March 1, 2014 12:01:30 AM
PLAYER OF THE GAME: Mississippi State senior CF C.T. Bradford (4-of-4 with the game-winning run in the 8th)
STARKVILLE -- Finally Mississippi State had a game that looked familiar to their style of victories during their impressive run last season.
The Bulldogs scored three runs in the eighth inning to take the game's final lead and win over Michigan State in the Friday night game of the Diamond Classic at Dudy Noble Field.
Mississippi State (7-4) used its small-ball mentality to score the tying and game-winning runs at Dudy Noble Field. The Bulldogs first five batters in the eighth inning reached first base on Michigan State's bullpen. After sitting in the dugout on a 30-degree night for two hours, Daniel Garner came up with a 2-out, run-scoring single to give the Bulldogs its final lead of the game. Garner saw just three pitches in the at-bat but was preparing for the matchup as soon as Michigan State (4-4) put out left-handed reliever Cam Vieaux on the mound.
"About the sixth or seventh inning, I went into the locker room and started preparing myself mentally with a few swings," Garner said. "You just got to be mentally focused to perform in a situation like that."
In the six years under John Cohen, Mississippi State accomplished its 25th come-from-behind victory when down after 6 innings of play. Garner's hit raises his average to .391 and is hitting .533 in his last five games with 4 RBIs.
"It's no secret we think Daniel is going to be a great hitter at Mississippi State with his power, bat speed and ability to evaluate the strike zone," MSU coach John Cohen said. "It's really hard for him to stay mentally locked in especially when it's cold."
Mississippi State got another brilliant relief effort from junior Ross Mitchell (1-0) as the fourth-year player went 6 2/3 innings innings and only gave up two hits. The 69-pitch outing was reminiscent of his brilliance last year and raised his career record at MSU to 17-0.
Mitchell came in to support MSU junior right-hander Brandon Woodruff after he struggled to find the strike zone again in his third start of the season. Woodruff lasted just 2 1/3 innings and allowed six base runners in that stretch. It's the fourth time in his last six starts that Woodruff has left the game before the third inning was completed.
"We're just going to keep throwing him out there because we think he's got a big time arm," Cohen said. "I just feel like when we get some good weather, it'll make all the difference for him."
Michigan State, who earlier in the day lost to Eastern Illinois 10-5 at Dudy Noble Field, got a 120-pitch effort from ace Mick VanVossen but Spartans coach Jake Boss had to remove the hurler after the Bulldogs got his pitch count high in the later innings.
"I have to give Jake credit because a lot of coaches when a kid is dominating at Mississippi State like that would've left that kid in there," Cohen said. "Jake gets it. He knows he'll need that guy when it matters the most."
C.T. Bradford tied a career-high with four hits while scoring the game-winning run in the eighth off Garner's line drive to left field. Bradford and Brett Pirtle accounted for six of Mississippi State's eight hits Friday.
"He's just swinging it so well there's no doubt and I like where he is right now with his swing," Cohen said. "Just getting that barrel out in front is something a senior leader needs to do to show our younger guys that are struggling."
In just his second start of the season behind the plate, Cody Walker earned two RBIs including giving the Bulldogs an early 1-0 lead with a bases-loaded walk in the second. Walker, a junior college transfer from Columbus, Ga., is trying to earn his way back into the likely two-man rotation at catcher once Southeastern Conference play begins and he played solid defensively behind the plate Friday night.
Pirtle was part of the most controversial aspect of Friday's game as the senior seemed to stretch his right arm inside a tag at home plate on a squeeze play but umpire Terrance Mobley called the runner out. Immediately Cohen raced out of the dugout expressing his displeasure with the call for several minutes and replay on HailState.com showed Pirtle as safe on the play. Cohen hasn't been ejected from a game since 2012 after being suspended by SEC commissioner Mike Slive for violating the league's sportsmanship rules. The call turned out to be irrelevant as Garner and Walker had RBI hits following the call.
Cohen announced junior right-hander Trevor Fitts (2-0, 2.31) will get the start Saturday on the mound against Eastern Illinois for the 1 p.m. start time. The Bulldogs will then further evaluate its bullpen situation before committing to a starting pitcher for the 4 p.m. rematch with Michigan State Saturday.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.