March 19, 2013 11:29:08 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- It wasn't how anybody associated with Mississippi State University baseball program planned it but the result was effective.
MSU battled back from an unexpected 5-0 deficit to avoid an upset at Dudy Noble Field with a 7-6 victory over Alcorn State University Tuesday night.
"It was a crazy evening that certainly didn't start the way we wanted to," MSU coach John Cohen said.
MSU has won all 12 meetings against the Braves program since the first matchup 20 years ago but this matchup Tuesday was the only the second where the winning margin was four runs or less.
For the second straight appearance, MSU sophomore right-hander Brandon Woodruff failed to get out of the first inning against a Southwestern Athletic Conference opponent. The former fifth round selection by the Texas Rangers out of Wheeler High School recorded less than three outs in a third straight appearance.
"There's no doubt in my mind that Brandon Woodruff is going to be a spectacular pitcher at Mississippi State University but he's going through a rough period right now," Cohen said. "His stuff is just too good for him not to excel."
Alcorn State (4-18) tagged Woodruff for four runs in the first inning and got another run to give the Braves dugout early life in the first pair of frames.
"He's a stud pitcher and he'll be just fine," MSU senior catcher Nick Ammirati said. "We all have confidence that he'll be just fine soon."
In his last start against Mississippi Valley State, Ammirati and Woodruff were removed immediately from the game leading to a confusing start for the Bulldogs.
Woodruff, who Cohen said is fully healthy from the elbow tenderness he was fighting through in early spring, was unable to have any command as the Braves batted around against him in the first.
Woodruff, who was a former participant of the 2010 Under Armour High School All-American Baseball Game, finished with three hits, three earned runs and two walks in just 2/3 of an inning.
On a night where three Southeastern Conference schools (University of Kentucky, University of Missouri and University of Georgia) lost in mid-week non-conference play, Cohen harkened back to his first head coaching position at Northwestern State to describe the effort of Alcorn State against his current MSU club.
"The weekends in SEC play take so much out of your club and I remember being in the Southland Conference and it didn't matter who we had on the weekend but our SEC opponent on that Tuesday was our Super Bowl," Cohen said. "You better be ready for it in our league and you better be ready for it because everybody is going to bring their 'A' game."
Woodruff's battery mate defensively helped out his pitching staff in his effort at the plate as Ammiratihad a career high three hits Tuesday night. The senior from Sparta, N.J., completed his effort in the No. 9 spot of the MSU (20-4) order with two runs and a RBI after reaching base four times.
"If Nick Ammirati doesn't get those hits for us tonight, I don't honestly know where we'd be in this ball game," Cohen said.
Similarly to his disastrous outing on March 5 against MVSU, Woodruff was bailed out by another impressive relief effort by freshman right-hander Myles Gentry. In his team-leading 13th appearance, Gentry (2-0) had a career high eight strikeouts while allowing just one unearned run in four innings for the win.
"He throws 64 pitches while keeping all of them down in the zone and he's a guy where you look up and realize that he's already through four innings," Cohen said.
After two straight rocky appearances in non save situations, Bulldogs sophomore closer Jonathan Holder got two strikeouts in the ninth inning to earn his seventh save of the season. Holder is now tied for sixth in school history with 16 saves and one more away from breaking into the school's all-time Top 10 list for a single season.
MSU will travel out of the Magnolia state for the first time this season when they go to Kentucky for a SEC series starting Friday at 5:30 p.m. It will mark the first time Cohen has returned to coach a game at Cliff Hagan Stadium since leaving Kentucky for his current position at MSU.