The Bulldogs (47-18) are now a win away from the College World Series going into Sunday’s 6:00et second game. Virginia (50-11) will be playing to extend the best-of-two series to a Monday rubber game.
If Mississippi State keeps getting hitting from those two hottest Dogs, a ticket to Omaha is a bats-length away. Shortstop Frazier tied the game record with a 6-of-6 hitting afternoon, while rightfielder Renfroe went 4-of-5 as they combined for half of State’s 20 base hits. The tag-team also scored four times and drove in seven runs.
All, coincidentally or not, coming on the heels of happy draft news. “Its a huge relief, for all of us really, to get it off our chest,” said 13th overall selection Renfroe. “Its one less thing to worry about.”
They certainly weren’t worried in their super regional starts, as both hit safely in their first three turns and either scored or hit-in teammates. The joint production sparked State to plate runs in five of their first six innings and building as much as a 10-4 lead. “These guys got a few hits,” under-stated Coach John Cohen.
Yet as spectacular as the drafted duo were, the rest of Mississippi State’s order was pretty solid as well. And, at the expense of an outstanding starter in Brandon Waddell. The Bulldogs came out swinging, putting up a pair in their first look at the lefthander. Even after the Cavaliers went ahead in the bottom of that same inning, State kept up the contact to regain a lead. And expand.
“I believe the whole club hit well,” Renfroe said. “I’ve always said it starts with the rhythm at the plate, and once you have that it’s going to work well for us and for each individual.” Well enough to set a program super regional record with the 20 safeties, which were only one fewer than the Dogs tallied way back on their opening day this year.
But this wasn’t a February foe, it was a #6 national seed playing at home, and one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. All the hitting and scoring allowed State to win despite giving up eleven hits and six runs…and need only two pitchers to take care of the affair. Starter Kendall Graveman was able to work around most of his early troubles and get over half-way through before handing Ross Mitchell the healthy lead.
And of course they had plenty of support. “I had a feeling early on we were going to score runs,” said winner Graveman (7-5). “To continue to get outs and move the game along was what I was focusing on.”
He did, despite absorbing three runs in the bottom of his first inning. Even though Cohen had proclaimed the bullpen was fully-ready to go at any point, the coach wanted to stay with his senior starter longer than perhaps early events signaled. It was the correct call. Graveman steadied and pitched like a senior, as well as a Friday draft choice himself. He worked through a nine-hit, six-run outing and occasional lack of defensive help, with two walks and three strikeouts.
Mitchell went the last 3.2 innings with no scoring charged to him, on two hits and three uncharacteristic walks. The long stint qualified the soph southpaw for a second save this season.
Waddell (6-3) took the loss on six runs and as many hits, with two walks and three strikeouts. Four relievers scuffled through the remaining frames.
As the host was home for game-one, Waddell was first to find a tight zone by ump David Savage. And, that if he put in any zone Frazier would hit it, which came on the day’s second pitch. 3B Alex Detz walked on some close ball calls, but Renfroe was down two strikes before reaching out to contact the next offering and slicing a single up the center. Frazier scored unchallenged as the ball was bobbled in centerfield, advancing both Detz to third base and Renfroe to second on the error. This helped plate a second Dog run on 2B Brett Pirtle’s bouncer to the right side.
It took just two pitches for the Cavaliers to start their bigger inning, on a big swing as Mike Papi took Graveman to the rightfield bleachers for a leadoff home run. Jared King doubled over Renfroe’s reach, and Joe McCarthy walked.
The key to the inning was a high fly to leftfield which LF Demarcus Henderson—definitely bothered staring right into the sun—lost at the last instant. It fell for a bases-loading single. Reed Gragnani pounded a grounder that bounced almost as high as a fly and made Pirtle wait on it to come down. His only play by then was a force at second as King crossed to tie it up.
A clean single over shortstop pushed the home team ahead 3-2. Still, ““For me just to keep competing no matter what happens is what I’m going to do,” said Graveman. “Of course I didn’t have my best stuff, that was obvious to every one.” Yet once down a run he found the right location with off-speed stuff for a couple of key strikeouts. He sat the second inning side and upon return had a lead again.
In State’s third Renfroe and Pirtle both singled, and were bunted-over successfully by 1B Wes Rea. State stayed with the bumping game too as CF C.T. Bradford pushed it back to the mound. Waddell fielded it, then just lost the handle while figuring if he had time to come home. Renfroe was able to even the score as Bradford reached safely. Pirtle made third base where he was able to give State a 4-3 lead on Henderson’s fly ball to center, only his second sacrifice fly of the season.
