June 2, 2013 12:49:37 PM
STARKVILLE - Mississippi State University baseball has a drill they work on every week in practice where immediately when the batter steps in the box, there's already two outs and a two-strike count.
Saturday night, under the stress of postseason conditions and in front of 11,124 nervous fans at Dudy Noble Field, that drill paid for the top seeded Bulldogs.
The MSU offense thrived when two outs were on the scoreboard as all of its runs from the 6-2 victory over the University of South Alabama came with two-out hits Saturday night in the winners bracket game of the 2013 NCAA Starkville Regional.
"Mentally we're trying to convince our guys that there's two outs and two strikes on them all the time," MSU coach John Cohen said. "That's when they are taking their best swings. That's when they square balls up in the middle of the field and not get big with their swing. I think in front of these massive crowds, you go to effort and swing really hard. The game penalizes you for that every time."
The 3-6 of the Bulldogs order (Hunter Renfroe, Brett Pirtle, Wes Rea and C.T. Bradford) all had run scoring hits in the fifth and seventh innings to complete the second consecutive victory in the 2013 NCAA Starkville Regional. MSU will play the winner of that USA/UCA matchup in a 7 p.m. game tonight and will now have to lose in that contest and again in a Monday night game to not advance to its second Super Regional in three years under coach John Cohen.
"It's big, I really do (because) it's a great opportunity," Cohen said of winning Sunday. "Obviously the momentum will be on somebody else's side if you take it to Monday."
MSU is promoting a "White Out" for Sunday's game as fans are asked to wear white before they arrive to Dudy Noble Field Sunday night.
A two-RBI single through hole at second base by Pirtle had the fans at Dudy Noble Field off its feet in the fifth inning of a electric atmosphere to give MSU its first and final lead of the evening. The single through the right side marked the 35th consecutive game that Pirtle has gotten on base as the 176-pound cleannup hitter has provided more than adequate protection for MSU's projected first round pick Hunter Renfroe.
Following a 2 for 4 night at the plate against Central Arkansas in the Bulldogs opening game of the 2013 NCAA Starkville Regional, Rea added a run-scoring single immediately after Pirtle to give the MSU bullpen more than acceptable cushion. Alex Detz, a junior college transfer from Cuesta (Calif.) College, had his second consecutive three-hit game and is 6 for 7 with three runs scored so far in the tournament.
"He kind of reminds me of a collegiate Don Mattingly," Cohen said. "His stroke right now is just so simple and making it look really easy. It's real easy - you take balls and you swing at strikes right? Except very few people can do that on a consistent basis."
Ross Mitchell (12-0) had another quality relief appearance turn into a pitching victory as the sophomore left hander handled a quality South Alabama lineup for 5 and 1/3 innings of scoreless work.
"Ross came into the game and just pounded the strike zone with sink and just what's he's done all year," Cohen said. "I was just tell him, that you guys mention to me that 'Hey, he's 12-0, or 9-0, or 7-0,' and every time somebody says that I just think, is that possible?"
Mitchell's 12 wins in the 2013 season ties him for sixth all-time in school history for a single season and six behind former MLB player Jeff Brantley's 18 in 1985. The Smyrma, Tenn., native saved MSU in his 30th appearance of the season by keeping the power hitting Jaguars off balance with his variety of off-speed pitchers.
"That's as dominant an 81-84 (miles per hour) as you're going to see in college baseball." - South Alabama coach Mark Calvi said of Mitchell. "You see a lot of lefties 81 to 84 and they get hit really hard. He has the ability to keep it off the fat part of your bat."
Mitchell was able to get USA (43-19) to ground into five outs in a 64-pitch effort.
South Alabama ace pitcher Matt Bell (6-2) cruised through the Bulldogs lineup the first time through as the right hander allowed just two hits in the first four innings inning performance that included two strikeouts.
For the sixth time in seven games, MSU senior left hander Luis Pollorena was chased off the mound before the sixth inning as four straight singles gave the Jaguars a 2-0 lead in the fourth.
After going a combined 4 for 6 Friday in a 9-4 opening round victory over Mercer University, the duo of Nick Zaharion and Nolan Early found offensive success with run scoring hits in the fourth off solid contact on Pollorena in the second time through the order.
South Alabama, which won the Sun Belt Conference regular season championship, is now one loss away from its 2013 season being over and will play in a elimination game against the University of Central Arkansas today at 2 p.m.
"We'd really love a chance to play MSU again and in order to do that we have to take care of business (Sunday) afternoon," Calvi said. "I felt good about how my team played throughout the game and just didn't catch a break."
Overall regional hosts are 28-2 in the 2013 NCAA tournament with 14 of the 16 top seeds sitting pretty in the regional championships at 2-0. Mississippi State has lost a NCAA Regional only four times after winning the first two games (1982, 1989, 1991 and 1992). The 1989 and 1992 regionals occurred at Dudy Noble Field in Starkville.
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. Sunday at the Bluff today explores biology ENTERTAINMENT
3. Big Band experience returns to Golden Triangle ENTERTAINMENT
4. St. Paul's announces Valentine's Day organ recital ENTERTAINMENT