Mississippi State strung needed stints together from a trio of young arms, and DH Russ Sneed provided four big runs-batted-in as the Bulldogs snapped won their final home non-conference game of the schedule. And, snapped a eleven game losing streak in the process. State improved to 21-28 on the year, while Northwester State left 29-19.
Interestingly, there was neither a big show of joy nor relief over ending that longest skid in school history. It was just a matter of taking care of business said Sneed, who put State’s first run on the board with a double and hung a game-changing trio in the seventh with a three-run homer.
“It’s definitely been a challenge day-in and day-out,” the senior said. “The guys, believe it or not, have been upbeat and working their tails off. It feels good to win, but it’s a game you’re expected to win.”
How many innings Mississippi State expected to get out of starter Chad Girodo was anyone’s guess. But the freshman lefthander grabbed this late-season opportunity and made 5.0-plus out of it, shaking off a second-inning score and shutting the Demons down his other four full frames. Girodo’s line showed seven hits, a walk and strikeout.
He didn’t get the decision though; that went to righthander Caleb Reed who offered the one unexpected item of the evening. After throwing side-arm his previous 21 appearances this sophomore season, Reed went back to a more routine over-top delivery and looked like a completely different moundsman. He entered with a two-on, no-out challenge in the top of the sixth and kept the game tied one-all.
Reed put in 2.2 official frames and would absorb four runs on four hits, all in the eighth inning. But by then the MSU offense had built just enough of a lead to withstand the assault and earn Reed (1-5) his first winning decision. Freshman Trey Johnson took care of the last four outs with a walk and two strikeouts, striking out the tying runner at the plate to earn his first college save.
“Caleb and Trey did a great job coming in, they scattered a few hits but they got the outs whenever it mattered and made some great pitches,” said Sneed. “And Chad was getting early contact and quick outs, that was encouraging. I was glad for him to get back out and get some confidence.”
Northwestern State’s Andrew Plotkin (3-3) took the loss in relief of starter Mason Melotakis, who had worked the first 5.1 frames with a lone run on six hits. That run came in State’s opening inning as with two outs and RF Luke Adkins on first base Sneed yanked a hot hopper over the third-base bag for a run-scoring double.
The Demons matched that in their second inning with consecutive doubles, the latter by Chris Hebert to score Trevor Geist. Girodo took over from there with no harm done by singles in the third and fourth, nor a two-on threat in the fifth as he flew-out Adam Roy to strand both. He erased one of those base hits by picking off the runner at first.
But when the sixth began with a deflected single and walk his evening’s work was done and Reed summoned. Three pitches solved things as Reed neatly fielded a bunt and got the lead runner at third; then rolled a double-play off Hebert. Reed’s original throwing style paid off this time.
“I just think he felt there was a comfort level, he was struggling to get to the top of the baseball from that angle,” said Cohen. “I think he’ll be back down eventually but he just needed to do something to change his confidence level and ability to throw it in the strike zone. Tonight was obviously better.”
Melotakis still held the tie into the sixth when a walk and single brought Plotkin from the bullpen. State had sent Cody Freeman to the batters box and when NWSt changed arms so did Cohen, subbing south-side swinger Ryan Duffy in. He struck out and with bases loaded C Wes Thigpen hit it well and right to the fast-moving shortstop.
But in the MSU seventh SS Jonathan Ogden led with a walk and 3B Nick Vickerson bunted him over. Adkins was walked and righthandre Heath Hennigan brough tin to pitch at 1B Connor Powers. He roped the first offering into centerfield and Ogden came home unchallenged.
The bigger noise followed though as Sneed stroked his trio-scoring shot over leftfield. “It was a 3-1 counting so I was ready to swing with a runner in scoring position. They said it was a fastball but it had a little movement on it, I was leaning out front and it happened to be away where I was leaning.”
Paths cleaned, lefthander Andrew Adams replaced Hennigan only to give up a single to Ryan Collins. The State centerfielder took second on one wild pitch, and was stealing third when Hennigan’s next dirtball missed the mitt. Not only did strikeout victim Duffy reach first safely but Collins went second-to-home. And Duffy was able to score as Frost dropped a double in left-centerfield for the 7-1 margin. And, another mound move with righty Spencer Harrell ending the inning.
The healthy cushion was soon needed as Reed allowed a hit, walk, and one-out single by Justin Martinez for a Demon run. Another base hit, by pinch-hitter Colin Bear, filled all bases so a grounder to first base by Hebert made it 7-3. Chase Lyles got the pinch-bat call for a right-on-right match, and won with a two-run double. Reed threw a ball to the number-nine batter and was replaced by Johnson, to ground-out Tyler Grondin
State did get at least one of those back in the bottom of the frame, opened by a Vickerson single and wild-pitch advance. He made third easily on a fly-ball to rightfield but Adkins was also going for second and got caught for a 9-5-4 double-play that took away the sac-fly opportunity. No matter, as yet another Demon dirtball got away from the catcher and Vickerson trotted across.
The top of NWSt’s order was up for the ninth and after two quick outs Johnson was hit and issued a full-count walk. The rookie bowed-up and fanned Justin Martinez to end the affair.
“Trey came in and shoved it in the strike zone,” Cohen said. “I’m really pleased with that. Girodo is just starting to scratch the surface of what he’s going to be.”
Four Dogs had a pair of hits led by Sneed’s 2-of-3 showing with four RBI and the run on his ninth longball of the senior year. Powers, Collins, and 2B Sam Frost all hit safely twice also. Demon centerfielder Oscar Garcia had three hits in five appearance and scored once, and Northwestern State had a dozen total hits to eleven for MSU.
“To be honest I don’t even feel relieved,” admitted Sneed. “Until Sunday (at Auburn) I didn’t even know we had a losing streak going on…I guess that tells you how much I stay out of the media! But I think a lot of guys feel the same way because for the most part our games have been real tight and we’ve struggled at the end to finish them out. A lot of times we felt we’ve been in the drivers seat, all the losses for the most part have been competitive.”
Cohen wasn’t fretting any same-old either, though he might have earlier in the day when CF Jaron Shepherd informed the coach he had a fever and might not be able to play. He was, subbing-in to pinch run and score State’s seventh run.
Now Cohen and club prepare for their final homefield appearances of 2010, as State hosts Vanderbilt in a weekend series. The plan remains to go with senior Tyler Whitney and freshman Chris Stratton in the Friday-Saturday rotation, and play game-three by ear. Or availability, rather. With no SEC Tournament berth or postseason bid available the coaching staff is in an interesting situation about how to play the remaining games. Or more to the future point, who to play in them. Cohen sees a fine line to be walked, especially in the home-field finale.
“You want your seniors to have every opportunity; at the same time the development of all your new guys is important as well. So it’s kind of a nice balance and makes it tough on everybody. You have some older guys that desperately want to play their last games and some young guys that need to get better. There’s still a lot of things these kids can do and they know that.”