Despite being without a trio of its most productive players, Mississippi State picked up where they left off, grinding out a 5-3 win over the Mercer University Bears.
On a cool night at Dudy Noble Field, the Bulldogs (13-2) had trouble finding a groove from the mound but managed to effectively pitch around trouble most of the evening.
“We spent the last 24 hours trying to explain to our guys just how good this club is," MSU baseball coach John Cohen said. "They’re a good club. They’re not 11-3 by accident.”
Left-hander Ross Mitchell drew his first start of his career lasting a couple of innings before the Bears plated the first run of the contest.
In the second, Mercer (11-4) opened the frame with a single to right by Nick Backlund, who is batting .473 for the season, followed by a one-out single from David Reid-Foley. Chesny Young drew a walk to load the bases setting the table for Nate Moorhouse to hit a soft grounder to third scoring Backlund to tie the game at 1-1.
In the home half of the frame, State answered with a manufactured run of its own.
Hunter Renfroe was 1-for-4 for the evening, but his one hit was a double down the left-field line to lead off the inning. He advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Taylor Stark single to left.
Junior right-hander Chris Stratton entered the game in the third without his usual dominating command, but managed to pitch around a couple of jams. The Tupelo native allowed one run on a solo home run in the fourth on his way to picking up the win over five innings of work.
“It wasn’t very pretty but we’ll take it as a team for sure,” said Stratton, who walked five batters in addition to striking out seven. “You can’t say enough about (the defense), but I’ve got to get better if we’re going to win in the SEC.”
Cohen agreed the command wasn’t there but felt Stratton did have a solid outing. “He didn’t command it the way that he normally does but still," Cohen said. "If you look at his line, he had a good game. He made big pitches when he needed to. I’m not going to make excuses for him but these are tough conditions to pitch in when it is a little cool and you have to sit on the bench for extended minutes. I think he is to the point where he expects more out of himself and that’s a plus. This was not a bad outing for Stratton.”
The Bulldogs took the lead for good in the fifth.
Mitch Slauter drew a bases loaded walk followed by a Wes Rea fielder’s choice giving State the 4-2 lead.
The two teams traded runs in the eighth inning before Caleb Reed entered the game in the ninth innings for his fourth save of the season. At the plate, Mississippi State turned in five runs on eight hits while holding Mercer to three runs on seven hits. Adam Frazier and Demarcus Henderson both had multi-hit nights with a pair of 2-for-4 efforts.
On the mound, the MSU hurlers punched out 11 Bear batters while walking six. The two clubs return to the diamond this afternoon for a 2 p.m. first pitch at Dudy Noble Field.