Mississippi State went to the ninth inning Friday with Ross Mitchell on the mound and Jonathan Holder waiting to help.
Mitchell was 13-0 with a 1.31 ERA coming out of the bullpen this season. Holder was the closer with the 20 saves and 1.26 ERA.
“Going into that ninth inning with a three-run lead felt like we were winning by 100,” Bulldogs first baseman Wes Rea said.
To which Mississippi State coach John Cohen quickly interjected: “I'm glad you felt that way.”
An exaggeration on the part of Rea, sure, but it said something about the Bulldogs' state of mind as they finished off Oregon State 4-1 at the College World Series and advanced to the championship series.
Mississippi State didn't have to come back this time after trailing late in each of its first two wins at TD Ameritrade Park. And any lead for Cohen's team might tend to look a little bigger than it is because of the depth and star power that the Bulldogs have behind their starting pitchers.
“Our kids feel like if we have a lead late in the game we're going to win because we have one of the best bullpens in America,” Cohen said.
Mississippi State (51-18) actually had a little bit of everything Friday as it eliminated Oregon State (52-13) and advanced to the first CWS championship series in school history.
The offense produced five straight hits in the fifth inning, highlighted by Hunter Renfroe’s three-run homer. The defense produced three double plays and seemed to step on Oregon State’s throat every time it threatened to rally.
And then there was the pitching. Kendall Graveman (8-5) gave the Bulldogs 52⁄3 innings before Mitchell and Holder did the rest.
“I thought the whole story of the ballgame was Kendall going out there and shoving the baseball in the strike zone,” Cohen said.
Graveman left after allowing Andy Peterson’s run-scoring single in the sixth inning. Mitchell carried the Bulldogs to the ninth before back-to-back one-out singles by Dylan Davis and Danny Hayes brought on Holder, who needed just five pitches to get two outs and his 21st save.
“We couldn’t get a hit when we needed one,” Oregon State coach Pat Casey said. “I think that’s happened before to all teams. And, obviously, we’re facing very good pitching.”
Mississippi State had to be persistent in building its 4-0 lead.
Beavers left fielder Michael Conforto robbed Rea of an extra-base hit when he crashed into the left-field wall with a fantastic catch in the second inning. After an RBI infield single by C.T. Bradford in the fourth, Conforto ended the inning by gunning down Rea trying to score on a fly ball into foul territory.
The Bulldogs then got two-out singles by Adam Frazier and Alex Detz before Renfroe connected in the fifth, the 16th home run this season for the All-American from Crystal Springs, Miss.
“I told the whole dugout, ