March 26, 2013 11:13:02 PM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- In a 13-5 victory over a quality mid-major opponent Tuesday night, Mississippi State University baseball got some answers.
The Bulldogs coaching staff, still shaking their head after losing two of three at the University of Kentucky last weekend, can smile over the fact that two huge power options got some offensive confidence.
MSU (22-6) used eight runs over the final two innings to break open what had been a tight game all evening at Dudy Noble Field into a comfortable victory over an Austin Peay State University club that came to Starkville ranked No. 23 in the latest ratings percentage index.
The middle of the Bulldogs order, which has had a problem in Southeastern Conference play protecting star power hitter Hunter Renfroe, finished the night 6 for 12 with six RBIs and five runs scored.
"This was a night for so many reasons we needed to score some runs and I thought we found some ways to do that creativity tonight," MSU coach John Cohen said.
MSU senior designated hitter Trey Porter was 2 for 4 in the sixth hole of the order Tuesday night with three RBIs and a pair of runs scored.
After Austin Peay (19-5) took an early 2-0 lead off MSU starting pitcher Will Cox, Porter lifted a fastball over the right field wall to make it 4-2 lead after the first frame. Porter was just 6 for 26 coming to the ballpark Tuesday night. The senior from Hurley stated an emphasis was made in the MSU dugout to help out Renfroe before opponents intentionally start to put the Bulldogs hottest bat on first base with a walk.
"I'll say this -- Hunter Renfroe hasn't seen a lot of good stuff to hit lately and you've seen the numbers he's still putting up," Porter said. "We know that the power guys have to step up and produce and we feel like we're taking good swings like we did tonight."
Due to nagging injuries through the first two months of the season to Wes Rea (quad), Renfroe (hand) and C.T. Bradford (hamstring), the Bulldogs haven't had a consistent lineup card for Cohen to fill out.
"We needed to respond after the doubleheader at Kentucky and I thought it was key we did that tonight," MSU junior leadoff hitter Adam Frazier said. "We know, for whatever reason, our starting pitching is struggling and all that means is we need to pick them up with some offense."
MSU used a small-ball technique to gain an advantage with eight stolen bases against the Governors including a double steal that involved second baseman Brett Pirtle stealing home for the go-ahead run in the seventh.
One inning later, MSU converted on a suicide squeeze play where 272-pound Wes Rea was instructed to steal home and Nick Ammirati executed a perfect sacrifice bunt. The play was the final of Ammirati's career-high three RBIs.
"Bottom line is we're going to have to do that in conference play and it's something we haven't executed well this season so far," Cohen said. "I was happy to see us do that without much difficulty tonight."
Instead of deciding to have their pitchers individually throw bullpen sessions on the side before their next conference series this weekend, Austin Peay had their arms throw an inning in this mid-week game. The strategy gave MSU nine different looks on the mound throughout the evening with no pitcher lasting longer than two innings.
"I'd rather see a guy for seven or eight innings to know what we're in for when we get in the box," Porter said. "When that happens, the key is to relax and trust your approach at the plate so you can find the barrel of the bat."
Despite getting a no-decision on the mound, MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson got some clarity on Cox. The sophomore right-handed pitcher from Amory hadn't gotten a start since March 3 and may still be considered for a possible weekend rotation spot in future weeks.
In his first extended action in almost a month, Cox couldn't fool the Ohio Valley Conference leading lineup in batting average, on-base percentage and runs scored. Despite making good pitches according to the preliminary grade of Cohen, Cox was unable to finish the second inning after surrendering four runs on five hits in just 48 pitches.
"It's easier to look at the tape with the pitcher over his shoulder but I thought Cox was finding the bottom of the zone and they went down and hit some of them," Cohen said. "Honestly, I don't initially have much of a problem with the way he attacked them early. They just found ways to get hits."
After the outing by Cox, Cohen confirmed barring a late injury that senior left-handed pitcher Luis Pollorena will get the Sunday start when the Bulldogs take the field for a 1 p.m. start in Fayetteville, Ark.
The left-right combination on the mound of Ross Mitchell and Myles Gentry combined to give up just one run in 7 1/3 innings as they both made their team-high 15th appearances of the 2013 season. Gentry (3-0) got the win in a 30-pitch performance that included allowing just one base runner once the game was tied at 5-5 in the seventh.
MSU will try for its first SEC series victory this weekend at the University of Arkansas as the Bulldogs try to take two games at Baum Stadium for the first time since 2007.