Coaches often praise the little things it takes to build a program or win games.
They lament the little things when players fail to do them and losses occur.
The little things decided the outcome on Friday afternoon with the Mississippi State Bulldogs picking up their seventh win of the season 5-4 over the Connecticut Huskies in walk-off fashion.
The Bulldogs trailed by one run entering the ninth inning and with runners on second and third, a Mitch Slauter chopper to short pressured UConn’s Tom Verdi to make a perfect throw home to prevent Matthew Britton from scoring the tying run.
As Britton barreled down the third baseline, the Husky catcher couldn’t handle the throw and as the baseball went to the backstop, not only did Britton score but Adam Frazier did as well to give State the win.
“It is all the little things, its the ball in the dirt where Britton does a good job there,” said head coach John Cohen. “You know he really made a big mistake early in the game where we don’t get the out, but late in the game, he squares a ball up and that turns out to be the tying run.”
It wasn’t just the final play where the Bulldogs did the little things either. Frazier drew praise from Cohen for the little things he did to simply be in position to score the winning run.
“It was the little things that nobody is going to notice,” Cohen said. “You’re going to talk about the error there on the throw to first base on the ball that Adam hit. But Adam ran a 4.17 and that’s really cooking down to first base, that’s pressuring the defense. “He made great call on scoring the run because the ball was in front of him and that was his call to keep running.”
On the other side, UConn didn’t do the little things and that’s something that has plagued them all season. Entering the game, the Huskies had committed 16 errors and they added a couple more against the Bulldogs.
However, the ninth inning heroics wouldn’t have been possible had it not been for a big swing from Trey Porter and another solid effort from Chris Stratton.
Stratton entered the game in the fourth inning in relief of Ben Bracewell who pitched three scoreless innings of one-hit baseball. The Tupelo native didn’t have his best stuff but in true Bulldog fashion delivered a gutsy performance. He struck out nine in six innings of work, but he threw one pitch he wish he could have back and that one resulted in a three-run home run that gave the Huskies a 3-0 lead in the fourth.
“I was just leaving the ball up and you can’t do that against them when they are swinging it the way they are,” said Stratton. “I wish I could have that one back but my team really saved me there.”
As Cohen watched, he began to see a different Stratton, one he wouldn’t have seen in the past.
“I think a year ago you might not have seen him get that command back and battle through that," Cohen said. "I’m really proud of the way that guy competes. He threw that one bad pitch that left the yard but he went six plus innings and did a heck of a job. He didn’t have his best stuff but he just kept battling his heart out. You could see him trying to find it and he did.” Stratton’s effort kept State within striking range entering the seventh trailing 4-0 which was an accomplishment because UConn’s starter Brian Ward baffled MSU hitters through the first six frames.
“That first guy had something about him and we couldn’t get on him,” Porter said. “He wasn’t a guy that would throw it by everybody. We just couldn’t catch up on him.”
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Ward left the game after walking C.T. Bradford to open the seventh inning. State got on the board with a Demarcus Henderson RBI ground out, scoring Bradford.
In the eighth, the MSU offense warmed up when Porter got a change-up he hit for his third home run of the season closing the gap to 4-3.
“That guy is sure a tough competitor and he is always there,” said Cohen. “He’s hard to pitch to because he is on top of the dish and he has a short, compact swing and can elevate pitches that are down in the zone. That’s what happened there.” Mississippi State picked up five runs on seven hits with Daryl Norris and Hunter Renfroe both picking up a pair.
UConn on the other hand scattered eight hits and managed four runs while striking out 10 times.
Mississippi State is back on the diamond for a twinbill today, Lipscomb at 11 a.m. and UConn at 2:30 p.m.