By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
OMAHA, Neb. – Despite a stiff wind blowing straight in, Hunter Renfroe found the right trajectory in the fifth inning, and his big blast launched a red-hot Mississippi State team into a new orbit.
Renfroe’s three-run homer sparked the Bulldogs as they topped Oregon State, 4-1, in front of 18,868 at TD Ameritrade Park on Friday in the College World Series. Up next is MSU’s first appearance in the championship round, a best-of-three series against UCLA that begins Monday at 7 p.m.
MSU (52-18) was leading 1-0 in the fifth when, as has been its habit, it got a two-run rally going. Back-to-back singles by Adam Frazier and Alex Detz brought up Renfroe, who worked a 3-1 count against Oregon State starter Andrew Moore.
The first-round draft pick hit a laser that cut through the wind and landed in the MSU bullpen for a 4-0 lead. It was Renfroe’s 16th homer of the year and first since May 4, a span of 21 games and 91 at-bats.
Moore said he was trying to “bury” a curveball to Renfroe, but he left it up in the zone. Renfroe said he did not initially think the ball would clear the left field fence.
“The reason I didn’t think it was going to go was because I actually hit it toward the end of the bat right there and didn’t get all of it,” Renfroe said. “I knew it had a good chance when I saw the trajectory of the ball, and once I got to first base I got excited about that.”
MSU is 8-1 in NCAA postseason play, and for the first time is 3-0 in a CWS. This is the Bulldogs’ ninth trip to Omaha, and now it has a chance to do what no other MSU team has done.
“I know it sounds crazy,” coach John Cohen said, “but our kids just think something good is going to happen.”
Renfroe’s homer certainly fired up MSU starting pitcher Kendall Graveman.
“I think that’s the biggest fist pump I’ve given all year,” said Graveman (8-5), who turned in 52⁄3 strong innings, allowing one run on four hits.
He out-dueled Moore (14-2) in a rematch of the CWS opener, when MSU beat the Beavers 5-4. In his shortest start of the season, Moore allowed four runs on nine hits.
MSU finished with 11 hits, and four players had two apiece. The Bulldogs did not strike out even once, the first time that’s happened in any CWS game since 2001.
Moore said he was “making some not too bad pitches, but they were getting the barrel on it and just getting some hits. They made me work all day.”
Each team turned three double plays, including an inning-ending 6-4-3 twin killing by MSU when Oregon State had men on first and second.
Oregon State (52-13) also had two men on in the ninth and the tying run at the plate, and so MSU turned to closer Jonathan Holder. He got the final two outs for his 21st save.