By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Mississippi State is one win away from advancing to its second NCAA super regional in three years.
A four-run fifth inning and strong long relief work by Ross Mitchell lifted No. 14 MSU to a 6-2 win over South Alabama in front of 11,124 at Dudy Noble Field on Saturday night.
The win advanced State (45-17) to today’s 7 p.m. Starkville Regional championship game. It’ll play the winner of the 2 p.m. elimination game between South Alabama (43-19) and Central Arkansas (40-21).
If MSU loses today, it will have another chance Monday night to advance to the super regional round. It did so two years ago, winning the Atlanta Regional before falling to Florida in the next round.
Mitchell (12-0) tossed 5 1/3 innings of shutout relief, allowing four hits and striking out five.
“I was just trying to let them hit it early,” Mitchell said. “Pretty much every time they made early contact it happened to go toward somebody.”
The relatively soft-throwing Mitchell ran into a spot of trouble in the seventh, allowing two baserunners with one out. Then he got a groundout and a strikeout looking.
“That’s as dominant an 81-84 (mph) as you’re going to see in college baseball,” South Alabama coach Mark Calvi said. “He has the ability to keep it off the fat part of your bat.”
MSU’s big inning came thanks to a lot of good two-out hitting. After Adam Frazier’s two-out single and a walk to Alex Detz loaded the bases, Hunter Renfroe legged out an infield single to score Nick Ammirati.
Then Brett Pirtle pulled a two-run single into right field for a 3-2 MSU lead. Wes Rea followed with an RBI single to close out the four-run rally.
“I didn’t have the best at-bats the first two at-bats, so I was going to change something,” Pirtle said. “I was going to do whatever it took to get on base, and at that time I had bases loaded, and the team needed me, so I wanted to square it up.”
MSU had nine hits, three of them by Alex Detz, who is 6 of 7 this weekend. Pirtle had two hits, and C.T. Bradford had a two-out, two-run single in the seventh.
State batted 7 of 16 and scored all six runs with two outs.
“Mentally we’re trying to convince our guys there’s two outs and two strikes all the time, because that’s when they’re taking their best swing,” head coach John Cohen said. “They square balls up and get middle of the field and don’t get big.”
South Alabama took a 2-0 lead in the fourth with the help of three consecutive singles. Robby Campbell’s groundout scored a run, and then Drew Cofield singled one home.
That spelled the end for MSU starter Luis Pollorena, who in 3 2/3 innings allowed the two runs on four hits with no strikeouts and a walk.
Jaguars starter Matt Bell (6-2) allowed five runs on six hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Cohen isn’t sure yet who he will start on the mound tonight. Three options he listed are Trevor Fitts, Myles Gentry and Jacob Lindgren.
“The job’s not finished,” Cohen said. “The team we’re going to play (today) will be on a hot streak because they will have won a ballgame. They’ll be feeling good about themselves.”