mess, only to see C Nick Ammirati drop a squeeze-bunt in front of the plate. Catcher P.J. Torres was probably grateful he didn’t have to try blocking the dish on 270-pound Rea who jogged across for the 8-5 lead.
The eighth settled everything State’s way, with Bradford singling after one out and stealing second base. APSU filled the open base by passing Renfroe, though this also put two fast runners on paths and they double-stole successfully. So Detz was also walked to set up forces as well as force the next change with righthander Don Whitson. He served up something Rea could drive deep to center for the sacrifice fly scoring Bradford, before walking Porter to re-load everything. So a first-pitch plunking of Pirtle forced Renfroe across; then Ammirati got his first safety of the evening with a two-run single to rightfield. Whitson’s stint ended on an errant pickoff try at first made it 13-5.
Lindley (0-1) took the loss on three runs, off three this and two walks. Hagar allowed three runs as well and Whitson was charged with two. And only one of State’s scores was un-earned. Besides all the hits and walks, the Dogs combined for a season-best eight stolen bases. Porter, Pirtle, and Bradford all had two hits, with Bradford scoring three times. Rea, Porter, and Pirtle crossed the plate twice each. Ammirati matched Porter with three RBI and hit safely in a seventh-straight game.
The Bulldogs improved to 5-0 in midweek games, though this was a tougher challenge than the final margin of victory. “This ball club is good,” Cohen said. “They come in 19-4 and have beaten some good clubs, they can swing the bat. This is a night we needed to score some runs, and we created some situations.”
State is off Wednesday, then will have a Thursday practice before leaving for the weekend series at Arkansas. Because Cox started this game, the tentative plan now is to give the ball to LHP Luis Pollorena for Sunday (weather permitting) after LHP Jacob Lindgren and RHP Kendall Graveman take the first two starts.