By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – Mitch Slauter has caught some tough breaks this season, from surgery on this throat to a fractured hand. But not long after Tuesday night bled into Wednesday morning, the Mississippi State catcher finally got something to go his way.
Slauter’s looping two-out single to center field lifted the No. 16-ranked Bulldogs to a 2-1 win over Missouri in 17 innings at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium in the first round of the SEC Tournament.
The final game of the day turned into the longest SEC Tournament game ever played at Hoover Met, which has been hosting this event since 1998. It’s tied for the longest SEC postseason game, and it’s the longest game in Missouri baseball history.
With the win, No. 5 seed MSU (41-16) advances to face No. 4 seed South Carolina (39-16) on Wednesday night, again in the late game.
Tuesday’s affair lasted four hours and 39 minutes. State had plenty of chances earlier in the game to win, and it finally capitalized in the 17th. Wes Rea led off with a walk, and after Missouri reliever Jake Walsh (2-2) got two outs, Slauter lifted a 1-2 pitch into center to score pinch runner Kyle Hann from second base.
“I’m glad to see a ball fall for him, because he has had so many frustrating things happen to him this year with sickness and injury and everything else,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “It’s very fitting that he got that game-winning hit, because he deserved something good to happen to him.”
Slauter, a senior who entered the game in the 12th inning, started all but two games at catcher for MSU last year. But the throat and hand issues have limited him to 34 games this season, and he’s started twice since returning from the hand injury on May 4.
Prior to his game-winning hit, Slauter was 0 for his last 21 at-bats, his last hit coming April 5 against Florida.
“That being my first hit, hopefully that’s the monkey getting off my back and (I can) get on a roll as I get more at-bats here toward the end of the season,” Slauter said.
Missouri (18-32) was playing in its first SEC Tournament, and it wasn’t about to go away easily. After ace pitcher Rob Zastryzny tossed nine innings of one-run ball, first baseman Keaton Steele moved to the mound and tossed seven shutout frames.
MSU banged out 16 hits but stranded 19 runners. In the 12th, Brett Pirtle singled, then tried to score all the way from first on a hit-and-run, but was caught in a rundown.
With a man on third in the 13th, Daryl Norris’ drive to deep right-center field was tracked down by Logan Pearson.
In the 16th, two superb plays by Missouri second baseman Josh Lester kept the game tied. With two men on, he made a diving stop of Hunter Renfroe’s infield single to keep Adam Frazier from advancing past third base, and then Lester went onto the outfield grass to field a Pirtle grounder and threw him out at first.
“You just feel like there’s 20 different ways you could’ve won the game,” Cohen said.
Missouri, making its SEC Tournament debut, again wasted a stellar outing by Zastryzny, who’s 2-9 this season and got a no-decision Tuesday. Over his last four starts, the junior left-hander has allowed six earned runs in 31 innings for an ERA of 1.74 – and Missouri lost all four of those games.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better game,” Mizzou coach Tim Jamieson said. “It’s been a microcosm of this year.”
MSU loaded the bases with one out in the third, but Renfroe struck out looking, and Pirtle lined out. Two innings later, though, Renfroe stroked a two-out RBI single to tie the game at 1-1.
Renfroe was one of three MSU players with at least two hits, and Frazier led the way with three. Cohen used 23 players, six of them pitchers, and had very little left on his bench when the game ended.
MSU, which played six games in six days last year to win this tournament, now has to bounce back for a well-rested South Carolina team.
“These kids are resilient,” Cohen said. “They’re 18 to 22 years old, they’re resilient. They’ll get a bunch of sleep, they’ll go eat a bunch, and then we’ll start the whole thing over.”
Reliever Will Cox (3-1) threw three shutout innings to earn the win. The Amory native allowed one hit and struck out two.
Missouri scratched out its lone run in the third inning. After nine-hole batter Brannon Champagne – an .093 hitter entering the game – singled sharply to center field, he moved to second on a Trevor Fitts wild pitch.
Another wild pitch sent him to third, and catcher Nick Ammirati’s wild throw on the play brought Champagne home for a 1-0 lead.
Making his second career start, Fitts logged a season-high 3 1/3 innings, allowing one run on three hits with two strikeouts and a walk.
Reliever Chad Girodo tossed 2 2/3 shutout innings, and Ben Bracewell followed with 2 1/3 innings of scoreless ball. Jonathan Holder and Ross Mitchell combined for 5 2/3 scoreless innings.