Mississippi State had twice rallied, from deficits of 1-0 and 3-1, to take a lead in the bottom of the third inning. A sixth-inning expansion, followed by timely relief work from Jonathan Holder to strand a couple of Tigers in top of the seventh, had the Bulldogs working with a margin at the stretch. But right after RF Hunter Renfroe’s deep drive was killed on the warning track by the gusting winds, lightning halted all activities.
Most of the crowd of 7,974 had long-since left the stadium ahead of the approaching thunderstorms. They missed seeing State score twice in their half of the sixth inning with unintended help from Auburn relief pitching and defense. And, Holder entering with one out and two runners on bases and the cleanup-batter in the box.
Holder rose to the opportunity, as he got swinging strikeouts of both Garrett Cooper and Blake Austin to hold that three-run advantage. He entered in support of long-reliever Ross Mitchell who remains in line to get the decision upon resumption late Friday. Mitchell took over from starter Luis Pollorena in the middle of the fourth to roll a key double-play and maintain Mississippi State’s first lead.
Tiger starter Conner Kendrick is on the hook after giving up all six runs, only one of them earned as his defense already has committed four errors. In his 5.1 innings Kendrick allowed only four hits with three strikeouts and four walks.
Pollorena was scuffling from the beginning, as a leadoff single and steal had Ryan Tella in scoring position. That’s what he did as Cullen Wacker chipped a little looper just past SS Adam Frazier’s glove for a single and RBI. Pollorena rolled a 5-4-3 double-play to end that inning, and by the third he had a tied score to work with. Leading off in the bottom of the second 1B Wes Rea got all of a 1-1 offering and cleared center-leftfield on a string, no wind aid required. It was Rea’s fourth longball of the season and the only earned score off Kendrick.
Auburn responded though, as #8 batter Hunter Kelley worked a leadoff walk in their third. With State looking bunt, the Tigers instead pulled off the run-and-hit as Mitchell Self singled through the opened gap at third base. This had the top of the order up with runners on corners. A swinging strikeout was a positive, except with Self running for second C Nick Ammirati threw it into centerfield for a free run.
With two outs full-count plunking of Wacker extended the inning for Cooper to double-in Self and make it a 3-1 margin.
Errors would do more damage to Auburn though. Henderson drew a full-count walk in the bottom of the third. First baseman Cooper fielded Frazier’s grounder just fine, but somehow drilled Henderson in the hat throwing to the middle base.
With one out RF Hunter Renfroe was all but intentionally walked to load the bases; 2B Brett Pirtle was unintentionally walked on four pitches to push Henderson across. And, leave all corners still occupied. Rea swung on the first chance and this fly didn’t go as far. Or almost far enough in fact, as rightfielder Kelley had a clean look and fine throw home ahead of the tagged-up runner. Fortunately the ball came loose and Frazier slapped the dish.
Renfroe meanwhile took third on the official error. He had no trouble putting State ahead 4-3 as CF C.T. Bradford dribbled a base hit through the right side.
Bradford also made a great diving grab in centerfield to save a leadoff single in Auburn’s fourth. But after a single and walk State didn’t waste time calling in southpaw Mitchell. He was full-count to Self before bouncing a double-play. Two Tigers were on bases in the top of the fifth as well with one out. After a settle-down talk Mitchell got both Cooper and Austin to fly-out to rightfield on the first pitch(es).
Bradford led off State’s sixth with another bouncer past the second baseman, meaning DH Trey Porter was going to bunt. He did but right to the pitcher for a close force-out of Bradford. Still Ammirati hit his grounder hard enough to go off Kendrick’s glove for two on. So Auburn brought in righthander Trey Cochran-Gill, who walked Henderson to load the bases.
Even worse, on 0-1 to Frazier he balked to advance everyone including Armstrong who had replaced Porter. Ammirati advanced to third in turn and Frazier sailed a drive to leftfield. The wind was blowing it foul almost certainly, but almost wasn’t worth gambling on. So Wacker caught it on the gallop and Ammirati tagged to score.
The three-run margin looked bigger when Auburn got a couple of one-out singles in their seventh. Once again State didn’t delay making a move. Holder had to throw more pitches than usual, as well as a wild one, before striking out both Cooper and Austin swinging. That put him in line for the 12th save this year, one shy of the season record.
The rain was well-behind the lightning but enough fell to saturate the field, flood the dugouts, and even get into the Bulldog locker room through the grandstand concrete above. The only question would be when to resume this game, as per SEC regulations that require all Friday/Saturday or in this moved-for-TV case Thursday/Friday contests be complete nines.
Though game-two isn’t until 6:30 it is a Comcast telecast, and rather than risk an extra-inning event ahead of it the teams and officials agreed to finish it afterwards. RHP Kendall Graveman (5-2, 2.15era) will start the 6:30 game. Auburn hasn’t set a starter.