By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
OMAHA, Neb. – Mississippi State has owned the late innings, especially over the last seven weeks. That proclivity for being clutch could come in handy again today.
The Bulldogs (50-18) are back in action at TD Ameritrade Park, taking on Oregon State (52-12) in the College World Series. MSU needs only to win today (2 p.m., ESPN) or Saturday to advance to the best-of-three championship series, which begins Monday.
MSU has reached this point thanks in large part to late-game superiority. Since May 4 – a 21-game span – State has scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning or later eight times.
MSU is 15-3 in one-run games this season and has won its last 10 one-run games, including the first two here in Omaha. The Bulldogs beat Oregon State, 5-4, six days ago and then downed Indiana by the same score Monday. Both times, MSU took the lead in the eighth inning.
“It just seems like even if we’re losing in the eighth, we’re not down or anything,” catcher Nick Ammirati said. “We never think we’re going to lose.”
That confidence is borne of a psychological approach that has been well-documented during this NCAA tournament run. The Bulldogs like to have fun in the dugout no matter the situation, no matter the score.
Nothing can seem to make them tighten up in tense moments.
“We seem to be getting down a lot early lately, but even the vibe in the dugout is like we’re still up,” said first baseman Wes Rea, whose two-run double lifted MSU past Oregon State in the first meeting.
MSU’s offense has had different heroes this year. Trey Porter came up with the go-ahead hit on Monday, and guys like Demarcus Henderson, Mitch Slauter and Brett Pirtle have had big hits over the past few weeks.
“I don’t think our kids on the bench are saying, man, if so-and-so doesn’t get a hit here, we’re not going to win this game,” head coach John Cohen said. “That’s the mark of a great ball club, is not to have to feel like all your eggs are in one basket.”
It also helps that MSU has one of the country’s strongest bullpens. In eight NCAA tournament games, MSU’s bullpen has a 2.17 ERA, and closer Jonathan Holder has four saves.
State is 45-0 this season when leading after eight innings.
“We have a tough bullpen,” outfielder Hunter Renfroe said, “and we rely on them to come into the games and shut down the games for us when we do get a lead.”