STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State found Thursday night baseball to its liking.
Down 4-1, the 16th-ranked Bulldogs rallied to a 5-4 victory over No. 12 South Carolina in the opening game of a three-game weekend Southeastern Conference series at Dudy Noble Field.
With the victory, the Maroon and White kept their hopes alive for a Top Four finish in the conference standings. To achieve that, MSU will have to take all three games of the series from South Carolina.
In the meanwhile, the Bulldogs moved into sole possession of third place in the Western Division and fifth place in the overall standings with two games left in the regular season. MSU is now 39-15 overall and 15-13 in league play, while USC is 38-15 and 16-11.
“(Former South Carolina coach) Ray Tanner told me before the game that he thought we had two evenly matched teams,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “We really saw that tonight. Each team has a premier closer and a great defense. We were fortunate enough to make a few more plays.”
On a night where MSU topped five million (since 1976) in all-time attendance at Dudy Noble Field, the Bulldogs staged a dramatic rally with four runs in the eighth inning. The script was similar to the last MSU conference game where a 6-0 deficit was zapped in a 7-6 win over Ole Miss.
“The one thing I hope our fans have learned by now is don’t leave the ballpark early,” Cohen said. “This group also has the capability of making something special happen. The attitude and determination is incredible. This group is special. They are going to fight you for every one of their outs.”
The big eighth inning started with a solo home run to left field by Wes Rea. After USC’s second pitching change of the inning, C.T. Bradford singled and Demarcus Henderson followed with a one-out bunt single.Nick Ammirati followed with a single to make it a one-run game. Adam Frazier followed with a game-tying RBI-single.
After an intentional walk to Hunter Renfroe re-loaded the bases, USC closer Tyler Webb (2-2) walked Brett Pirtle to force in the go-ahead run.
From there, Jonathan Holder closed down the situation for his 15th save of the season. Holder replaced winning pitcher Chad Girodo (6-1) after a leadoff walk in the ninth inning. A groundout, strikeout and flyout ended the matter.
For MSU, Luis Pollorena started and worked 4.2 innings. Pollorena allowed five hits and four runs (all earned) but did have a stretch of 12 straight retired Gamecocks after being touched for two runs in the first inning.
USC ran the lead to 4-1 and chased Pollorena in the fifth inning. Ross Mitchell, Will Cox, Girodo and Holder combined for 4.1 innings of two-hit shutout relief.
The Bulldogs finished with 14 hits, including three-hit nights by Bradford, Henderson and Ammirati. The bottom four spots in the lineup were a combined 9-for-15 in the contest. The Bulldogs made one error and stranded 12 base runners.
South Carolina had two hits from Brison Celek. The Gamecocks finished with seven hits.
“South Carolina has a real scrappy ballclub and they are going to come out ready to play Friday night,” Cohen said. “We had a nice crowd Thursday night but we really need a huge crowd on Friday night. There is nothing better to do in Starkville. So we need our people to come out and fill up the stadium.
“This a huge series between nationally-ranked teams and our kids are going to put it all on the line all weekend.”
The series resumes at 6:30 p.m. Friday and concludes at 2 p.m. Saturday. MSU is scheduled to start senior right-hander Kendall Graveman (5-5, 3.00 ERA), while USC is scheduled to start sophomore left-hander Jordan Montgomery (4-1, 1.85) in game two. The first 5,000 fans in attendance will receive a pin to commemorate the five-million fan plateau in MSU’s history.