April 5, 2013 10:47:28 PM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University finally pitched it, defended it and hit it like an elite Southeastern Conference team on a Friday night.
Behind the first quality start from senior left-hander Luis Pollorena in nearly two years, MSU won its first Friday night home game in league play since the 2012 season finale sweep of the University of Kentucky on May 17, 2012. The Bulldogs got multi-hit nights from four different players in route to a confidence-building 7-3 victory over the University of Florida.
"The first inning didn't start the way we wanted to but outside of that, we played a pretty good ball game," MSU coach John Cohen said. "We had a bunch of situational offensive plays that were very good and defensive we played very good baseball."
After losing its first three conference series to Louisiana State University, Kentucky and the University of Arkansas, MSU (25-8, 4-6) will go for its first SEC series win Saturday at 3 p.m. as Pollorena's roommate and senior MSU right-hander Kendall Graveman goes to the mound.
MSU got contributions out the unlikely candidates tonight as Brett Pirtle continued his hot streak with the bat in SEC play with two hits, an RBI and a run scored from the cleanup spot. Pirtle, who is now hitting .324 against league opponents, got MSU on the board first with a RBI-double to properly protect MSU slugger Hunter Renfroe in the Bulldogs lineup.
"You just can't understand how big that was for him and for the team," Renfroe said. "There's always one point in the game where he's on point and that was it tonight."
Pirtle had a dazzling defensive play reaching back glove side on a bad hop at second base and scored on a past ball by Florida catcher Taylor Gushue. Pirtle came to MSU after hitting just .222 at Panola (Texas) College but has a .459 slugging percentage in SEC play.
"Coach Cohen talks about our identity and I went back to that in my second at-bat to just put the ball in play," Pirtle said. "After I got barrel on a ball, I was able to relax again and everything worked out just as I'd hoped."
After going down in the first inning for the sixth time in seven games, MSU ran the pitch count up on Florida starting pitcher Jonathon Crawford and finally broke for four runs in the third inning to take the final lead of the game. Crawford (1-5), who was SEC pitcher of the week following a complete game shutout of the University of Mississippi last weekend, threw 107 pitches in just five innings that included five walks and three unearned runs.
"We allowed that third inning to just get away from us there and anytime you're on the road in the Southeastern Conference you have to pitch it and play defense better than we did tonight," Florida coach Kevin O'Sullivan said.
By the time Pollorena (5-1) was getting handshakes and pats on the bat from his teammates along with MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson, he had gone six innings for only the third time in his college career allowing just two runs on six hits in 79 pitches. The quality start was Pollorena's first since pitching six shutout innings in a 3-0 victory in the 2011 NCAA Regional opener against the University of South Mississippi at Georgia Tech University.
"They were patient and after the first time through the order, we got a lot of first-pitch strikes that paid off for us in the long run," Pollorena said. "That's all Slauter, Coach Thompson and myself talked about in the dugout is getting ahead in the count. We must have said it over and over."
Renfroe continued his torrid pace as a leading candidate for SEC player of the year with his 10th home run of the season, a solo blast on a fastball off Florida reliever Parker Danciu to make it 5-2 in the 6th inning. Renfroe came to the ballpark leading the SEC in five power categories Friday night (home runs, RBIs, total bases, on-base percentage and slugging percentage) and left the series opener against the Gators with a 2 for 4 evening that included two runs scored and a outfield assist from right field to third base in front at least a half a dozen MLB scouts in the stands.
Gushue was the only multi-hit effort by the Gators (14-17, 4-6) as they were stymied by MSU's pair of deceptive southpaws in Pollorena and Ross Mitchell. MSU sophomore closer Jonathan Holder got his ninth save of the 2013 season by throwing two innings of relief. The single-season number of nine ties him with his 2012 total of himself and Caleb Reed for seventh in school history. Holder, who pitched two scoreless innings for the first time since May 5, 2011 at the University of Alabama, vaulted into fifth all-time with 18 career saves as he moved ahead of Jay Powell Friday night.
MSU hasn't won a series against Florida since 2007 and has the comfort of knowing their most consistent pitcher waits to take the mound Saturday as Graveman (3-2, 2.43) has a career 1-1 record versus the Gators in five career appearances.
"Right now we're not going to settle down because we're in attack mode and our focus right now is to sweep - that's the most important thing," Pollorena said. "We know we're good enough to do that too."
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.
2. The First Revolutionary Scientific Change BOOK REVIEWS