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Post-game from M.L. 'Tigue' Moore Field: MSU 3, Jackson State 1 - Holder carries MSU to championship round

 

 

 

Matt Stevens

 

LAFAYETTE, La. -- Whether it's the first inning, fourth inning or ninth inning, Mississippi State's coaching staff knows its paid to know when to hand the ball to Jonathan Holder.  

 

Bulldogs head coach John Cohen and pitching coach Butch Thompson can consider that objective fulfilled Saturday night.  

 

With the bases loaded and the game tied at 1-1 in the fourth, Thompson stormed out of the dugout and asked for his closer. This MSU staff isn't interested in waiting to the late innings to use their best reliever. The fourth inning and Jackson State momentum needed to be closed right there by Jonathan Holder.  

 

"He didn't get the save, he got the win tonight," MSU coach John Cohen said. "What's the difference? It's our job as coaches to determine the key moments in the game and use our best players in those situations." 

 

An easy strikeout later by Holder in the fourth led to a dominating relief outing that sent Mississippi State to a 3-1 victory and a berth in the championship round of the NCAA Lafayette Regional.  

 

Saturday night marked the 25th time an MSU starter has been pulled beyond the end of the fifth inning but the Bulldogs are 22-8 when given a hold or save opportunity at any point in the game.  

 

With the game clearly on the line with two outs in the fourth, Thompson called upon closer Jonathan Holder and he responded with a career-high nine strikeouts over 5 1/3 innings.  

 

"There was never really a conversation about whether I would end up going the rest of the way but I just felt like I was getting them off balance and strikes," Holder said. "By the time the ninth inning came around, I wasn't coming out of the game at this point." 

 

Holder went four innings in a extra-inning loss to Kentucky in the Southeastern Conference tournament last week but MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson was prepared to see if asking him to get 19 outs was too much.  

 

"Butch Thompson has the best saying for this that he probably stole from somebody like we all do in this business but he always preaches 'the batter will tell you all you need to know'," Cohen said. "Their swings told us everything we needed to know about if John had good stuff." 

 

Once they saw ULL lost its opening game to Jackson State Friday, Mississippi State turned M.L. "Tigue" Moore Field into the cajun style of Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs gave the fans, mostly clad in maroon and white, that made the 354-mile trip plenty to get excited about Saturday night. For the third time in four years, MSU has made it to the championship round of regional play.  

 

"I'd love to suggest that it's all about this time of the year and we just sprinkle some magic dust over these kids but they come to us that way already," Cohen said. "They are able to slow their heart rate down and get the job done in pressure situations. That's why I'd like to sit Mr. and Mrs. Holder up here and ask them if there's any way to create another Jonathan Holder." 

 

Since the NCAA has instituted the four-team regional round, MSU has never lost a regional round after winning the first two games. Under Cohen, MSU won both regionals in 2011 and 2013 after  

 

Gavin Collins said Monday he is most relaxed when at the plate because there's less things to worry about then when he's playing defense. The All-Southeastern Conference freshman team selection proved how calm he can be by lacing a run-scoring single that broke open a 1-1 to give MSU its final lead of the night.  

 

The tight rope pitching and defense act that Jackson State (32-23) accomplished Friday night in a 1-0 win over host Louisiana-Lafayette didn't hold as MSU plated a run in the second frame to score first. MSU is now 31-5 this season when they score first.  

 

MSU made solid contact on JSU ace Desmond Russell all evening and a leadoff single in the second by Cody Brown eventually turned into a run on a sacrifice fly by Matthew Britton. Britton, a .252 hitter, has a pair of RBIs this weekend in the Lafayette Regional after driving in the first run of the 5-2 victory over San Diego State Friday.  

 

Russell would go the entire nine innings for a 129-pitch effort that allow JSU to have a rested bullpen against the No. 6 overall seed in Louisiana-Lafayette.  

 

"He would've beat a lot of people tonight because to be 120 pitches in and still throwing over 90 miles per hour is amazing," Cohen said. "We feel very fortunate to come away with this game." 

 

Bracewell had great swing-and-miss action early in his outing but getting six strikeouts in the first three innings but worked in a run in the fourth before MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson made a change.  

 

After struggling with velocity and location of his fastball in Hoover, Holder had both of his out pitches working perfectly just a week later.  

 

"It was a number of scenarios that we played out before the game but hey, they picked out the right one," Jackson State coach Omar Johnson said. "We knew about the curveball but that fastball had extra life to it tonight." 

 

Holder's outing was his second-longest of the 2014 season and still allows MSU (39-22) to be undefeated in the championship round of the NCAA Lafayette Regional without still using top left-handed arms Ross Mitchell and Jacob Lindgren.  

 

"I had to make some physical adjustments with what I was doing with my mechanics and I guess this is the best time to do that" Holder said. "I had to get ahead in counts because I saw on video Jackson State takes some really good, aggressive swings when they get a hitter friendly count." 

 

Cohen, possibly by accident, announced MSU will tab junior left-handed ace Ross Mitchell to start Sunday evening at 6 p.m. against the winner of UL-Lafayette/Jackson State elimination game to take place earlier in the day.  

 

"I'd feel good being 2-0 if we'd thrown everybody because there's some good teams in this regional," Cohen said with a smile. "Having Ross for tomorrow is huge. Lindgren is going to want to pitch too because that's the kind of competitor he is." 

 

 

 

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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