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STARKVILLE, Miss. – Mississippi State ushered in Super Bulldog Weekend with a super baseball win Thursday night.
A sacrifice-fly by Mitch Slauter brought home the game-winning run as the Diamond Dawgs knocked off Tennessee 2-1 in 11 innings in the opening game of Southeastern Conference series played before a crowd of 3,725 at Dudy Noble Field.
“I was looking to get something elevated,” Slauter said. “When I knew the ball was caught, I knew we had a chance because Luis (Pollorena) can run some. This was really a great win for us.”
The Bulldogs won a second straight home game by walk-off fashion in extra innings. MSU improved to 22-16 overall and 6-10 in league play, while Tennessee fell to 22-16 and 7-9. The Bulldogs match their longest all-time win streak in the series by taking a sixth straight decision against the Volunteers.
“It was a huge win, because Tennessee has a really good team,” MSU starting pitcher Chris Stratton said. “They have some great pitchers. (Drew) Steckenrider was throwing gas there at the end. It’s a huge win but we need find a way to win two more.”
The Bulldogs won a series-opening game in league play for the fourth time in six weekends. Leading that charge was Stratton, who set a season-high with nine innings pitched, even though the end result was a no decision.
“You can’t say enough things about Chris Stratton,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “With the amount of attention he has gotten and with the build-up for a game like this for him to be on the mound is big for us. We had a production meeting with ESPN before the game we talked about Chris Stratton for about 30 minutes.
“He lived up to it tonight. He competed his heart out for us.”
Stratton allowed four hits and one run (earned) with 10 strikeouts and no walks. Hard-luck closer Caleb Reed (1-5) threw two innings of shutout relief to garner his first win of the season.
“Chris is an unbelievable pitcher,” said Slauter, his regular battery mate. “We had same game plan we have every Friday night. He does a great job of executing it. Caleb is a competitor. That is what he does best. He goes out and competes. He is really good at doing that.”
The Tennessee duo of Zack Godley and Steckenrider were also up to the challenge. In the start, Godley worked 7.1 innings , allowing four hits and one run (earned), with five strikeouts and four walks. Steckenrider (4-3) finished the contest with three innings of one-hit relief work.
“It was a great team win,” Stratton said. “Our defense was outstanding tonight. We hit some balls hard and they made some great plays. A great defense will help you get through a game a lot quicker.”
One hard-hit ball came off the bat of Trey Porter to start the home half of the 11th inning. Porter doubled to the right field gap. Wes Rea followed with a sacrifice bunt attempt. Steckenrider’s throw to third base was not in time and the Bulldogs had runners on the corners.
After an intentional walk to C.T. Bradford, Slauter lined a 1-0 pitch so medium depth in center field. Pinch running at third base, Pollorena tagged up and barely beat the tag by catcher Ethan Bennett at the plate.
In the top of the 11th inning, the Volunteers had a similar play with a different result. With the bases loaded and one out, Chris Fritts lined out to center fielder. Bradford threw a strike home and Slauter was able to apply the tag for an inning-ending double play.
“A variety of things win there for you at the end,” Cohen said. “A great defensive play by C.T. in the outfield. We move Sam Frost to third base there late in the game because Daryl Norris is hobbling around on a bad knee. The ball immediately finds Sam a couple of times and he made some great plays.
“Our kids are trying to so hard. That is why I think we can go on a run here in the second half. If we get to a point, where we just put the barrel where we want, we can score some runs and support a pitching staff which has given us everything they have every time out.”
MSU scored first in the fifth inning. Slauter led off the at-bat with a single. After a double play ball, Tyler Fullerton ripped a two-out double. Frost followed with an RBI-single to right field.
Tennessee answered in the eighth inning when a wild pitched third strike opened the door for the Volunteers. Stratton had retired 12 straight before Bennett reached with that two-out wild pitched third strike. Zach Osborne and Will Maddox followed with back-to-back hits. Maddox’s single plated Bennett with the game-tying run.
Porter finished with two of MSU’s five hits. Maddox had two of UT’s six hits.
The series resumes at 6:30 p.m. Friday and concludes at 1 p.m. Saturday.