But for a few innings the Redhawks were poised for an upset, and on an evening some of State's SEC West peers suffered surprising losses. A two-run single by Derek Gibson gave the visitors a 2-1 lead in the fifth inning. And Southeast Missouri had go-ahead runners on bases in both the eighth and ninth frames. It took some timely relief pitching by RHP Jonathan Holder to hold them at bay, and a leadoff single from Randolph to give the Bulldogs their chance to seal it in regulation innings.
The ironic twist is Henderson's paper is due for the class on gerontology, because almost everything about the evening game aged the fans, Diamond Dogs, and coach. Not least the chilled conditions aggravated by a northerly wind. But what strained Mississippi State to the last inning limit was a well-managed Redhawk squad, John Cohen said.
"A lot of this game they did things better than we did. But we found a way to win the ball game."
Or ways to win. Beginning with bringing in closer Holder in a tied eighth inning with a go-ahead runner walked onto base with a 1-2 count to Alan Lennington, the night's defensive star. "We were planning on getting Holder out there but certainly that was important to us," Cohen said. Holder finished striking out Lennington and got a fly-out before a slow roller turned into an infield single. Holder negated the threat with a swinging strikeout of Andy Lack to strand the pair.
State should have taken some sort of lead into the ninth, as they loaded the bases on two walks and a plunking of 2B Brett Pirtle as he showed bunt before pulling back. Had Pirtle not drawn back the pitch would have nailed him in the face rather than arm. But righthander Greg Mosel came in to save Christian Hull's self-made mess, with a fly ball and called strikeout for two down. When a Mosel pitch went off catcher Scott Mitchell's mitt it didn't go far enough to the first base side. Pinch-runner Jacob Robson started, stopped, then tried to come home and was out by two steps. "You either go or you don't, we did the half-way, tentative thing," Cohen said.
Holder even walked the #9 Redhawk batter to begin their ninth, with Clayton Evans bunted into scoring position. After a strikeout an intentional walk set up forces, and Holder covered first in time for 1B Wes Rea's flip to keep it 2-2.
Randolph's second base hit of the game changed the tenor, as C Gavin Collins bunted him into scoring position with Henderson up. He may have been batting ninth but it was a matchup Cohen liked against Mosel. "He's a lefthanded slider guy, I really felt Demarcus is really seeing balls good tonight and was going to stay on a ball."
Except it wasn't a slider Henderson saw best, even if that's what the scouting report predicted. "It was a curveball. I wasn't going to get out the same way everybody else, he threw me the same pitch and I was going to flick my hands." Henderson's liner cleared the second baseman and was run down in the right-gap by the centerfielder, so third base coach Nick Mingione was going to stop Randolph…
…until Cole Bieser just let the roller get off his glove. "I really didn't think he was going to score," Henderson said. "When the guy booted it I was happy, because (Randolph) was still in motion." It didn't go down as a RBI but counted all the same where it mattered.
Holder (2-1) got the win in late relief with 2.0 innings, a hit, two walks and three strikeouts. He was the fifth Bulldog to pitch the midweek game. RHP Austin Sexton went the first 2.2 with no scores on three hits, a walk and three strikeouts. Sexton had to strand three Redhawks in the first inning alone, with 11 total runner going un-scored for the visitors.
SEMO starter Alex Winkelman came in with bad stats; a 6.91 ERA and 0-2 record. But he too confounded the scouting report by lasting 6.2 innings with two runs off six hits, a couple of walks and three strikeouts. "Coach said he was going to be a guy to walk and not command," Henderson said. "But I guess whenever you play Mississippi State guys bring their A game. He threw strikes and was in the zone a lot, and we hit a couple of average fly balls to keep him around for a while."
The Bulldogs got a run in their second inning as Pirtle doubled in leadoff, made third on a bunt by SS Seth Heck, and was scored on a Derrick Armstrong grounder. From there Winkelman looked like a SEC ace, retiring ten-straight Bulldogs in one stretch and standing a pair of sixth-inning runners. Meanwhile the Redhawk offense took advantage of walks by LHP Vance Tatum and RHP Myles Gentry in their fifth. With two outs and bases loaded, Gibson took his first offering into leftfield for a two-run single.
Mississippi State finally pushed Winkelman off the mound in the seventh, with one out, Randolph on second base and Collins on first. Henderson was clutch here too, with a chopper towards shortstop that he outran for an infield single. This time a fly ball was a good thing as LF Jake Vickerson's liner to center was far enough for Randolph to tie things up.
RHP Brandon Woodruff threw 2.0 hitless turns to set the stage for Holder. Mosel (1-2) took the loss on just two hits and a strikeout. State did muster eight base hits to five for the Redhawks, with Randolph and Henderson collecting a pair of safeties each.
"We hit a ton of balls hard, that happens," Cohen said. That included bullets by Rea and Armstrong that Lennington only had to move his glove to snare. Still, "We found a way to win on a non-offensive day at Dudy Noble Field. This is kind of a character builder for us because a lot of things didn't go our way and we found a way to win the ball game."
And, a way for a senior student to get his homework turned in on time. "I was pretty much done with it," Henderson admitted. "I just have to do the intro part. I was OK."
The Diamond Dogs have a couple of days to prepare for another conference weekend at home as they host Arkansas in a three-game set. State is tied for the overall league lead at 4-2.