May 22, 2013 10:42:21 AM
HOOVER, Ala. -- Redemption defined the Mississippi State University baseball team's opening-round game in the Southeastern Conference tournament.
Senior catcher Mitch Slauter, who is "85 to 90 percent" since nursing a broken right hand, delivered the game-winning single in the 17th inning to give MSU a 2-1 victory against the University of Missouri at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. The hit helped end a 4-hour, 39-minute marathon, and came against the team Slauter likely would've signed with out of Barton County Community College in Kansas three years go had MSU not offered him a scholarship.
"Missouri (recruiting coordinator) Karrick Jackson was my contact there and tonight was the first time I got to see him since they recruited me," Slauter said. "It was just nice to see one finally drop for me."
Before his single to short center field that scored freshman pinch runner Kyle Hann from second base, Slauter was in a 0-for-20 slump.
"I didn't get a whole lot of it, but sure enough, that's the one that falls for me," Slauter said. "We had runners in scoring position nearly every inning of the extras, so you'd have to believe it had to end sometime."
No. 16 MSU (41-16), the tournament's No. 5 seed, used 23 players in the game that ended at 12:35 a.m., and tied for the longest game in SEC tournament history. It also tied for the longest game in MSU's 123-year history, and was Missouri's longest game.
"This is a game of opportunity, and I thought some of our guys made the most of their opportunity tonight," MSU coach John Cohen said. "We were just horrible offensively, and in the long run, we found a way to win a ball game because our pitching was so dominant."
In eight innings of relief, MSU relievers Jonathan Holder, Ross Mitchell, and Will Cox combined to allow just three hits. Cox (3-1), who is from Amory, got his first victory since March 3 by throwing three shutout innings in a 29-pitch outing. Cox has been effective since he changed his pitching motion and went to a side-arm style against right-handed hitters. He had two strikeouts against a Missouri team that came to Hoover, Ala., hitting .247 this season.
Since surrendering a game-winning home run to LSU's Mason Katz in the first SEC game of the season at Dudy Noble Field, Cox has commanded his pitches in a much more confident manner.
"I learned not to give up home runs to really talented players in this league," Cox said. "It's just a matter of focusing, and tonight I was so locked in on what I was doing in the dugout between innings."
Junior Rob Zastryzny likely made his final appearance for Missouri (18-31). The Tigers' ace, who Baseball America rated 77th in its Top 250 prospects, allowed seven hits in nine innings in a 124-pitch effort. The 6-foot-3 left-hander mixed a 93 mph fastball with a biting slider and professional changeup to get ground balls.
"I believe (he) will be pitching in the Major Leagues very soon because he has the talent and the competitiveness," Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. "He was focused and on a mission tonight. He made no mistakes."
Hunter Renfroe blooper into center field in the fifth that tied the score was MSU's only other run-scoring hit. Renfroe had been in a 1-for-16 slump. The projected first-round pick in next month's Major League Baseball First-Year Player draft and 2013 C Spire Ferriss Trophy winner, which is given to the best college player in the state of Mississippi, went 2-for-7 with a walk. He was one of six MSU players with multiple hits.
"He did need that so badly, and it was just one of the few productive swings we took toward the middle of the field," Cohen said. "It's important for him to find a way to square that barrel up after the frustration I know he is feeling."
Missouri, the 2012 Big 12 Conference tournament and was the No. 12 seed for its first SEC tournament, took a 1-0 lead in the third when MSU starting catcher Nick Ammirati threw the ball into left field trying to throw out senior Brandon Champagne trying to steal third base.
"Tonight just reaffirmed the way I feel about the entire league," Jamieson said. "There isn't much different in the pitching from the Big 12 and SEC, but the benches are so much deeper and filled with so much talent."
The teams used 36 players. MSU used six pitchers, four pinch runners, three pinch hitters, and 24 members of its 27-man roster. Both teams went scoreless for 10 innings, setting a new record for most consecutive scoreless innings in a SEC tournament game.
"You just feel like there's 20 different ways you could've won the game earlier, but I'm sure Missouri is in that dugout feeling the same way going home," Cohen said. "When you look back at your season when it's over, these are the games that make you feel maybe something great was meant to be and supposed to happen."
By surviving the thriller, MSU avoided a disappointing loss to a team with a Ratings Percentage Index of higher than 150 that would have left a negative impression on the NCAA Baseball selection committee before host sites are announced Sunday evening. MSU hopes to earn a chance to play host to a NCAA Regional.
"You don't go into this thinking, 'Are we going to host with a loss here?' because you're trying to just manage your way through a ballgame," Cohen said. "You worry about tomorrow tomorrow, or, in this case, it's you worry about today this morning. We left a lot of people in Starkville saying, 'See ya tomorrow', and we didn't know it would come as quickly as it did."
Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson said the Bulldogs likely will use senior left-hander Luis Pollorena (6-3, 4.11 ERA) tonight against No. 4 seed University of South Carolina in the last game of the double-elimination round. It will be the 20th career start and 56th appearance at MSU for the 5-foot-7 southpaw. It also will be a rematch of last week against left-hander Nolan Belcher.
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