The fourth was remarkable for a pair of triples from, guess who? Frazier’s was off Waddell, who was finished when he plunked Detz for two on and no outs. Righthander Josh Sborz inherited Dogs on corners and Renfroe at the plate. Two pitches later Renfroe was standing on third base after a deep-drive of his own, while Frazier and Detz had scored ahead of him. Pirtle plated Renfroe with a fly ball for a 7-3 lead, though Sborz did leave a couple unscored.
It seemed to matter as Virginia cut into the deficit. A one-out single by Nick Howard was errored for an extra base by Henderson as the ball took an odd skip at the last. Graveman wild-pitched the runner into position for a sacrifice-fly from Nate Irving, and a 7-4 margin.
“It’s not how I wanted to start but to settle in and get in a rhythm get outs for a few innings was big,” Graveman said. State got it back in their fifth anyway, as Ammirati reached on Sborz’ two-base error. Trey Porter was pinched to swing-away in the matchup, but settled for a 1-2 count dribbler to the third baseman. Ammirati waited until the throw before taking third smartly. Frazier’s fourth base hit scored him easily for the 8-4 lead, and brought lefthander Nathan Kirby from the UVa bullpen. He finished that frame by stranding two before David Rosenberger took over in the MSU sixth.
And, to allow two more runs after two were outs. Henderson and Ammirati singled, and Porters’s grounder was misplayed for all safe. With sacks stuffed Frazier whipped a short liner that smacked into the first-base bag and caromed over the first baseman’s reach, for a fluke double and 10-4 lead.
“A couple of them were pretty lucky,” Frazier said. “But I got a couple of pitches to hit and found some holes.” Those scores loomed larger as Virginia’s best chance to rally followed. In fact, Graveman remained on the mound because his offense had inflated the margin enough for comfort. “We got a little greedy,” Cohen admitted.
It wasn’t all Graveman’s doing though he was tagged for consecutive one-out singles. A fine double-play bouncer was booted by Pirtle to load everything up. Graveman stayed in to see the #9 batter, who cranked a scorcher that Pirtle knocked down. That saved one run though a RBI did score and bases were still loaded.
Mitchell, who’d thrown almost a stint’s worth of warmup tosses, entered to face the top of Virginia’s order. He began with four called balls to force in the sixth Cavalier run, but a strike-one call had King swinging. And grounding up the middle, where Frazier did very well to get it and even better to step on the sack and throw for the clutch double-play.
“With their lineup no lead is safe,” Frazier said. “Ross wasn’t locating like normally, and did a good job maneuvering around them. But with their lineup you don’t feel comfortable at all.”
A couple of walks to open the Virginia seventh were worrisome, until Mitchell got a fly ball for one out; then a grounder to third that Detz turned into two more. Mitchell would roll another twin-killing in the eighth as well. This was after State added a run in the top on Porter’s bouncer past second base to score Henderson, who’d bunted his way onto base in the first place.
Pirtle more than offset his error with one remarkable and another just plain spectacular play in the ninth. It ended on a roller to first base covered by Mitchell.
“Obviously we’re really proud of our players,” Cohen said. “It was a little sloppier defensively than we would have liked. It was just a long, grind-it-out type of game. We competed well at the plate.”
An understatement for sure. Frazier’s six-hit showing and Renfroe’s clutch contacts were highlights, yet Rea and Henderson also had three hits each. And making balls fall or finding holes mattered more than MSU-usual because Virginia only issued three walks and two plunkings. State had to work for all its scoring, either driving them in or forcing Cavalier miscues—four official errors were charged—to create more damage.
By contrast the Bulldogs turned four double-plays, matching the season high and extending their record to 76.
“That was as good an offensive approach that Mississippi State had today that we faced this year,” Virginia Coach Brian O’Connor said. “They were pretty relentless at the plate. They did a heck of a job with two strikes, a good job executing, and took advantage of their opportunities.”
Cohen was more succinct. “Our kids really stepped up today.” As a result, the Bulldogs come to the park Sunday with a ticket there for punching. Or, for pulling away if they regard Omaha as a done deal, the coach warned. “We’ll have to grind again for nine innings, and see what happens. There’s no World Series, there’s no ninth inning. There’s a first pitch to be thrown and we’d better throw it at the bottom of the zone or it will get hit.”
Who will throw that first pitch had not been named as of 7:00 local time. Lefthander Luis Pollorena (6-3, 4.32) is the usual choice but Cohen and Coach Butch Thompson wanted to review Virginia’s offense, and its ability to adapt to either left or right lineups, before making a call.