April 17, 2010 11:33:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Two home runs by Ryan Duffy and a complete game by Chris Stratton on Saturday lifted the Mississippi State baseball team past Tennessee 11-7 at Dudy Noble Field.
Mississippi State tied the Super Bulldog Weekend series at one game each heading into today''s rubber match.
For Duffy and Stratton, who received a shaving cream pie-to-the-face celebration, the win provided a major boost after Mississippi State coach John Cohen was ejected from Friday''s game.
Cohen missed the game and was out recruiting as a result, and he missed a thorough performance by Stratton, who gave up six earned runs on eight hits to earn his fourth win of the season.
Duffy sparked Mississippi State (18-17, 4-10 Southeastern Conference) offensively by going 4 for 5 with two home runs and four RBIs.
Mississippi State rallied after Tennessee (18-18, 4-10) scored four runs in the fifth inning to take a 5-2 lead.
Duffy was the victim of a pair of disastrous plays in right field in the fifth inning as he misjudged the flight of one fly ball and struggled to get a glove on the very next play and ran into the right field wall to give up back-to-back triples.
For a moment, it appeared another solid start by Stratton would be wasted after last Saturday''s 8-5 loss.
But through Duffy, Mississippi State''s response was immediate with a first-pitch, solo homer to right field.
Duffy''s first homer preceded a clutch, two-out single by Jaron Shepherd to score Russ Sneed and Wes Thigpen.
"I played like absolute garbage in the outfield today," Duffy said. "Thankfully I made up for it at the plate and helped Stratton out a little bit. He threw nine, but it seemed like he threw 11.
"Chris has a heck of a game. I''m so proud of that kid. He''s not a freshman, he''s a junior in my eyes. He''s a warrior."
Duffy said he wasn''t aiming for the fences in his at-bats, but his contribution came at a critical time for the Bulldogs, who are clinging to slim NCAA tournament hopes with an RPI in the 30s.
Stratton, whose been the most consistent of Mississippi State''s revolving door of freshman hurlers, went into the final inning with pitching coach Butch Thompson''s blessing to finish the game.
After a visit to the mound in the ninth inning, Thompson knew Stratton had enough left to get out of the inning and wrap up the game.
"To be honest, I probably walked up there with the intention of taking him out," Thompson said. "I started looking at the pitch count and stuff, and I saw that conviction in him. I thought Chris deserved to have that crowd cheer for him like that. It was a special day and a special moment."
Stratton''s complete game came after he joked with Thompson by saying, "I guess I''m going nine tomorrow,'' after the Bulldogs used five pitchers and gave up 22 hits Friday night.
"I was joking, but apparently I did have to go nine," Stratton said. "Thiggy (catcher West Thigpen) did a great job of calling the game today. He said it was just me and him."
Thompson credited the team''s offensive response in the fifth inning with giving Stratton the added confidence to come back from the damage in the top of the frame.
Stratton and the MSU defense held through two more scoreless innings after tying the score 5-5 in the fifth before the Bulldogs broke the game open in the bottom of the seventh.
Tennessee made a pair of pitching changes only to see Mississippi State surge ahead 11-5.
By that time, the Bulldogs had chased Tennessee pitcher Stephen McCray, who hit five batters and forced the home plate umpire to warn both benches as a result.
McCray gave up five earned runs on eight hits in six innings.
Mississippi State scored two runs against McCray, who MSU''s Nick Vickerson described as "wildly effective" in the first inning.
Vickerson struggled to get to McCray, but registered his first hit of the game with a three-run homer to the Left Field Lounge before Duffy went deep to right for a three-run jack to give the Bulldogs an 11-6 lead in the seventh.
"(McCray) was always around the zone; he''d miss it, he''d miss small then he''d be in there," Vickerson said. "He''s a sneaky pitcher."
Tennessee was led at the plate by Khayyan Norfork and Charley Thurber with two RBIs each.
Thompson said the team is undecided on today''s starter, though Ben Bracewell was ready to come into the game Saturday if Stratton couldn''t finish.