For the record the steals never came off. Fortunately though enough other items ran, rolled, or just bounced Mississippi State
's way as the Bulldogs survived a near-four-hour shootout to defeat visiting Georgia
9-8. By taking the first date of the weekend SEC series State improved to 13-9, 1-3; while Georgia fell to 8-14, 0-4.
The margin of MSU came on a ball-four, wild pitch by Georgia reliever Cecil Tanner in the bottom of the eighth inning, scoring 1B Powers to break the 8-8 tie. That one-run lead looked shaky in the top of the ninth as Bulldog reliever Ben Bracewell loaded the bases with one out. But he was able to strand all hands by striking out Colby May and grounding Chase Davidson back to the mound, and end the evening 3:54 after it had begun.
The outcome confirmed another comment Sneed had made much earlier. "Sometime in the fifth inning I said this was going to be a doozey," reported the Bulldog designated hitter. It already was, since this statement was made right while Mississippi State was rallying from a 7-1 deficit, scoring six times in the bottom of the fifth to match Georgia's output in the top of the fourth. "I don't think there was any doubt in anybody's mind," Sneed said. "We've got a confident offensive club."
"I'm really proud of how our kids compete," Coach John Cohen said. "And they had to compete tonight." Not merely compete with the opposition, a Georgia club equally-desperate for that first SEC win; but with the strange twists of a game and a strike zone from ump Kevin Assman that left all 11 pitchers confused and a couple of coaches frustrated.
"When guys do exactly what you want them to on the mound and things don't go your way, that's really hard," said Cohen, as polite a commentary as he could manage afterwards. Yet Sneed thought batters on both sides were better at guessing where the zone was than the hurlers. "Which caused a little longer of a game," he said, adding that this ultimately played to State's favor. "We knew coming in their pitchers were not throwing as many strikes, we had to do a better job of controlling the zone. Once we had runners on we could be more aggressive." Exhibit A being the called double-steal of Powers and Sneed, not noted as among the fleetest of Bulldog baserunners.
Georgia out-hit the home Dogs 13 to 11 and had three doubles to State's one. "But we held our ground and got some HBPs and some walks," Cohen said. And, just enough relief work from four bullpen Bulldogs to survive the huge mid-way deficit. Caleb Reed and former starter Tyler Whitney held things in check, to set the table for Devin Jones and Bracewell. All the previous work was needed, too, because Bracewell had thrown only 48 hours earlier to seal a comeback win over Memphis. "My arm has felt better," he admitted after a full ninth-inning stint with a hit, two walks, and strikeout.
Bracewell got his third save while Jones improved to 2-1 with the decision, having entered to end the Georgia seventh with a strikeout to strand two in scoring positions. He fanned three more around a two-out double in the eighth.
Tanner (1-2) took the loss in just an official 0.1 inning, having wild-pitched in the winning run.
State's Kendall Graveman did make an encouraging start, aided by sharp infield work with twin-killings in the first and third innings. Nobody knew it at the time, but "Those double-plays were huge later in the game," said Cohen. For his part UG's Jeff Walters got the first-inning side routinely, then was greeted by Sneed in the second with a double off the fence. CF Ryan Collins bunted him over and C Wes Thigpen walked on a close full-count call. LF Jet Butler battled off a couple of strikes before lining a single into rightfield for the first RBI. Butler also took second on a dropped pitch without a challenge, but Thigpen tried to score on a high hopper right to the third baseman and was caught a long stride short of the plate.
Walters kept it at 1-0 by stranding pairs in both the second and third, giving the Georgia offense breathing room. They used it to the fullest in their fourth with six runs as the top of their order was back up. Johnathan Taylor singled his way on. His steal try was ruled successful despite Cohen's protests, though a ball-four on Peter Verdin was even iffier. With State watching for a sacrifice Levi Hyams successfully swung and bounced a hit through the open left side to load all bases for Zach Cone.
The cleanup batter worked a full count before pounding a hot shot that SS Johnathan Ogden couldn't get cleanly, scoring the leading two runners. A walk of Robert Shipman reloaded the bases and forced the pitching change with Reed inheriting the no-out jam. He got a strikeout before Chase Davidson roped a double to left-center for two more runs. And with two outs, after ump Assman again squeezed the dish on a well-spotted 2-2 offering, Taylor singled through the left side for the 6-1 scoreboard.
