FINAL: MSU 3, Southern Miss 0

ATLANTA | A recap of MSU’s win over Southern Miss today at Russ Chandler Stadium.

The buzz: Mississippi State proved that it’s more than just happy to be here, with strong pitching, superb defense and a couple of timely hits making the difference in the first game of this NCAA Regional. Starter Luis Pollorena had to work out of a few sticky situations, but it was easily his best start of the season, and the second time he’s beaten USM in two months.

Big inning: MSU (35-23) was nursing a 1-0 lead in the sixth when a mid-game move by coach John Cohen paid off. After starting left-fielder Trey Johnson struck out his first two times up, Brent Brownlee replaced him and smoked a two-run single against a drawn-in infield. The inning began with a Nick Vickerson walk and Jaron Shepherd opposite-field single. Both moved over on Cody Freeman‘s sac bunt.

Key stats: USM (39-18) has gone scoreless for 25 consecutive innings. … USM stranded 10 runners, MSU just five. The Golden Eagles left men on base in seven innings … Southern Miss, which leads the nation in double plays turned, had none today. State had one.

MSU at the plate: The Bulldogs had seven hits, all through the first six innings. C.T. Bradford had two hits and a walk but never made it back around to home. Nick Vickerson had an RBI double in the first inning.

USM at the plate: The Golden Eagles had eight hits, never more than two in an inning. They were 1 of 7 with runners in scoring position, including an inning-ending double play in the fifth. There were men on first and second in the second inning when Chase Fowler was picked off first base by MSU catcher Wes Thigpen – it was Thigpen’s sixth pickoff of the year, tops in the SEC (pitchers included).

MSU on the mound: In six innings, Pollorena (7-5) allowed five hits, walked three and struck out three on a season-high 118 pitches. He’s now held USM scoreless for 11 2/3 innings, but he got plenty of defensive help from the likes of shortstop Jonathan Ogden and third baseman Jarrod Parks. Caleb Reed worked the final three innings for his 12th save, giving up three hits and fanning four. He struck out the side in the ninth.

USM on the mound: Ace Todd McInnis went the distance, giving up three earned runs on seven hits, striking out six and walking two on 116 pitches. After Brownlee’s two-run single, McInnis (8-3) retired the final 10 batters.

Bottom line: MSU is making the most of its first NCAA Regional in four years, and if it pitches and defends this well all weekend, it could go places. The win was made extra sweet because it came against an in-state rival that at one time thought it might host a regional.

Quotable: “We did what we have to do, which is defend and pitch and attack the strike zone. I thought Luis was very good because he got to both sides of the plate with his fastball.” – Cohen

Up next: MSU gets the Georgia Tech-Austin Peay winner at 6 p.m. Central time Saturday. Cohen said freshman RHP Evan Mitchell (5-1, 3.49) is the probable starter tomorrow, and he’ll know for sure later after watching some of this next game.