Pinch-hitter Porter’s two-RBI hit in the top of the eighth inning provided the margin of 5-4 victory over Indiana. The Bulldogs (50-18) earned a lengthy break, and will await the survivor of Wednesday’s elimination game between Indiana (49-15) and Oregon State (51-12).
But it took a three-run rally in that eighth frame to first even the scoreboard and then stake Mississippi State to a lead. A lengthy at-bat by LF Demarcus Henderson produced the game-tying single with one out. Then with two down and Hoosier reliever Brian Korte on the mound, Porter came up. For a second time.
The lefthanded pinch batter had entered in the same sort of situation back in the sixth inning, with two outs and bases loaded in a 3-2 game. He whacked a 2-0 offering from Ryan Halstead well, to the warning track, but for the out. Still getting the at-bat he’d wanted contributed to the second swing. “You hit a ball hard and you’ll get rewarded down the road,” Porter said.
Given the equally-pressured opportunity, Porter delivered a flatter drive towards the right-centerfield gap. “I knew it was going to get down, I was just hoping the second baseman wasn’t Michael Jordan and make that play!” Hoosier second-sacker Chad Clark had no chance of snagging this one, and while Porter did stop at first on what Holder thought was a double teammates 2B Brett Pirtle and 1B Wes Rea were both busy scoring for a 5-3 lead.
That was enough, barely. Indiana went down in-order in their own eighth but put a pair on in the ninth around and out and off Chad Girodo. The Bulldog reliever survived by getting one ground-ball, run-scoring out; then with a tying runner on third base Girodo handed the ball and 5-4 lead to Holder. He sealed it on two pitches, the second bounced right back his way for an easy play Holder made way too hard with a bounced toss. 1B Wes saved his team from disaster and everyone from extra innings by fielding the odd short hop to out Michael Basil.
Porter and Henderson had the hitting heroics. But as Coach John Cohen said, “The story of the game is Chad.”
The winner of the game was indeed Girodo. Entering in the third inning with a 1-0 Bulldog lead, the lefthander did allow Indiana to tie and then take the lead that frame. Afterwards though Girodo picked up where he’d left off in brilliant relief stints in the regional and super regional relief appearances. He worked 6.1 innings with a couple of runs on seven hits and a walk…and struck out ten Hoosiers. It was his third-straight appearance with double-digit strikeouts, and on the sport’s biggest stage this time.
“Chad did a phenomenal job,” said Holder, who warmed for a while but only entered to get that very last out and seal the win for Girodo (9-1). Trevor Fitts started for State and went 2.1 innings with two runs on as many hits with a walk and four strikeouts. The 14 combined strikeouts by he and Girodo set a State record for College World Series fannings, too.
Indiana starter Will Coursen-Carr didn’t begin well; in fact he was close to first-inning disaster. His first pitch was bounced past first base by SS Adam Frazier for a single; the second nailed 3B Alex Detz for two on; and the third was wild advancing them both. A RF Hunter Renfroe grounder to shortstop scored Frazier, but Detz was caught in a rundown for one out. Renfroe took second behind the play but himself was also thrown out going to third base on another bouncer. Coursen-Carr escaped worse damage on a check-swing strikeout.
“I was a little nervous, looking around there was a ton of people there,” Coursen-Carr said. “But once you get that out of the way you don’t think about it at all.”
“We had two baserunning mistakes that I thought cost us at least one run,” Cohen said. “Our kids were just a little amped-up, trying to create something that wasn’t there.”
Indiana tied it up in their second inning as Casey Smith singled-in Basil. The next chance, the Hoosiers grabbed a lead. Order-topper Will Nolden’s one-out single finished Fitts, and Girodo was getting hit hard at first with a single and double. Sam Travis drove in Nolden with his two-bagger, and scored on a ground ball for the 3-1 lead.
But Girodo just kept battling, and found his groove—and slider location—in the fourth with three strikeouts. With Hoosiers in scoring spots and an out in the fifth, he got one with a grounder that Detz relayed home for a tag then struck out another.
“At the beginning they were taking my slider for balls, and I had to throw it in the zone. I thought I was going to have to go a different path but I finally started getting over for a strike and getting their bat moving a little bit.”
Still the Bulldog batters weren’t getting any breaks or drops to help start something. Coursen-Carr robbed Detz of a run-scoring hit with his lunging stab and flip for a double-play in the fifth. The sixth went better as Pirtle reached on a grounder and bounced throw not picked cleanly at first base. A wild pitch put him on second and Rea delivered a trademark sliced single to rightfield. Pirtle scored easily on the throw home with Rea taking second as it got away from the catcher. A plunking of CF C.T. Bradford force the change with Halstead inheriting a pair with one out. LF DeMarcus Henderson greeted him with a bases-loading single to load everything up.
With two outs Porter got that at-bat he’d sought, and while he got the crowd on its feet with the contact the drive died. Two innings later though the story went much better. Pirtle and Rea each singled putting Dogs on opposing corners with no outs. A swinging strikeout meant a double-play would end the threat and the Hoosiers played back. But Henderson fought off a couple of pitches trying to dump something in right field….then succeeded, his contact falling just in front of Nolden. He threw home anyway and well, with Henderson sliding in safely.
That brought lefthander Korte. Cohen might have considered finding a right-handed hitter here, but stuck with the big lefty. Besides, Porter said, “I was going to take my chances. I know Frazier is behind me so they’re not going to throw to him, so I knew I had a pretty good chance of getting a fastball.” He did on 3-1 count and stroked it so as to change the entire game around Mississippi State’s way.
Still the deal wasn’t sealed as Nolden singled to open the Hoosier ninth, and Travis sent one sailing to deep centerfield and off the wall. Bradford likely saved a run with a quick cover on the carom and better throw, that held Nolden on third base. “A difficult decision,” Cohen said of his counterpart’s call to not send Nolden on.
He did score anyway on the grounder but that meant two outs. “I really wanted to finish for myself,” Girodo said. “I knew if I got in any trouble Holder was right there behind and would close it out.” Which Holder did, earning his 20th save of this season and tying the career record of 29 as only a sophomore.
“That’s a heckuva ball game,” said Indiana Coach Tracy Smith. “It had all the good stuff you like to see as a spectator.” Halstead (4-5) took the loss on 2.1 innings, three runs and four hits.
State had 11 total hits, six of them from the 3/4/5 slots in the order with Pirtle going 3-of-5 and scoring twice. Rea and Henderson both hit safely twice, and Tracy called the latter’s eighth-inning at-bat “The best of the game, both clubs, and key to their inning. Ryan did his job, Mississippi State hitters did their job.”
Though as Cohen repeated, the biggest job came from Girodo. “Some clutch at-bats we had in that stretch in the eighth, but also Chad just battling and battling and battling. I thought when he had second and third with one out there in the fifth, and they didn’t score, that was a huge inning to slam the door on a very good offensive club.”
The Bulldogs just proved a bit better with the bats when it counted most, whether starter or substitute. “I just happened to step in the box when the game was on the line, and anybody else could have stepped up on this team,” Porter said.
A team that will have some practices the next few days, twice after learning their opponent for Friday’s 2:00 bracket championship rematch. A win that day sends Mississippi State to the best-of-three playoff for the national championship.
These Bulldogs became only the fourth Mississippi State squad with 50 or more victories in a season.