By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State’s lineup is slowly starting to resemble its old self.
Daryl Norris returned, C.T. Bradford and Brent Brownlee both had key hits, and the Bulldogs took the series opener from Vanderbilt on Friday, 7-4, in front of 2,770 at Dudy Noble Field.
After missing 17 games with a knee injury, Norris, normally a third baseman, started at designated hitter and went 2 of 3 with an RBI. Coach John Cohen told reporters on Thursday he wasn’t sure when Norris would be back, but the sophomore told Cohen on Friday morning after batting practice that he could go.
“We’re all slowly getting back in there,” said Norris, who as also hit by a pitch. “It’s nice to have all of us back. Hopefully we’ll continue to get better from here.”
Bradford, who recently returned from a shoulder injury, was 1 of 4 with a run scored, with his single sparking a four-run third inning. Brownlee’s pinch-hit single in the seventh gave State (19-11, 4-6 SEC) an insurance run.
It was both Brownlee’s first hit and first RBI since Feb. 25. He missed 17 games after undergoing knee surgery and returned to the lineup last weekend at Auburn, going 0 for 5 in two games there.
“I really worked on rhythm this whole week to be able to get back out there,” said Brownlee, a senior who stayed in the game in right field. “I was able to pull that one out. It felt good.”
MSU led 2-0 when it broke things open in the third inning. Wes Rea and Norris had back-to-back RBI singles, and then Sam Frost made it 6-1 with a two-run double to left-center.
At that point, Frost, Norris and Rea were a combined 6 for 6 with six RBIs. Rea got the MSU scoring under way in the first with a two-out, two-run single.
Rea went 2 of 4 with three RBIs, while Frost had a pair of doubles and two RBIs. MSU out-hit Vandy (12-18, 3-7) 10-8 but committed three errors in the field.
Chris Stratton (7-0) got the win for MSU, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits and striking out six.
The Tupelo native saw a spot of trouble in the sixth when Spencer Navin doubled in a run and Riley Reynolds stroked a two-out, two-run single to cut it to 6-4.
Caleb Reed threw the final three innings for his seventh save.
Kevin Ziomek (2-5) lasted just two-plus innings for Vanderbilt, giving up four runs on five hits.
Kendall Graveman will start on the hill today for MSU, which is seeking its first league series victory.
“You want to take two, but everybody in the clubhouse right now would really want to sweep this one,” Rea said. “So that’s our goal.”