STARKVILLE — Fewer than 24 hours after being drubbed 9-0 by arch-rival Ole Miss, Mississippi State Sunday climbed back into what Mississippi native and broadcasting legend Red Barber famously called “the catbird’s seat.”
What that means is on top, which is where the Bulldogs are currently in their long-time rivalry with Ole Miss. The Bulldogs won a hard-fought 7-5 victory by virtue of a five-run sixth inning when State greeted three different Ole Miss relievers with six hits in seven at bats.
And that was the story: The Ole Miss bullpen did not get the job done. State’s did. And so it is that State won the three-game series two games to one, which is only part of the story. The Bulldogs have now won 16 of their last 19 games against the Rebels. That’s dominance. That’s way on up there in the catbird’s seat.
A Sunday crowd of 10,522 turned out on a picture-perfect day for baseball. After a Saturday when a much larger Dudy Noble Stadium crowd of 13,000-plus never got a chance to explode, the Bulldogs gave their fans plenty to cheer on The Sabbath.
The crowd became so loud that when Landon Sims left the bullpen to enter the game in the top of the ninth inning, the standing ovation left him, he said, with goosebumps. That was before he even threw a pitch. “When I heard that crowd I literally got goosebumps on my arms,” Sims said.
The effect must have been positive. Sims needed only 13 pitches to finish off the Rebels for his second save of the weekend. The freshman’s season numbers are phenomenal. He has struckout 47 batters in 24.1 innings, allowing only a single run. When the game is on the line, he is money.
After being silenced by Ole Miss lefty Doug Nikhazy on Saturday, Bulldog batters got the crowd into the game much earlier. The loudest moment probably came in that fateful sixth inning when Tanner Allen greeted Taylor Broadway, the Rebels fourth pitcher in the inning, with a bases-clearing triple that broke a 4-4 tie and gave State the lead for good.
Broadway’s first two pitches to Allen were balls.
“I knew he didn’t want to walk me with the bases loaded,” Allen said. “I figured I’d get a pitch to hit. I got a ball in the zone and the rest is history.”
History was a low line drive that left the bat at 110 mph and sizzled all the way to the right-centerfield wall just to the left of the 380-foot sign.
It was a sudden turn-around. Ole Miss was leading 4-2 with sophomore right-hander Drew McDaniel providing good work on the mound. McDaniel allowed only two runs through the first five innings and then got the first batter out in the sixth with his 91st pitch of the day. That’s when Rebel coach Mike Bianco decided to go to his bullpen and called on freshman right-hander Josh Malitz, who was treated rudely. First Logan Turner, then Josh Hatcher and then Brayland Skinner all ripped singles. Bianco had seen enough and called on senior Austin Miller.
Miller struck out one batter before Scotty Dubrule and Rowdey Jordan (who had four hits, including a homer) both singled to load the bases and set the stage for Allen’s heroic triple.
“We had to use three pitchers to get two outs,” Bianco said. “It’s a shame. We just could not get off the field.”
State kept getting hit after hit. In contrast, Ole Miss left the bases loaded in both the third and seventh innings.
“That’s what it comes down to, doesn’t it?” Bianco said. “Do you get the big hits when you need ‘em. Today, they did and we didn’t.”
That has become more than a trend in this series.
“It’s a big deal for our guys,” State’s Chris Lemonis said. “We’ve got a lot of Mississippi guys on our roster. It’s important to them. It’s important, period. They are a good team, one of the best teams we have played.”
So, State moves to 27-8 overall, 10-5 in the conference. Ole Miss drops to 26-10, 9-6 in the league. Yes, and there’s plenty of baseball left to be played for two teams hoping their seasons end in late June in Omaha.