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Post-game at Dudy Noble Field: Game No. 54 - MSU 4, No. 4 Kentucky 3 - Norris' bomb off the light tower gives Dogs victory

 

FILE - Mississippi State third baseman Daryl Norris hit his first collegiate home run to pace the Bulldogs to a 4-3 victory over the University of Kentucky Friday.

FILE - Mississippi State third baseman Daryl Norris hit his first collegiate home run to pace the Bulldogs to a 4-3 victory over the University of Kentucky Friday. Photo by: MSU athletics

 

Matt Stevens

 

STARKVILLE - For the first time in a long while, Daryl Norris admittedly didn't know what to do on a baseball field.  

 

Mississippi State University's sophomore third baseman watched his shot ricochet nearly 30 feet off the light tower in left field for a home run and didn't realize how shocked he was.  

 

"I was a little surprised and it was my first of my career so I honestly had no idea what to do when I hit it. It felt so good to hit something hard after I've been struggling for so long." 

 

Norris' first ever home run in college baseball, after 213 at-bats, was a mammoth three-run shot pulled into left field off University Kentucky starting pitcher Jerad Grundy (4-3) in a 2-1 count. The members of the MSU dugout exploded toward home plate with excitement over Norris' first home run in 213 college at-bats. The home run propelled MSU to a dramatic 4-3 victory over the Wildcats at Dudy Noble Field. 

 

"I don't think there's a surprise (on Norris' home run) because the guy does it every day in practice," MSU coach John Cohen said. "He needed some confidence and I'm hopeful that one swing will do that for him." 

 

Norris, who was a highly touted prospect out of Fairhope (Ala.) High School, was in a 2-for-28 slump before the home run and had not an extra-base hit since April 13 at the University of South Carolina.  

 

"I know (the power) is in there and I don't have to force it but it happened tonight for whatever reason." 

 

The 222-pound third baseman had been struggling due mostly to a severe knee injury suffered on March 7 vs. Penn State University at Dudy Noble when he fouled a ball off his right knee and missed nearly a month of action.  

 

"I've hit a few balls hard pull side (since the knee injury)," Norris said. "I hope the offense is coming back because this would be a huge time for us to get rolling tonight." 

 

The game didn't get started on its scheduled time due to an unusual stand-off sequence where both teams refused to be the first to enter their dugout. Home plate umpire Jack Cox had to go to MSU's dugout and have the umpiring crew encourage both sides to enter the dugout so play could get underway.  

 

"That's just two teams competing," Cohen said. "Well - it's a little bit more than fun. We want to win at everything we do. They are having fun but our kids will find every way to compete and that's why we love them. We have the right guys." 

 

With the victory, the Bulldogs (33-21, 15-14 in SEC play) clinched their first series from the Wildcats (41-14, 18-11 in SEC) since 2007. MSU completes the regular season with five league series wins, each coming during the final seven weeks of the campaign. The Bulldogs now have five wins against Top 10 opponents this season. 

 

MSU used six pitchers and the final five hurlers over the last 5 1/3 innings of work to hold Kentucky to just two hits over that span.  

 

Luis Pollorena (4-0) retired six of seven batters faced to get the win. Caleb Reed worked a perfect seventh inning. Ross Mitchell worked a perfect eighth inning. Jonathan Holder worked a perfect ninth inning for his sixth save. 

 

"You can make moves when you have the personnel to be able to do it," Cohen said. "With our pitching staff, we feel like we have the personnel to be able to do it. These guys make the decisions easy for you because they come in and get the job done." 

 

Holder, a true freshman right-hander from Gulfport, has not allowed a run in 22.2 innings of work this season. 

 

MSU's offense got on the scoreboard after junior Mitch Slauter became the first catcher since Cody Freeman in 2009 to earn a triple with a shot to left field. An RBI-single by senior Brent Brownlee, less than a hour after he was honored in his Senior Day celebration, tied the score at one in the second inning. Slauter's triple was immediately followed by the transfer from Barton County Community College pumping his chest toward the MSU dugout to emotionally jumpstart the Bulldogs program.  

 

"This is a big series and I like to show my emotions and get into the game," Slauter said. "It really gets some energy into the ball club." 

 

Entering the final day of the SEC regular season, the Bulldogs are in a two-way tie with Arkansas for second place in the Western Division and a three-way tie for fifth place with Vanderbilt and Arkansas in the overall league standings. The win guarantees MSU a .500-or-better season inside league play for the first time since a 15-13 conference finish in 2007. 

 

Both teams close the regular season with a 2 p.m. start Saturday as Kentucky plans to start left-handed pitcher Corey Littrell (8-0, 2.22) and MSU will have to decide between right-hander Evan Mitchell (2-1, 3.79) and freshman Brandon Woodruff (0-2. 3.12) to get the baseball first. 

 

 

 

Mississippi State (33-21, 15-14) 4.  

 

No. 4 Kentucky (41-14, 18-11) 3 

 

 

 

W - Luis Pollorena (4-0) 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 2 K in 28 pitches 

 

 

 

L - Jerad Grundy (4-3) 4.2 IP, 4 H, 4 ER, 3 BB, 5 K in 73 pitches 

 

 

 

S - Jonathan Holder (6) IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, K in 10 pitches 

 

 

 

MVP: Daryl Norris (1-for-3 with 3 RBIs off a 3-run home run) 

 

 

 

Turning point: 4th inning - The Dudy Noble Field crowd of 4,116 roared its approval when Norris cranked his first Bulldog home run off the light pole in the Left Field Lounge area. 

 

 

 

 

 

All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage. 

 

 

 

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