Fundamentally sound baseball prevailed over the long ball Thursday night.
Mississippi State followed its pitching and defense philosophy to a key 7-6 win at its in-state rival in the start of a critical Southeastern Conference series opener for both teams.
“This is where we wanted this program to go toward,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “I just wish everybody could see everything they do every single day in practice and the weight room. They’re finally getting a reward for that.”
While Ole Miss, similarly to when both teams met up on April 19 in Pearl, continued to showcase spotty defense to the tune of four errors and handing the Bulldogs four unearned runs including the game-winner in the eighth inning.
“They get a couple of base hits and we make a couple of errors and don’t play well enough in the field,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “(I) thought we had them at the end there.”
With one out in the frame, MSU pinch hitter Adam Frazier struck out swinging but a double steal was called putting pressure on Ole Miss catcher Miles Hamblin and the senior catcher’s attempted throw to nab Jaron Shepherd at third base skipped into left field giving the Bulldogs a 6-5 advantage.
“You can’t force guys into making bad decisions unless you put guys in motion,” Cohen said. “(Hamblin) probably wouldn’t do that in a thousand tries but you have to do that with Shepherd at second base who is athletic and can really get going.”
One hitter later, MSU senior Wes Thigpen gave his team an insurance run on a RBI-single that left fielder Tanner Mathis completely whiffed once it got through the infield for the game’s final error.
The victory moves Mississippi State out of the three-way tie for seventh in the conference with Auburn and Ole Miss and just a half game back from being tied for the Western Division lead held by Alabama and Arkansas. Auburn hosts the Crimson Tide in a three-game tilt starting tonight.
After working a perfect eighth inning, Mississippi State closer Caleb Reed didn’t leave any room for error by loading the bases in the final frame that was immediately followed by a meeting at the mound from Bulldogs pitching coach Butch Thompson.
“I like to make it interesting, I’ve been doing it all year and I guess I’m just going to keep doing that,” Reed said. “My mom is out there (points to the Oxford-University Stadium stands) pulling her hair out and I just make it hard on everybody.”
Reed managed to end the game and get his 10th save of the season by inducing a double-play grounder to the shortstop and getting a three-pitch strikeout.
“No, we’re past that I think,” Reed said when asked if he thought Thompson would make a pitching change on the visit. “I knew he was going to talk to us about the guy on third not mattering in a 7-5 game.”
Reed’s two-inning save puts him tied for fourth all-time on the school’s single season saves list and four away from holding the Mississippi State record in that category.
In an emotionally charged seventh inning, Ole Miss second baseman Alex Yarbrough got the Swayze Crowd of 8,144 on their feet with a deep drive over the left field wall for a three-run home run giving his team its first and last lead at 5-4. Just one batter ago, the Rebels faithful couldn’t have been angrier at Ole Miss third base coach Matt Mosberg for holding a runner on a bloop double to right field.
A diving catch attempt on the hit by Shepherd failed but second baseman Nick Vickerson hustled to get the ball in short right field to prevent runs from scoring. With one swing of the bat, the pressure was instantly off Mosberg and jubilation prevailed throughout the Rebels fan base.
State got on the scoreboard first when the Rebels first fielding error and a walk was followed by an RBI-single by Shepherd that scored Jarrod Parks.
Mississippi State (31-18, 12-13 in SEC play) put up a run in each of the first three innings of play as they touched Ole Miss starting pitcher Matt Crouse up for three runs on four hits in those first three frames.
“Matt (Crouse) struggled with his location early,” Bianco said. “They got some two-strike hits to push some runs across early.”
However, the Rebels southpaw settled down and managed to retire 10 of the next 11 MSU batters he faced before being lifted after sixth inning. Crouse has now failed to pick up a victory since defeating Tennessee on March 25.
“If you look at (Crouse) statistically, he throws a lot of strikes (and) we got him to 100 in the fifth inning and we just felt like if we could do a better job in the strike zone we could get him out in a hurry," Cohen said.
Parks, who still leads the SEC in hitting with a .405 average, went 0-for-5 with two runs scored but due to a pair of line drives early in the game being ruled as errors the senior’s 21-game hitting streak came to an end. Parks’ 42-game streak of getting on base is still alive but that is not a recognized record-keeping statistic by the SEC or NCAA.
Mississippi State starting pitcher Luis Pollorena, a 5-foot-6 left-hander that was inserted into the starting rotation last weekend, lasted a career-high 6 2/3 innings and allowed four runs on seven hits throughout the evening. The 2010 Alabama Community College Player of the Year, who still leads MSU in wins with six and struggled with location early in the game laboring through 56 pitches through four innings.
“I just reached into my heart and reached into the warrior within me to just compete all night,” Pollorena said. “They can be big but they still have to hit the ball when I’m keeping it down.”
The two in-state rivals will meet again tonight for a 7:06 p.m. matchup on Sportsouth TV when MSU sends left-hander Nick Routt (1-2, 3.66 ERA) to the mound against Ole Miss’ junior righty David Goforth (4-6, 4.79).