“I stayed loose during the rain delay because I was prepared we’d jump ahead and get a win,” said Holder, who proved prophetic as well. Having slammed the door on Purdue’s eighth inning rally to re-tie things, he saw Mississippi State regain the lead. And, returned to keep this one in a 3-2 victory.
Holder’s 1.1 pressurized innings both saved and won the evening game on day-one of the Diamond Classic sponsored by Polk’s Meat Products. He entered to strike out Purdue’s Sean McHugh with a lead runner in scoring position in that eighth, then fanned two more Boilermakers in the ninth. It was almost something of a letdown to have the game end on a ground ball to 1B Wes Rea actually, seeing how the ace closer had fanned 11 of the last 14 batters faced over parts of three games.
Not that Holder (1-0) cared. “It’s cool,” he said, as being on-record gave him the winning decision. “I got some lucky breaks there. And the guys before me, Chad Girodo and Luis Pollorena, pounded the bottom of the zone. So when I come in the zone is usually open for me.”
Lefthanders Girodo (1.0 innings, two strikesouts) and Pollorena (0.2, two hits, one run, one strikeout) did set the plate pretty well. If not for one misplaced Pollorena pitch in the top of the eighth Holder would have been in a save situation as usual. But with two outs and the top of Purdue’s order on first base, Kyle Wood knocked a double to rightfield for the temporary 2-2 tie that Holder had to hold.
For that matter Mississippi State (6-0) had to hold on to its composure in a longer-than-expected evening. The game began on time, and followed Purdue’s 9-4 opening win over Samford. And both starting pitchers were on their games with five scoreless innings. But weather arrived in the seventh and hung around for an hour-and-a-half.
“Out of that rain delay we did a nice job of focusing and doing what we needed to do to win a game,” said Coach John Cohen. Even if some of those things were horseplay. “It started off we wrote on a ball, said ‘tarp slide’ or something,” Holder reported. “They went tarp slide and threw it back and said ‘dance off’. It was pretty cool.” No official scoring was given but it appeared State’s LF Demarcus Henderson was the better dancer than any Boilermaker. The limbo contest, with reliever Ross Mitchell serving as the ‘pole’ held up by Holder and C Mitch Slauter, was entertaining too and no Dog injured himself on Mitchell’s prominent beak.
Funning aside, the game befitted two 2012 NCAA Regional teams as the defending Big Ten champions played the reigning SEC Tournament titlists on even terms. “That’s a good team,” Cohen said. Freshman lefthander Jordan Minch was very good, much better than his early-season statistics, as he worked 6.0 complete with four hits, three walks and five strikeouts. The only damage to his line was a leadoff blast in the sixth inning by RF Hunter Renfroe that cleared centerfield.
Renfroe would have had two longballs if not for leftfielder Stephen Talbott, who robbed him at the leftfield wall in the fourth. That was off a changeup, Renfroe said. “But the last one I got all of, he threw me a fastball on 2-0 and I connected pretty well. He threw a lot of fastballs and was everywhere with it, that’s what made him effective. You can’t really prepare for that, he got the slider over when he needed to.”
State’s Jacob Lindgren was just as efficient in his 5.1 innings. He got big help early as with one on and one out in the first McHugh drove one to rightfield that looked like a RBI-double until Renfroe dove and grabbed in time. “That’s one of those plays if you make it you’re a hero; if you don’t make it Coach Cohen comes over and cusses you out!” Renfroe said.
Lindgren responded to the sparkling save by reeling off eleven outs, six of them punchouts. “I was really just letting my defense get the job done. They made a lot of fantastic plays. And I give a lot of credit to ( C Mitch) Slauter, he was really calling a good game. I was mainly fastball, slider today, mixing it out and changing eye levels. I watched a little of the first game, and Coach Thompson always has a great scouting report.”
The first hit off Lindgren opened the fifth, but Conner Hudnall tried stretching his luck to second base and was thrown out by CF C.T. Bradford. Another leadoff single in the sixth was more trouble as Kyle Johnson was bunted over to bring up the top of their order with a runner on second. A base hit to right was too sharp to test Renfroe’s arm, putting runners on third and first now.
State waited to see if a pinch-hitter was used, and a righthander was. So RHP Myles Gentry inherited the jam, only to have a lefthanded pinch-man come up in the counter-move. It worked for a full-count walk to load all bases. Gentry rolled what would have been a double-play opportunity except umpire Tracy Cheek screened him out.
By the time SS Adam Frazier could see it again the hopper was right on him and he did well forcing a single out at second base, as Johnson scored. Only one run though, as Gentry ended the inning with a grounder. And after looking at two balls in the bottom of the frame Renfroe unloaded for the 1-1 tie.
With a couple of lefthanders due up Girodo took over and got them, as well as a righty. Purdue went to their bullpen also, sending Mike Lutz out for the seventh against the last two in State’s order. That part worked well with a couple of quick grounders to second base.
But Frazier worked a walk and Bradford’s grounder could only be knocked-down by the shortstop for an infield single. At that point officials halted play for the coming storm, with resumption at 9:46. Lutz immediately plunked Slauter to load the bases…and on 1-2 came in too far on Renfroe as well to force in the go-ahead run.
This stopped Lutz’ night as well, with Tim McElroy ending the inning.
Pollorena came out for the top of the eighth and bottom two in this order, getting them both. A single by Brandon Krieg put the tying run on, and with a lefthander up Pollorena stayed in. Wood beat the percentages with a double for the 2-2 tie. So Holder was summoned to keep it even and did with a called strikeout on full count of McHugh.
A leadoff walk of 1B Alex Detz had Derrick Armstrong pinch-running and Purdue going to righthander Kenney. It wasn’t the pitcher’s fault Armstrong stole second base, nor that catcher Jack Picchiotti’s throw got into centerfield for an extra base. “We’re going to run there and Jacob fakes a bunt to disturb the catcher a little bit,” Cohen said.
Robson had subbed-in to match with righty Patrick Kenney and needed only make good contact for a lead. “I was thinking any way you can, score him. I got a good pitch to hit and drove it.” He did indeed, with a strong shot to leftfield that Cohen was convinced would become a double right up to when Talbot caught it. “He either got a great jump or was positioned well.” Talbot’s momentum was mostly inward, too. Armstrong was sent anyway and a good through would have made it interesting. Fortunately for State it was a yard off the plate.
McElroy (0-1) took the loss. Both teams mustered just five base hits each, with Frazier getting two of the State safeties. Despite the slick surface the only error was by Purdue’s catcher on the eighth-inning Armstrong steal. “I know we didn’t score many runs but I felt we had some productive at-bats,” Cohen said. “The stolen base there sets everything up for us.”
“We always come to play with the defense,” Renfroe said. “We’re one of the better defenses in the SEC I believe.”
State is back on the home field at 3:00 Saturday to face Samford in a rematch from the 2012 Tallahasee Regional, where the Birmingham Bulldogs twice beat MSU’s. RHP Evan Mitchell (0-0, 1.80) will start for State. The day’s second game is at 6:00 with State and Purdue meeting again, and RHP Kendall Graveman (1-0, 0.00) is booked to start.