By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Hunter Renfroe quickly dispelled any notion that Friday’s game between No. 3 Arkansas and Mississippi State would be a pitchers’ duel.
The sophomore slugger homered twice in the first three innings as the Bulldogs (16-7, 2-2 SEC) battered starting pitcher D.J. Baxendale en route to an 11-2 victory at Dudy Noble Field. It was the SEC home opener for State.
Renfroe’s first homer was a two-run inside-the-park job in the first inning. His shot to deep center field was misplayed by Jacob Morris, and the ball caromed off the wall. Renfroe easily made the circuit to give MSU a 2-0 lead.
“I looked at coach (Lane) Burroughs, and I see he was pointing at home plate, and I thought, you are crazy,” said Renfroe, who had four RBIs. “He obviously knew more than I did about what was going on in the park.”
Then in the third, Renfroe launched a pitch over the Left Field Lounge seating – another two-run shot – to make it 6-1. Arkansas (20-3, 3-1) had scored in the top half of the frame.
“Balls don’t leave this ballpark like that very often,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “His potential is probably unlike any other player I’ve ever coached.”
Renfroe’s blast provided plenty of breathing room for MSU, which collected 12 hits, including three apiece by Adam Frazier and Mitch Slauter. Trey Porter had two hits, with his two-run single with no outs in the fourth making it 8-2.
That chased Baxendale (5-1), who was charged with eight runs on nine hits.
Entering Friday, MSU had scored more than three runs just once in its previous seven games.
“LSU, Southeastern (Louisiana) – it just didn’t happen,” Renfroe said. “We didn’t get the timely hits with guys on first and second base to move them over. We did a very good job today, and I think we’re going to continue doing that.”
MSU starter Chris Stratton (5-0) held up his end of the pitching battle. After some early struggles, the junior right-hander settled in. In seven innings, he gave up two runs (both earned) on five hits, struck out nine and walked two on 107 pitches.
It was Stratton’s second consecutive start in place of the injured Ben Bracewell.
“We went a lot more changeups today than we did sliders,” said Stratton. “I only threw like two at LSU, so I think they weren’t really ready for it.”
MSU center fielder C.T. Bradford returned from a shoulder injury after missing eight games.
Game 2 is set for 2 p.m. today, with MSU’s Nick Routt (1-2, 4.05 ERA) pitching against Arkansas’ Ryne Stanek (5-0, 1.52).