February 24, 2010 8:36:00 AM
David Miller -
STARKVILLE -- Down, but not out.
That seems to be a theme for the Mississippi State University baseball team this season.
For the third time in four games, MSU overcame a deficit, this time thanks to Luke Adkins and Connor Powers, who hit back-to-back solo home runs in the bottom of the ninth inning in a 6-5 victory against the University of Alabama-Birmingham on Tuesday night.
Senior closer Nick Graffeo (0-1), who entered the game to start the ninth, was the unlucky hurler on the night. He watched a breaking ball drop right over the plate to Adkins before he fed Powers a fastball to take the loss.
"I think (Graffeo) kind of rushed it," Powers said. "I think Luke did that to him and rattled him a little bit coming out of the pen. Luke had a lot to do with getting that fastball up for me to hit."
Adkins'' tying run capped a 3-for-5 night that included two RBIs. The home run for Powers (2-for-4, RBI) was his third of the season and 41st of his career. He has 10 RBIs entering a weekend series against Southeastern Louisiana University.
Powers said he was sure he''d see a pitch to hit in the ninth, despite his reputation as a power hitter.
"I don''t think at any point if you just tied the game they''d want to put the winning run on first," Powers said. "If I''m a coach, I''m going to play my odds and say this kid''s probably not going to hit out."
The odds didn''t work out for the Blazers in their season debut, which included three inning-ending double plays and an early 4-0 lead after a wild pitch by MSU freshman starter Luke Bole plated Mikael Saway from third base.
MSU (4-0) rallied from early deficits Friday and Sunday in wins against Rhode Island, and Tuesday proved no different.
The Bulldogs had a rocky start on the mound and in the field. Nick Vickerson opened with an error at second base. Bole then allowed back-to-back RBI hits to Digger Towe and John Frost before hitting a batter in the second inning. He avoided disaster by forcing a fly out to get out of a bases-loaded jam to end the inning.
"They came to play and we really weren''t (ready)," Powers said. "When I was sitting there at first base after they scored those three runs it just didn''t look like we were there."
Still, Powers agreed with coach John Cohen that the Bulldogs'' resiliency and ability to close with a bang has been impressive.
A large part of Tuesday''s rally centered around the team''s young arms, which were instrumental during the team''s sweep of the Rams. Outside of Bole, who went two innings and gave up two earned runs on four hits, the Bulldogs leaned heavily on Chad Girodo, Kendall Graveman, and Ben Bracewell and received six quality innings from the freshmen.
Girodo was especially crisp, going four innings and giving up one earned run on two hits. He struck out three and retired the side in three of his four innings.
"We''re thrilled with Girodo," Cohen said. "He did today what he''s done since the moment he walked in campus. His stuff isn''t off the charts, but he can locate three pitches in the strike zone, and when he goes against an aggressive club like (UAB) he can really take care of them. That kid was pretty daggum impressive.
"For Mississippi State historians, I want to call him John Harden because he''s got a very similar type of breaking ball. He works quick and the defense makes great plays behind him."
The Bulldogs made a big push in the seventh against Beau Pender. After walking Vickerson, Pender beaned Brent Brownlee before Adkins hit an RBI single to right. Another walk to Powers loaded the bases before Russ Sneed walked to bring in another run to make it a one-run game.
Sophomore Devin Jones, who worked the ninth, benefited from the strong relief work to get the win.
"Our whole dugout feels like when Ben Bracewell and Devin Jones go out on the mound it''s over," Cohen said. "They feel like we''ve got an unbelievable chance to win the game. That''s when it becomes fun -- when you have those types of people around."
Nick Routt will start for MSU at 4 p.m. Friday against Southeastern Louisiana. Chris Stratton is slated to pitch Saturday.