In the fifth Georgia put the leadoff men on corners, with a single and run-and-hit single. With a 1-2 count to Shipman, State called in Whitney for middle relief. He immediately rolled a tough 3-6-1 double play, conceding the leading runner Hyams for a 7-1 difference.
"For the most part we pitched pretty good," Cohen said. "Tyler came in and did a great job for us." Whitney would work 2.2 innings with one run on two hits, a walk and strikeout.
State got lead batter Frost on to open their fifth, only to see the rookie run himself into an out rounding second too far on a single by Vickerson. It hurt because Adkins reached on a second baseman error and Powers walked to load the bases with one down, instead of forcing in a run. With the Georgia bullpen getting busy, Sneed went opposite-way with a bouncer over the first baseman's reach.
Vickerson and Adkins scored and lefthander Chase Hawkins took the hill with Dogs on corners and one down. UG second baseman Hyams did a great job getting to Collins' grounder but had to go so far in the hole there was no chance of throwing MSU's runner out. Powers scored on the infield single, and Thigpen punched a hit through shortstop for a 7-5 score.
Thing got wilder though when Hawkins tried to pick Thigpen at first…and no fielder was covering. As the ball caromed down the right-foul territory Collins scored and Thigpen got to third base. It was also a balk call, but State had the option to turn it down and take the run-scoring play and of course did. Georgia also summoned southpaw Justin Earls. He got Butler to look at strike three on the outside corner, leaving it up to Ogden. The shortstop shook off another strange strike call to single in Thigpen for a tied game, and the visiting Dogs did well to escape the frame with an even score as State left go-ahead runners at second and third on a fly-ball by Vickerson.
In the sixth State regained the lead, as Adkins bunted his way on and came around on base hits by Powers and Sneed. But they also left two unscored runners, and Georgia was able to tie it back up in the top of the seventh as with two outs Shipman ripped one that was an inch too far for Frost's glove to stop. Verdin came home from third for the 8-8 score, and Jones came to the mound. He wild-pitched Shipman into scoring position before a full-count strikeout of May got his team into the dugout still even.
Steve Esmonde took over for State's seventh and managed to leave the go-ahead runner (Ogden) at third on a strikeout and groundout of the top of the Bulldog order. Georgia lost their chance as well in the eighth as a two-out double was wasted when Jones fanned order-topper Taylor.
Georgia's Tanner opened the bottom of the eighth by hitting Powers on the second pitch. Two balls to Sneed produced a mound meeting but didn't improve the reliever's location with a walk. Collins showed bunt four times, fouled-away four full-count pitches, then forced the shortstop to charge a chopper that worked just as well as a sacrifice.
Cohen sent Cody Freeman to pitch hit but he didn't have to, as on 3-1 Tanner skipped ball-four to the backstop. That not only scored Powers but finished Tanner for John Herman to get the two outs. Still the damage was done and State gave the lead to Bracewell to protect. As well as Jaron Shepherd and Brent Brownlee to defend in the outfield.
Neither could get to a sinking single by Verdin, who promptly stole second. An out of Hyams later Bracewell walked Cone and Shipman, bringing sub-catcher Freeman out for an encouraging word. "He was just talking to me, trying to work through it. He told me try to keep it down in the zone because they were swinging at it. My fastball was kind of late and trailing up, he kept telling me to bury the slider." Bracewell threw eight-straight of those and got the game over with.
"That wasn't the Bracwell we saw Wednesday night, but he had enough to get it done," said Cohen.
"We definitely really needed this game," said Sneed, who was almost as excited to be requested for the post-game interviews. He was 3-of-4 at the plate with three of State's RBI and two runs scored. Powers also scored twice as the duo got around the paths pretty well after all. "That's what our offense is all about," said Sneed. "We're going to be aggressive and tonight we wanted to crowd the plate and really make them throw strikes and come after us."
Verdin was 3-of-4 for Georgia and scored twice, as the top four in those Dogs' order combined for nine of their hits.
Saturday's game-two (2:00) will match Bulldog freshman righty Chris Stratton (2-2, 2.63) and Georgia righty Justin Grimm (1-2, 5.16).
The game was unusual enough already, when Russ Sneed saw a truly strange signal from his coaches that later drew dugout comment. "I told Connor (Powers) that I didn't think there'd be a time where with no outs, us first and second, you'd be seeing a double-steal with me and him."