“Oh, I set a record?” said a surprised Duffy when informed. “Wow, that’s pretty cool!”
Not to mention pretty hot, as in a perfect evening at the plate. Swinging from the sixth spot in the Bulldog batting order, Duffy hit safely all five appearances including home runs in the second, sixth, and seventh innings. The first two shots drove in two RBI; the third three.
And this was around a first-inning double that scored another pair of teammates, giving him nine runs-batted-in. It made the fourth-inning single something of an afterthought beyond allowing a unmarred evening at bat. And, that singleton also contributed to the total 15 bases, surpassing the previous record of 14 held by former Dog greats Del Unser (1965) and Tommy Raffo (1990).
The three homers? They put Duffy on a plane with six other Bulldogs for the game record, one of them teammate Connor Powers. “That’s amazing,” Duffy shook his head. “I don’t even know what to say, it doesn’t even feel right to have my name with those people.”
Yet for at least one evening, Duffy’s name did fit nicely beside his famed predecessors. He used this one game to match or better his totals for the 17 games he’d played before tonight, as he came in with two homers, eight RBI, and 16 bases.
“We all know he’s capable,” Coach John Cohen said. “He is not the big-ballpark, wind-blowing-in guy. He can hit a lot of fly balls and he’s going to swing the bat, he’s not going to walk. For a senior to get it going I’m just thrilled for him because he needed this to catapult himself.”
The same could be said for the entire Mississippi State team, which improved to 16-13 by routing the Tigers (14-11). Six Bulldogs scored as many or more runs as Jackson State, and first baseman Powers had a fine night in his own right with two hits, two runs, and four RBI. MSU would collect 17 total hits with eight doubles and a triple, courtesy of CF Jaron Shepherd in the third inning.
“We needed a game like this,” said Cohen. “For a lot of reasons. It’s a great opportunity for us to get a lot of guys on the mound, and for some guys to kind of get out of some offensive struggles they’ve had. So we’re pleased with the outcome, we got a lot done.”
Before the game Cohen had thought of giving freshman starter C.C. Watson a long stint, presumably to prepare for a starting call this Sunday. But plans changed and after just one inning and 21 pitches the State coaching staff went to running in other arms.
“You make a decision, do you throw the bullpen or give a guy one inning, 15 pitches?” Cohen said. “The kids always want to pitch in a game than throw 35 pitches in bullpen. All those guys got good work.”
Watson gave up a hit and the first Tiger run, though the score only came on an errant throw by C Cody Freeman to second base on a steal play that allowed Chad Hall to come in from third base. Jackson State wouldn’t score the other run until their last inning.
In-between State got five combined shutout innings out of Greg Houston (3.0, 1 hit, 1 strikeout) and Kendall Graveman (2.0, 1 hit, 2 strikeouts). Houston picked up the decision and improved to 4-0. Matt Lane, Caleb Reed, and Devin Jones all got to toss a complete inning each with Jones taking the run. Also unearned, as Hall reached on a fielding error at second base to lead off and ultimately came in on a two-out single by Malcolm Tate.
Also in-between the Bulldog batters teed off on a trio of Tiger pitchers. Starter Quintavious Drains absorbed the loss (4-2) with nine runs on six hits, walking two and striking out two. In his meager defense, only two of the runs were earned as Jackson State fielding and throwing were badly off the mark. There were two Tigers errors in both the first and second innings. So Drains lasted just the first two frames and thus only had to face Duffy twice, allowing the double and first homer. “A changeup,” according to Duffy.
Then it was Cortney Nelson’s turn to work, 4.0 innings as it played out with five runs, eight hits, a walk and two strikeouts. Duffy singled off Nelson in the fourth, then in the sixth got ahold of a curveball that left the yard over the centerfield wall. JSU’s Jeremy Gray pitched the seventh inning and this time when Duffy came up two teammates, Trey Johnson and Wes Thigpen, were on base in front of him. “A fastball” was the offering from Gray that became homer #3.
Terrance Washington threw the bottom of the eighth with a run scoring on his bases-loaded wild pitch. Even if this was against an outmatched Jackson State staff, the Bulldogs welcomed the chance for some live batting practice.
“I think everybody appreciated having a night like that,” Duffy said. “I really didn’t do that much, I felt the guys around me allowed that to happen.” Besides, he said, “A night like tonight was a good time to get our team on a roll.”
Mississippi State would welcome all the momentum available as they come off a series defeat at South Carolina where they won the middle game 8-7 but were shelled in Friday and Sunday losses. Now the Diamond Dogs are back home and preparing to host Arkansas, who sits second in the SEC West at 6-3. State by contrast is looking up at the Division pack at 3-6 and needing to make something good happen soon or risk falling too far behind.
At Columbia, the rotation was freshmen Graveman and Chris Stratton the first two games and senior Tyler Whitney on Sunday. Cohen and pitching coach Butch Thompson have not lined things up for Arkansas as of yet, beyond the middle game. “We’re going to look into some things for Friday, we’re going to make a pretty big change but Butch and I are still waiting,” Cohen said. “We’ll announce it tomorrow. But it will be Stratton on Saturday and Friday we think will be different.” Ditto for Sunday.