Renfroe’s catch of a deep Danny Hayes drive left both the tying and winning Beavers on bases, and gave Mississippi State the opening-game win of this College World Series. The Bulldogs (49-18) advance in their bracket to a Monday evening meeting with either Indiana or Louisville. The loser of that day-one contest will face Oregon State (50-12) in an elimination game Monday afternoon.
No matter what further drama unfolds, this year’s Series opened with a fittingly-entertaining affair not settled until the ball did, in Renfroe’s glove. “We’re really proud, we know we’re fortunate to win a game,” Coach John Cohen said. “The last swing of the bat in the ballgame really tells you that.”
So sure was Hayes that his high drive to straight-rightfield was gone he had something of a walk-off trot going. It stopped about the time Hayes reached first base and realized neither he nor the two teammates on paths were going any further this day. Holder clarified that initially he didn’t think it was so well-hit by the sound, until he saw it carrying and Renfroe running straight-back. “The wind just knocked it down. I didn’t care how he got out, as long as he got out.”
These dramatics came an inning after visiting squad Mississippi State had scored twice in the top of the eighth to regain a lead, on a two-RBI double by 1B Wes Rea. Those runs set up Holder for the 19th save of his record-setting season, working a scoreless 1.2 frames with a hit, walk, and three strikeouts. He made a winner out of LHP Ross Mitchell, who ran his amazing season score to 13-0 on the strength of 2.2 timely innings.
“When I got in there I just wanted to keep putting up zeroes,” Mitchell said. “Because this whole season I’ve felt our hitters have come up clutch. I knew if I could keep our team in it, our hitters would produce. And they didn’t fool me.”
Beaver Matt Boyd, who gave up Rea’s clutch contact, took the loss and is 10-4. Facing just five Bulldog batters, Boyd allowed two hits with a strikeout and the losing run charged. The others went on the cvount of Oregon State starter Andrew Moore. He’d worked 7.1 with six hits, four runs, two walks and two strikeouts, and left with the eventual tying runner on first base.
The unsung State hero though received no decisions or recognitions. RHP Kendall Graveman did what a senior co-captain should, even when early circumstances went against him. Graveman shook off a pair of runs in the first inning, to the favored #3 national seed, and just limited damage all day. His 4.2 innings weren’t remarkable statistically.
The effort was. “I think something up there is testing me to stay calm. If something bad happens I have to keep my composure. I did that for the most part.” Graveman ground through his stint with four runs on six hits, a walk and strikeout. And only two of those scorers were earned. Still this was a Dog day’s work, Graveman said.
“They did a great job of battling, not striking out, putting balls in play and making our defense make plays.”
It was a play not made that kicked open the first-inning door for Oregon State. Leadoff man Tyler Smith’s reached on a grounder that 3B Sam Frost threw way-wild of first base for a two-base error. He was successfully bunted to third base, and scored as Michael Conforto doubled to centerfield. As the Bulldog bullpen got busy, Graveman was hit for a two-out single by Hayes making it a 2-0 deficit on unearned runs.
But he kept rolling ground balls—seven of his first nine outs came on bouncers—as the Dog defense did make plays. Even better, the offense showed up immediately after falling behind. It began with a plunking of 2B Brett Pirtle, then on 0-2 count Rea got around on an off-speeder and doubled to the leftfield corner. CF C.T. Bradford was pitched too carefully with the pair in scoring positions and walked to load all bases.
Consecutive singles by Frost and LF Demarcus Henderson scored tying runners, and Henderson’s ball was further misplayed in rightfield so Bradford also could come home for a 3-2 lead. Oregon State escaped further harm as Frazier flew out to leftfield where Conforto could throw home and get Frost at the plate on a perfect strike.
