April 9, 2014 11:02:46 AM
Scott Walters - email@example.com
PEARL -- When Derrick Armstrong raced home with the game-winning run, a lot of anxiety was lifted from the Mississippi State baseball team.
Armstrong scored on a walk-off wild pitch to help No. 17 MSU defeat Southern Mississippi 4-3 in 11 innings Tuesday night before a crowd of 3,379 at Trustmark Park.
In need of another victory to bolster its postseason hopes and team morale down after getting swept last weekend at LSU, the Bulldogs garnered a critical victory on a night they lost five runners on the bases and stranded 11.
"We needed that in the worst way possible," Armstrong said. "I'm not going to say anybody was down on the team, but we know we need to keep winning. We really needed that to feel good about ourselves again."
MSU improved to 21-13, while Southern Miss fell to 19-15. After early season high expectations, both teams are fighting for at-large regional berths. The Bulldogs hope to move themselves back into position to play host a regional. To be in that discussion, winning midweek games the rest of the season will be critical. The latest NCAA Ratings Percentage Index figures released Tuesday afternoon placed MSU at No. 41 and Southern Miss at No. 71.
Southern Miss has defeated Southeastern Conference foes Alabama and Ole Miss this season.
"The game should have never been that close in the end," MSU coach John Cohen said. "Give credit to Southern Miss for hanging in there and hanging in there. We feel like we may have left as many as 10 runs out there on the bases. We didn't run the bases well and we didn't do a good job of situational hitting. This end result is a lot better though than the last couple of days."
The Bulldogs have beaten the Golden Eagles six straight times for the first time since the 1991 through 1993 seasons. It matches the second-longest win streak in the series. However, the latest win was MSU's first extra-inning game in 17 appearances at Trustmark Park, and the first extra-inning game against Southern Miss since a 4-2 loss in 1994 in Starkville.
"We like to make it exciting for whatever reason," Armstrong said. "Last year, we got hot at the right time. Hopefully, this year can happen again. We are going to keep plugging away until we really play the type of baseball we can play as a team."
From a pitching standpoint, the team is performing at a high level. In relief of starter Ben Bracewell, Brandon Woodruff, Jacob Lindgren, and Jonathan Holder combined for seven innings of three-hit relief and one run. The four MSU pitchers struck out a season-high 16 batters. The Golden Eagles also hurt their cause by making all three errors.
Woodruff appears nearly back to himself after struggling early in the season. Opponents are hitting .108 (4-for-37) off him in his four appearances out of the bullpen. Holder (3-1) earned the final five outs to get the win.
"Brandon was sensational," Cohen said. "He really came up big for us. He had control of all of his pitchers and kept the batters off stride. (Lindgren) came in and gave up the run thanks to a walk and a hit batsman. Other than that, he was very solid. We pitched it well and defended it well the whole night. It is a situation of doing better with our situational hitting."
The Bulldogs have allowed four or fewer runs in seven of their last eight games. The urgency of the situation was evidenced by Lindgren and Holder -- arguably the squad's two best relief options -- getting extensive time in a midweek game.
"We really needed this to turn things back around," said MSU second baseman Brett Pirtle, who had his team-best third three-hit game. "We were close last weekend, but people look at the wins and losses in the end. We needed to find a way to carry momentum into the weekend."
Gavin Collins and Armstrong each had multiple hits for MSU. The bottom three spots in the lineup had five of MSU's 10 hits.
MSU will welcome Ole Miss to Dudy Noble Field for Super Bulldog Weekend. One game apart in the Southeastern Conference Western Division standings, the Bulldogs and Rebels will play at 6:30 p.m. Friday, 3 p.m. Saturday, and 1:30 p.m. Sunday.
n No. 19 Ole Miss 9, Memphis 1: At Memphis, Tenn., the Rebels used a pair of big middle innings, including a fifth inning that featured two home runs, to beat the Tigers at AutoZone Park.
Will Allen and Sikes Orvis both hit home runs in the fifth to lead Ole Miss (26-8) past Memphis (18-15). Allen went 2-for-3 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Preston Overbey went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
Jeremy Massie (2-2) picked up the win, working five scoreless innings. He allowed four hits and struck out two.
Ole Miss will play host to Murray State at 6:30 tonight at Swayze Field.
n Alabama-UAB postponed until tonight: At Tuscaloosa, Ala., Rain forced the No. 10 Alabama baseball team's game against Alabama-Birmingham scheduled for Tuesday night to be rescheduled for 6:05 tonight
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Scott is sports copy editor and reporter