By Logan Lowery
LAFAYETTE, La. – Mississippi State coach John Cohen saw the game on the line with two outs in the bottom of the fourth inning and did not hesitate to bring in closer Jonathan Holder.
The Bulldogs’ starting pitcher, Ben Bracewell, had walked three Jackson State batters to force in the tying run. Holder came on and got the strikeout to end the inning with the bases loaded.
Holder’s night was not done there, going the rest of the way on the mound and baffling the Tigers with nine strikeouts. It allowed MSU to scratch across two runs in the sixth inning to pull out Saturday’s 3-1 win and advance to the championship game of the Lafayette Regional.
“We felt the game was at hand when he came into the ballgame,” Cohen said. “That’s where the game was going to be won and lost. That’s when we’ll bring in our best guys out of the bullpen and certainly he’s one of those two guys.”
Holder (7-1) gave up just one hit in the 5 1/3 innings he worked. The Gulfport native threw 65 pitches – 49 strikes.
“Getting ahead early was the key tonight because Jackson State can swing it,” Holder said. “When you get behind them they’ll have a tendency to put a really good swing on a ball so I tried to learn watching their game (Friday) night. I was trying to get ahead early and using my fastball to my advantage.”
The Diamond Dogs (39-22) had seven hits in the contest and advance to play for a regional title for the third time in the past four seasons.
Brett Pirtle went 2-for-3 with a double while Jake Vickerson was 2-for-4 in the victory.
Jackson State (32-24) was limited to just three hits led by Tilur Smith’s sixth-inning double.
Desmond Russell (9-5) was a tough-luck loser for the Tigers. Russell hurled a complete game allowing three runs and two walks with seven strikeouts.
JSU will face No. 1 Louisiana-Lafayette in an elimination game at 1 p.m. today with the winner moving on for a rematch against Mississippi State in the nightcap at 6 p.m. on ESPN3.com.
The Bulldogs need just one victory to advance to a super regional and will have to be defeated twice in the regional. A final game would be played on Monday should MSU lose tonight.
The Diamond Dogs have used just four pitchers so far in the regional and have All-SEC juniors Ross Mitchell and Jacob Lindgren available.
“Having Ross (today) is big,” Cohen said. “He’s a winner and incredibly competitive. Our kids like playing behind him. No matter who we’re playing, we’re going to play a great club. Ross knows that. Lindgren is anxious and wants to pitch and hopefully we’ll get great performances out of those guys.”