Still State had a lead and Graveman sustained it into the fourth, when a leadoff walk had Hayes on first base. It proved a scoring position as an out later Kavin Keyes drove the ball to leftfield. Henderson had an angle, just a tick too little time to get his glove under the ball as he dove. It rolled on to the fence for a triple and 3-3 score. Graveman was able to keep it even despite the runner on third with a liner to rightfield—Keyes wasn’t testing Renfroe’s famed arm--and grounder to shortstop.
But after two Dogs were left unscored in the top of the fifth, one Beaver did cross in the bottom. An out in, Andy Peterson simply fought a fine Graveman pitch off and into short rightfield for a base hit. Conforto’s contact on the other hand was simply smoked, carrying beyond Bradford’s reach and bouncing over the fence for a ground-rule double. This sent Peterson back to third base but only temporarily; a grounder by Dylan Davis scored him and had Conforto a base away. However, Graveman said this was a better outcome than had the ball not caromed into the seats. A RBI-triple would have the fifth run on third base with one out.
Regardless, two balls to the next batter finished Graveman for Mitchell, who threw three strikes to end this inning. Then he left one Beaver bagged in the sixth and another two in the seventh. It mean a one-run deficit to make up and State did so in their eighth.
OSU’s brilliant righthander Moore was rolling along, sitting eight-straight when Detz singled with one down. Though righthander Renfroe was coming up, Oregon Stated opted for southpaw in Boyd. “Matty has been outstanding all year long,” Coach Pat Casey explained. “And we have a guy hitting 175 points higher against righthanded than lefthanded pitching.”
Renfroe beat both the numbers and the Beavers, drilling a 0-1 shot off Boyd that caromed to the left side. Renfroe’s speed let him beat the throw to first base for two on.
An out later Boyd was still in for another righthander. And Rea tagged him on 0-2 count. “(Boyd) was getting swing-and-miss. Two out, and he was probably going to go for swing-and-miss, I was fortunate enough he got up. It was a changeup and I was able to do something with it.” Like, drop his second two-bagger of the day in the right-centerfield gap. Detz scored easily from second and Renfroe again hit the afterburner to make it all the way home from first for the 5-4 lead.
Mitchell had an out in his half of the eighth, then Pirtle pulled Rea off the bag with his throw of a routine grounder. A clean single had a pair on and brought in Holder to face the last two of Oregon State’s order. He got them on a pop-fly and strikeout.
The ninth was messier as Tyler Smith buggy-whipped a single through the left side. Peterson couldn’t get the bunt down and fouled it off on a 0-2 try for the out, so walking a red-hot Conforto on full-count wasn’t the worst possible outcome as Holder shot down Davis swinging. Though for that shaky moment when Hayes gave it a ride…
“I thought it had a shot,” said Conforto, who could only watch the catch instead. He’d been 4-of-4 with two doubles before the last at-bat walking. “He did a great job hitting against me today, even when I beat him he found a way to get a hit,” said Graveman. The top three of OSU’s order had seven of the team’s ten hits.
State’s top-trio wasn’t shabby either with four of the eight safeties, including two for Frazier which first tied and then set the Mississippi State season record with 104 base hits. Rea’s knocks were bigger though, as he drove in two with the pair of doubles and scored once himself.
This win was Mississippi State’s first in Omaha since 1998, when the event was being contested across town at Rosenblatt Stadium.
“it was sloppy in the beginning,” Cohen said, noting that two defensive plays led to three Beaver runs. “Plays that would have made our lives a lot easier. We can do some pretty dumb things and still find a way to win a ball game.”
Indeed, despite just one error and more base hits it was the Beavers shunted into the losers bracket. They did not sound exactly devastated by this detour though. “We’ve had our backs pinned before, certainly it’s not unfamiliar territory,” said Casey, who has two College World Series rings to prove it.
Meanwhile Cohen and Coach Butch Thompson were awaiting the outcome of Louisville-Indiana to pick their pitching for Monday evening. The Bulldogs will practice at a local high school Sunday morning before a scheduled team function at lunchtime.