March 3, 2014 9:36:16 AM
Matthew Stevens - [email protected]
STARKVILLE -- A day after tying a 33-year-old stolen bases record, Derrick Armstrong kept running Sunday.
The Mississippi State senior outfielder Derrick Armstrong showed again why he is a player opponents hate to play, delivering a key two-run single in a seven-run seventh inning that pushed No. 18 MSU to a 9-0 victory against Eastern Illinois before a crowd of 7,631 at Dudy Noble Field.
"What you get from Armstrong is a quality at-bat each and every time," MSU coach John Cohen said. "It seems like he's having a six- to seven-pitch at-bat each and every time. The infielders can't position themselves in a normal way because by the time the ball gets to them, he could be safe at first."
Armstrong, a 5-foot-10, 170-pounder, personifies the intelligence and tenacity Cohen has loved to recruit in his six years with the Bulldogs. One day after he had four stolen bases in a 7-1 victory against Michigan State, Armstrong helped MSU (10-4) earn its first shutout of the season, win its sixth-straight game, and complete a 4-0 run through the Diamond Classic presented by Polk's Meat Product.
"I'm just trying to stay with my line-drive or ground-ball approach that's been working," Armstrong said. "When I get on base, I can use my speed on the bases because that's my role on this team."
Armstrong was in the lineup in center field due to C.T. Bradford's nagging left leg injury. MSU trainers and coaches are giving Bradford, who is hitting .342 in 10 games, a couple days off to allow the injury to heal.
"I don't feel any different at the plate, but now I know that my role could come at any moment in a game and so the key is to be ready at all times."
The only negative on the day for Armstrong was he was caught stealing for the first time this season. He balanced that out with a heads-up play on the bases. After a walk to Demarcus Henderson, Armstrong, who was on first base, saw Eastern Illinois had thrown the ball to second base, so he acted like he was in a rundown, which allowing Jacob Robson to steal home for MSU's sixth run.
"We did not have a play on there but it did turn into one," Cohen said. "We needed this weekend to get back some confidence and just see some hits drop like they did for us," Cohen said.
After a frustrating 4-4 start, MSU appears to have regained its confidence as it prepares for a weekend tournament at Arizona that will include NCAA-tournament hopeful California at Santa Barbara.
The Bulldogs ran its mark to 9-0 when it scores first and outhits their opponent. More importantly, MSU played errorless baseball for 36 innings of the four-game set.
"We really defended the field well with double plays and had some running plays in the outfield, too," Cohen said. "To scatter 10 hits in a game you have to be fundamentally sound defensively."
In the seventh inning, MSU sent 13 batters to the plate to break the game open. The Bulldogs had seven hits in the uprising and batted around for the seventh time this season.
Freshman right-hander Dakota Hudson (1-1) struck out a career-high five in a career-high 5 2/3 innings. He also worked out of jams in the first three innings to give the offense a chance to do its thing.
"I thought (MSU catcher) Cody Walker was huge for me today by going out to the mound and calming me down when I got in trouble early," Hudson said. "He just kept telling me to trust my stuff and made sure my rhythm was consistent."
MSU will play host 2013 NCAA Starkville Regional opponent South Alabama at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. Cohen said sophomore Preston Brown will start for the Bulldogs.
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.