The script Mississippi State has followed to take control of Bracket One of the College World Series isn't for the faint of heart.
Fall behind, rely on a soft-throwing left-hander to stay close, rally for the winning runs in the eighth inning and then rely on the spaciousness of TD Ameritrade Park to keep a potential ninth-inning home run in the yard.
It worked Saturday against Oregon State, and it worked again Monday night against Indiana. The Bulldogs combined the standout relief pitching of Chad Girodo, a clutch hit from a batter who had been to the plate just eight times in the past month and another heart-stopping finish to record a 5-4 victory before a session-record crowd of 25,260.
“We overcame some things that we did wrong tonight,” Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. “But our kids kept battling and competing.”
Trey Porter, a little-used backup first baseman, delivered the game-winning, two-run single in the eighth. That put the Bulldogs up 5-3, but the Hoosiers came a couple of feet from tying in the ninth when Sam Travis almost became the first player to hit a ball out of center field at Omaha's three-year-old ballpark.
Travis' one-out drive off Girodo banged off the wall for a double and advanced Chris Sujka to third. The Hoosiers got Sujka home, but Jonathan Holder stranded Travis at third by getting Michael Basil to ground back to the mound for the final out.
The win improved Mississippi State to 50-18 and advanced the Bulldogs to Friday's bracket championship game. Indiana dropped to 49-15 and must face a Wednesday night elimination game against Oregon State.
Like Oregon State, the Hoosiers can lament about what might have been. The Beavers had a potential game-winning home run fall a couple of feet short in Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Bulldogs.
“I didn't think it was going to get to the warning track,” Indiana coach Tracy Smith said, referring to Travis' hit. “But then I saw on the replay that it hit about two feet below the yellow (line). That's when I wanted to throw up.”
Equally troubling to Smith was Indiana's 14 strikeouts, 10 of which came against Girodo's less-than-overwhelming array of fastballs and sliders that rarely registered more than 80 mph on the stadium's radar gun.
Girodo pitched 6 1/3 innings to pick up his third win of the NCAA tournament and ninth of the season. He has now struck out 34 hitters in 19 1⁄3 innings in tournament play.
Just as the efforts of another soft-tossing left-hander — Ross Mitchell — did Saturday, Girodo's performance not only kept his teammates in the game but inspired them to piece together the three-run rally in the eighth that erased a 3-2 Indiana lead.
“When you got a guy putting up goose eggs for you, there comes a time that you say, 'All right, we need to make something happen for this guy,' ” Mississippi State first baseman Wes Rea said. “He's dealing.”
Brett Pirtle and Rea opened the Mississippi State eighth with singles. Losing pitcher Ryan Halstead struck out C.T. Bradford but Demarcus Henderson tied the game with an RBI single.
Halstead got Nick Ammirati to ground out, advancing Rea to third and Henderson to second. That brought up Porter, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the sixth and stopped a few Hoosier hearts with a bases-loaded drive that was caught on the warning track in right-center field.
Porter had just one at-bat in the final week of the regular season, a couple more in the Southeastern Conference tournament and four in the Bulldogs' first seven games of the NCAA tournament.
He admitted afterward that he couldn't have imagined himself getting an opportunity like the one that presented itself Monday.
“I'm a kid from a small town, kind of the story with most of (our) guys here,” Porter said. “You set out to play at the top level and be in the College World Series one day, but you never see it happening because there are so many baseball players out there, so much talent.”
Indiana brought in left-hander Brian Korte to face the left-handed-hitting Porter. He worked the count to 3-1, then laced a single into right field that made it 5-3.
“It's a great feeling, but you couldn't say more about the guys around me,” Porter said. “I just happened to step in the box when the game was on the line. Anybody else could have stepped up. That's how we are. We fight until the end.”
So did Indiana. Girodo worked a perfect eighth inning but gave up a leadoff single to Sujka in the ninth. After Kyle Schwarber flied out, Travis unleashed his blast that almost tied it.
With Holder ready in the bullpen, Cohen stuck with Girodo in a lefty-lefty matchup against Scott Donley. His groundout scored Sujka and advanced Travis to third, bringing Holder on to face Basil.
Holder threw a strike before Basil tapped the next pitch back to the mound. Holder fielded the ball, then one-hopped a throw to first base that Rea managed to dig out for the final out.
“He doesn't move his feet and throws the ball in the dirt to make everybody's heart stop,” Cohen said, smiling at Holder. “We work on that a little bit, don't we, Jon?”
Mississippi State now will have three days to work on getting ready for Friday's bracket championship game. The Bulldogs still have a loss to play with in the double-elimination portion of the tournament.
Meanwhile, Indiana must come back Wednesday in an elimination game. The Hoosiers had several chances to add to their 3-1 lead against Girodo but couldn't extend it.
“A lot of that goes to the pitcher and what he was doing to us,” Smith said. “But when you let good teams hang around, it gets a little crazy at the end.”
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