June 15, 2013 10:58:36 PM
OMAHA, Neb. -- All it takes is one pitch to change a baseball game.
The Mississippi State University players, coaches, and fans saw that cliché almost become a reality on the final pitch of the Bulldogs' 5-4 victory against No. 3 national seed Oregon State University on Saturday in the opening game of the College World Series.
Oregon State (50-12) was in the middle of a ninth-inning rally with runners on first and second, while MSU (49-18) was one out from earning its first CWS victory in 15 years. The 27th out, which often is the hardest and most agonizing out to get in a game, lived up to its billing, as MSU sophomore closer Jonathan Holder hung a 2-2 curveball to Danny Hayes. The first baseman got the barrel of the bat all over the pitch, but right fielder Hunter Renfroe used every bit of the 375 feet in right-center field at TD Ameritrade Park to haul in the baseball on the warning track.
"We're just fortunate to win this game," MSU coach John Cohen said. "The last swing of the bat represents that and we benefited. That ball was hit hard and sometimes things just work out for you in this game."
Said Holder, "I think everybody had a shaky feeling there for a second. The breaking ball was a little high and had nervousness when the ball left the bat. The whole team did."
However, with the large outfields at TD Ameritrade Park and the new BBCOR bats that reduce the power and trampoline effect of balls lifted in the air, Hayes' blast was just short, even though he and his teammates were convinced they'd won the game on a walk-off home run.
"I thought it had a shot," Oregon State sophomore outfielder Michael Conforto said. "I thought Daniel put a great swing on it and it was leaving the yard. It was such a letdown when it didn't."
Conforto, the Pacific 12 Conference Player of the Year, went 4-for-4 in his first CWS game. He also saved a run on a perfect throw home to nail Sam Frost at the plate.
Asked if he saw Hayes' disappointed reaction of Hayes on the final out, MSU first baseman Wes Rea was focused on something else.
"We just won a ballgame, man," Rea said with a smile. "I don't really care what he was thinking at the moment. I was ready to celebrate with my guys."
While he was standing in the middle of the diamond, MSU junior shortstop Adam Frazier looked disgusted as he watched what he thought was a walk-off home run.
"Man, he hung that one pretty bad," Frazier said. "When I shook Holder's hand coming through the congratulations line, I told him you better get that pitch down."
Holder hasn't allowed a home run since a 7-3 loss to LSU on March 17 against LSU . Cohen talked leading up to Saturday's game that TD Ameritrade Park played big, just like MSU's home park at Dudy Noble Field and the University of Virginia's Davenport Field, where they played the NCAA Charlottesville Super Regional.
"Off the barrel, maybe it was just the sound, but I didn't think he got it all," Cohen said. "I thought, 'OK, this thing is over, but that baseball just kept going and going and going.' "
Oregon State, who won the Pac-12 Conference regular season title by two games, was looking for its first walk-off home run since 2007, the year it won its second consecutive national championship.
"The key isn't one swing of the bat in our loss," Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. "I don't think we were very efficient with our 10 hits. The little things lose you a game, and that swing wasn't one of them."
1. Dillingham fits right in as student assistant coach COLLEGE SPORTS
2. Coaches drive MSU to be best COLLEGE SPORTS
3. Caledonia's Cross signs to play volleyball at Huntingdon HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS
5. Origin of MSU's success doesn't get old LOCAL COLUMNS