By MATTHEW STEVENS
PEARL – Sometimes breaking down a baseball game is simply a matter of perception.
In one dugout, Mississippi State came away from Trustmark Park at Pearl thinking it forced its opponent into mistakes and capitalized at the right time.
The feeling during the nearly three hour bus ride back home for Ole Miss will be consumed with mental errors that cost it a key rivalry game.
“Ole Miss helped us a little bit but we took advantage of it and that’s important,” Mississippi State head coach John Cohen said. “It was a sloppy ball game, but our kids hung in there.”
Mississippi State came away with the Governor's Cup trophy for the first time since 2008 after a dominating 6-1 victory Tuesday night thanks to timely bloop hits and stellar pitching from a trio of underclassmen.
“I think we just put pressure on them even if they were chink hits,” senior designated hitter Cody Freeman said. “We took the marginal pitch, the ball that could’ve been called a ball or a strike and got the call.”
The Bulldogs (23-14) used the running game to confuse Ole Miss starting pitcher Matt Tracy early on as a safety squeeze by Freeman turned into the Rebels first error of the contest and sparked a two-run opening inning.
“These kinds of games are really perseverance because both us and Ole Miss are coming off big weekends,” Cohen said. “To get a lead early on with these bats and a big ballpark, I think our kids really settled down when things like that happened.”
Already staring at a two-run lead, right-handed starter Kendall Graveman used the large confines of Trustmark Park to his advantage by getting easy fly ball outs early in counts.
Graveman, who tied for the team-high in wins with four, was pulled after allowing just three hits in four innings that took just 34 pitches but last year’s weekend starter used his sinker pitch to his advantage. The sophomore, who had struggled to find the strike zone two weeks ago in Pearl against Southern Miss, was fortunate enough to be the recipient of two line out doubles in the second and the fourth frame.
“When you can make one pitch and get two outs, it’s always huge,” Graveman said. “I think they saw the flag blowing more than I did. I think they were trying to lift balls and with this beautiful ballpark and these new bats, it’s hard to get one out of here.”
In a game where State came with a plan to use a bullpen-by-committee philosophy, left-handed sophomore Chad Girodo made a difficult for a third pitching change to occur by allowing a run over the next 3 2/3 innings. The southpaw from Hartselle, Ala., would’ve kept his shutout intact if not for a triple down the right field line by Ole Miss’ Will Allen as the freshman plated the Rebels first run one batter later on a ground ball to the right side.
“Kendall gave up some hard-hit balls early but he got zeroes on the board,” Cohen said. “You can’t say enough about what Chad Girodo did, he came in and got some big swings-and-misses. And Taylor Stark got a big strikeout there, that’s really the whole ball game, the punch-out ends the inning.”
Two of Mississippi State’s runs Tuesday were unearned and a credit of head-scratching defense by the Rebels including a fifth-inning blunder where right fielder Matt Smith simply dropped a routine fly ball off the bat of Freeman with two outs where the senior closed his glove before the ball was securely in the pocket allowing Bulldogs senior Jarrod Parks to score from first base.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot at the wrong times tonight,” Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco said. “They were just really dumb errors (and) a lack of concentration.”
Parks, who had never won a game against Ole Miss in Pearl before Tuesday’s contest, walked away with the most valuable player award following a 2-for-3 evening that included a pair of runs scored.
Freeman, whose only hit in the game produced his 21st RBI of the season, vaguely remembered a 6-5 victory three years prior against the Rebels in Pearl when the senior was coming off an injury and the Governor's Cup was his first game back.
Tuesday’s victory marks the third time in school history State will have multiple wins at the ballpark that is the primary home for the Double-AA affiliate Mississippi Braves.
Mississippi State will next host the defending national champions as second-ranked South Carolina comes to Dudy Noble Field for a three-game tilt.
The Bulldogs are now 17-1 in games where they’ve scored six runs or more and send another message to NCAA Regional selection committee members by improving to 8-6 against teams in the Top 40 in the latest Ratings Percentage Index.
“This gives us a lot of momentum going into the weekend with them being a good club but we feel like we’re a good club,” Freeman said. “We showed that beating Florida and Vanderbilt and we just have to keep playing like we did tonight.”