By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Samford would like everyone to know that it’s for real.
The Birmingham school, playing in its first NCAA regional, made a statement on Friday by roughing up Mississippi State ace Chris Stratton en route to a 5-0 win at Dick Howser Stadium.
Samford (40-21) hit four home runs, three of them off Stratton (11-2), a junior right-hander who had never given up more than two in a game during his career.
Samford entered the game sixth in the country in home runs, and coach Casey Dunn said on Thursday that his team, which plays in the Southern Conference, wanted to prove some doubters wrong.
“We definitely thought we could hit this guy,” said right fielder Brandon Miller. “It was a confidence booster that we struck first, and that’s what we were planning to do. That’s what coach wanted us to do: go out there and strike first.”
Miller, the nation’s home run leader with 23, dealt that first blow with a solo homer in the second inning, when Stratton hung an 0-2 breaking ball.
The long balls backed a strong outing by Samford starting pitcher Charles Basford (10-2), a Tallahassee native who said that coming out of high school he wanted to pitch for MSU, calling in a “dream school.” In eight-plus shutout innings, Basford gave up five hits, struck out four and walked four.
Two of those hits were infield singles by Mitch Slauter.
“He went at hitters, and he gave you his best stuff,” Slauter said.
Basford said his slider was the best it’s been all season, and playing in front of hometown fans provided some extra motivation.
“I thought Charles did a great job of staying with what makes him successful and got a lot of weak swings because he was down in the zone today,” Dunn said.
Stratton gave up four runs on six hits in 72/3 innings. It could have been his final outing as a Bulldog, unless he wants to turn down first-round money from a Major League team. The draft starts Monday.
“I’m not worried about that right now,” Stratton said. “We’ve got to come back and compete (today).”
MSU (39-23), the SEC Tournament champ, will play UAB at 11 a.m. Central time today in an elimination game. Samford plays Florida State at 6 p.m.
It was a 1-0 game until the eighth, when Samford hit three more homers.
Saxon Butler belted his 14th of the year, and then C.K. Irby’s two-run shot to center field made it 4-0 and chased Stratton.
Christiaan Durdaller capped the inning with a solo homer.
This was only the second time this season MSU has given up more than one home run in a game.
“Three out of the four home runs were with two strikes,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “Obviously our kids are disappointed, but the tournament goes on.”