Oh, well, one can’t have everything. And since he had only a 3-2 lead to protect , having to put down the stick and batting hat didn’t deflect Holder’s attention. Because the sophomore proceeded to strike out the Oral Roberts side in the top of the ninth to finish Mississippi State’s victory. And, earn Holder’s 14th save of the season, breaking the tie he’d held with Scott Tanksley and Van Johnson for the last couple of weeks.
Now it is Holder’s name alone atop that list with 14. “It’s a pretty cool coincidence, that’s my number,” he said. “But I’m blessed to have the opportunity to get saves.” Just not swing, which had the bottom of the eighth lasted one man longer he would have done in the substitute DH slot. Bulldog fans will have to wait for another day to see him hack.
The Bulldog team was blessed to call on #14 as the last of four relievers to keep the visiting Eagles (21-29) from upsetting a lot of late-season standing for Mississippi State (38-15). Oral Roberts even held a 2-1 lead midway of the fourth inning, and while the Bulldogs matched that the 3-2 lead had to hold up for five more frames. Coach John Cohen was content to escape the sort of Tuesday night pothole a few SEC peers hit the hard way.
“I’m proud of the workman like attitude of our guys tonight. I know Oral Roberts has a losing record but it’s a program that has been to 14 consecutive Regionals, they’re used to winning. It was a great test for us and a great opportunity for us.”
The biggest opportunities were for some less-used arms, or in one case not used at all for almost two whole years. After Trevor Fitts, then Chad Girodo got the game past half-way, it fell to CF C.T. Bradford and RHP Daryl Norris to handle some tough late innings before giving Holder the save situation. Everyone rose to the occasion, with just two hits allowed in the last 3.2 combined innings, two walks, and eight strikeouts.
For starting centerfielder Bradford the 1.0 hitless inning of set-up was only his second stint since early April. For Norris? He hadn’t toed the rubber since June 2011 in the NCAA super regional. Yet the junior righthander looked as sharp as any regular in 1.1 inning with a hit, walk, and three strikeouts.
It felt good, I’ve been working the last few weeks trying to find a way to contribute to this team,” Norris said. “It felt good out there.” He didn’t just feel good but pitched that way against the middle and end of the Eagle order.
LHP Girodo (5-1) picked up the winning decision with 2.1 innings, a hit and two strikeouts. He was on-record having taken over from RHP Fitts, making his first start of the season. “One of our goals was use a lot of guys on the mound. Trevor earned the right to start,” said Cohen, adding that the sophomore was so “jacked up” about the opportunity he likely didn’t sleep. “After the team met in the outfield I came to the dugout and he’s already there, 15 minutes before the game!” Cohen said.
Fitts went three-plus innings with four hits and both runs charged, and a couple of strikeouts. “I thought he got a little tired in the fourth because we haven’t extended him,” Cohen said.
Gavin Glanz (1-4) started for ORU and took the loss on 3.2 innings with all three Dog runs charged, seven hits, two walks and a strikeout. The starter wasn’t too shabby though and did well to minimize MSU offensive opportunities. He gave up a first-inning run as SS Adam Frazier scratched out an infield single, made third base as DH Alex Detz pulled a single through the right side on a run-and-hit; and scored on 2B Brett Pirtle’s fly ball to leftfield.
Fitts also had some initial scuffles with a couple of runners on via singles and one out. He stranded them on corners with a swinging strikeout of Tyler Boss, then cruised through the second and third frames in-order. But consecutive singles to open the fourth brought in regular left-side reliever GIrodo. “We needed Chad because they had some lefthanders clumped at the bottom and the top and he did a really nice job for us,” Cohen said.
He bounced a grounder that should have gone for two outs, except after gloving the ball Frazier lost the handle and was too late throwing to second. The tying run scored on the fielder’s choice and error with everything still loaded and no outs. Another bouncer, this one to the right side, did go for a double-dip, but Jose Trevino came across for a 2-1 lead. Girodo fanned Joey Migliaccio to save further damage, and returned with a lead again.
Bradford opened the bottom of the inning with a single and took second on a wild pitch before 3B Sam Frost finished walking. C Mitch Slauter executed his sacrifice nicely so that Bradford could tie the game up on a grounder by LF Jacob Robson, who made it awfully close at first base too. Frost took third and scored the go-ahead run on Frazier’s single to shortstop.
That was all the offense as State left two on bases in the fifth and sixth innings and went down in order the last two turns against Kurt Giller and Guillermo Trujillo respectively.
Girodo came back for a strikeout to open the top of the sixth, and handed Norris the ball against the middle of the Eagles order. He got a foul-fly out and strikeout around a single, clocking as high as 93. In the seventh Norris worked around a walk with strikeouts of the seventh and ninth batters. The top of the order was due up with the tying run on so lefthander Bradford ran in from centerfield to coax an easy comebacker from Kevin Cho.
Bradford made two quick outs in the eighth as well before a full-count walk, cuing Holder. He went full-count, after a 2-2 curve in the zone wasn’t called, to Boss before giving up the single. On 1-2 though Nate Goro went down swinging to end the last Eagle threat.
“C.T. was very good, I wish we could have gotten that last guy and pushed Holder to the ninth,” Cohen said. “Of course he was on deck, too, and that’s something I wanted to push down the road.”
Not Holder. “Daryl was telling me this guy throws 92, 93, get up there and just swing hard…and Coach Cohen tells me do not swing hard, do not run, do not do anything like that!” He never got the chance though, settling instead for an eleven-pitch, three-strikeout ninth to notch four fannings on the evening.
Frazier notched his eighth three-hit game of the junior season, as the Bulldogs had their sixth game of double-digit hits out of the last seven. Detz also hit safely three times while Bradford was 2-of-4. For Oral Roberts, Boss was 3-of-4 as the team had seven safeties.
The victory gave Mississippi State a perfect record for 2013 in scheduled non-conference play at 11-0. In these Bulldogs now own the second-most non-SEC victories for a season with 24, one shy of the 1898 team Cohen himself played on.
Now comes the crucial, final weekend of the schedule and SEC season as South Carolina visits with the #4 seeding and a first-day bye at the league tournament at stake. The Bulldogs will have to sweep the weekend to earn that bonus though. And as Cohen noted, whether in record or ranking or RPI or whatever these are two very well-matched ball clubs.
“This is a huge weekend for us and for South Carolina,” said Cohen.
The final series opens with a 6:30 Thursday game at Dudy Noble Field.