By MATTHEW STEVENS
Caleb Reed earned his present the day before his 21st birthday.
The Mississippi State junior closer worked a near-hitless 2 2/3 innings to earn the save and maintain the Bulldogs giant killer mentality against top teams.
With the 5-3 victory over second-ranked South Carolina Saturday night, Mississippi State (24-15, 7-10 in Southeastern Conference) tied for the league’s most wins over a Top 25 opponent in the latest ratings percentage index.
“It’s big to get those wins when we have played so many good teams in the league,” Cohen said. “That’s a team in South Carolina tonight we feel can make some major damage in the postseason so if we can compete and beat them, it does so much for our confidence right now.”
Reed, whose birthday is Easter Sunday, will get to put his feet up and watch today’s finale against the Gamecocks (1:30 p.m.) as MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson confirmed he was likely unavailable after an impressive 46-pitch performance that included four strikeouts including back-to-back punchouts with the bases loaded to save MSU’s three-run lead in the seventh inning.
Following his seventh save of the season, which ties him for the ninth all-time highest single-single mark in MSU history with current and former major league pitchers Jay Powell, Bobby Thigpen and Jonathan Papelbon, Reed received a shaving crème pie in the face from senior teammate Cody Freeman.
“I can’t say enough again what Caleb Reed does every time he comes in the ballgame for us,” Cohen said. “We knew early that those two guys would be pitching in this ballgame if we were going to have any chance to win.”
With one out in the fourth inning, Cohen wasted no time going to his relief 1-2 punch of sophomore left-hander Luis Pollorena and Reed to close out the ballgame.
“We have been a great one-two punch all season and like I’ve said before, we I come in the game – it has to be over,” Reed said.
Pollorena (5-2) relieved MSU starter Nick Routt and allowed just one unearned run throughout three innings of work. It was the fifth time in six starts that the junior southpaw has failed to get out of the fourth inning but the third time in a month MSU has gone with the Pollorena-Reed combination for more than four innings of work in the middle of a contest.
“It’s a good move,” South Carolina head coach Ray Tanner said with a laugh. “Both of those guys have good stuff and can sneak any of their pitches by you at any point.”
Mississippi State took the lead for the final time in the sixth inning after being the first club this season to touch South Carolina reliever John Taylor (2-1) up for multiple runs in an appearance. The senior righthander, who throws submarine style, took the loss allowing a single to Trey Johnson before throwing the ball under the outfield tarp after MSU senior Wes Thigpen got a bunt down.
Before Saturday night, Taylor had failed to give up multiple runs in an appearance since May 22, 2010 against Florida.
“The ball he threw away was obviously the cause of his troubles tonight,” Tanner said. “Our bullpen has done a more than nice job for us all season so I can’t complain about tonight.
The throwing error tied the game and then MSU senior Ryan Collins got a two-RBI single up the middle for the game’s final runs.
Collins’ only hit of the game and fourth hit of the month gave the Panama City, Fla., native his fourth multi-RBI night of the season.
“We finally got some breaks to go our way tonight,” Collins said. “I was just looking away and hoping to get something in the outfield there.”
Mississippi State got on the board after a trio of two-hit hits concluded with a flare by senior third baseman Jarrod Parks to right field and the inability of Gamecocks outfielder Robert Beary plated the first two runs of the ballgame.
In that two-run, third inning alone State tripled its two-out hit total from Friday night (1) and Parks, who led the Southeastern Conference in average coming into Saturday night with a .400 clip, extended his hitting streak to 12 games with the RBI-single.
“Our kids are so close (and) I can’t tell the outside world how badly our seniors want this,” Cohen said. “I just think we’re so close to turning a corner.”
South Carolina (30-8, 13-4) took the lead after Pollorena induced a line out to second base and a ground ball that should’ve ended the inning but a bad hop bounced off Parks’ chest to extend the frame. The third error of the season for the fifth-year senior would lead to a two-RBI single by Beary giving the Gamecocks its first lead of the evening.
Seven of Mississippi State’s eight hits Saturday night came from the top four spots of the order as they combined to go 4-for-9 with two outs. The Bulldogs will be looking for only its second series win against the Gamecocks since 2002.
South Carolina will try for its sixth consecutive series win today when they send out freshman right-hander Forrest Koumas. Mississippi State is still undecided who will start on the mound with Cohen suggesting candidates for that role being freshmen Evan Mitchell, Daryl Norris or junior Eupora native Devin Jones.