By MATTHEW STEVENS
Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said Friday night he will not lose any sleep over sending his starting pitcher for the ninth inning but looks at the seven runners left on base before that decision as the turning point.
The Bulldogs (5-1), who were three outs away from its sixth straight victory in 2011, gave up a single and a inside-the park home run to the first Belmont hitters that came to the plate in the Bruins’ 2-1 come-from-behind victory at Dudy Noble Field.
“This is one of those deals where you hit line drives with runners on second and third off the pitcher’s glove and it ricochets to the shortstop and that’s when you’re going – OK, we’re going to have to fight through some things today,” Cohen said.
After finishing eight innings of shutout work on the mound in 105 pitches, Devin Jones was given the opportunity he wanted which was to throw the first complete game at Dudy Noble Field since Ricky Bowen did it in 2008.
“I definitely wanted to go back out there but it’s always tough to lose like that,” Jones said. “We knew from the start that this team was pretty good and it would be a close game.”
The final inning ruined the second quality start for the Eupora native and ended his 15-inning scoreless streak on the mound just 12 pitches later. Cohen made it clear after the game there was no debate at all to going to a relief pitcher for the final inning to close out a one-run lead.
“He retired 13 of 15 guys (and) my catcher is telling me he’s got unbelievable sink – so much more sink than he’d had the first two or three innings,” Cohen said. “Because he’s got so much sink, he gets to a 1-2 (count) and you think he’s our best opportunity at a ground ball.”
Belmont left fielder Derek Hamblen was fooled on a breaking ball by Jones (1-1) but stayed back enough to bloop a single to right field which was immediately followed by his teammate Dylan Craig hitting what the 2,073 in attendance thought was a routine fly ball to centerfield.
MSU centerfielder Brent Brownlee turned it into an adventure quickly after running in two steps and immediately realizing the mistake he’d made. The junior outfielder couldn’t make up the ground in time for the ball to roll to the Polk-Dement Stadium wall and watch Craig sprint around the bases for his first home run of the season and the Bruins (3-3) only extra base hit of the evening.
“Brent Brownlee has made that play a thousand times – not sure what happened there,” Cohen said. “The rule is when the tying run is on first base, you don’t get anything over your head. That looked a little bit little leagueish.”
Before those two batters, Jones hadn’t allowed a hit since the third inning and had registered an out to 13 of the last 15 Belmont hitters he’d faced.
Last season Mississippi State was 18-1 when leading after eight innings.
On a colder day with the wind blowing in, Mississippi State managed just six hits due to being 2-for-14 with runners on base and 0-for-7 with runners in scoring position.
“We were swinging the bats well and just couldn’t find any holes today,” MSU's Daryl Norris said. “Devin pitched his heart out.”
Norris, who was named Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Week after his first weekend of college basketball, scored the Bulldogs only run off double-play ball by fellow freshman C.T. Bradford.
Belmont, who were picked sixth in the Atlantic Sun Conference the preseason coaches’ poll and split a four-game series with Illinois State last weekend, got two of its five hits on the day from a pair of players (Tim Egerton and Jared Breen) hitting a combined 1-for-32 this season. The Bruins trotted out closer Jon Ivie for the save as the senior, who made the National College Baseball Writers Association Preseason Stopper of the Year Watch List, has shut down each of the Bruins three victories this season.
Mississippi State will try to rebound from its first loss of the season by sending sophomore Chris Stratton to the mound today for a 2 p.m. contest.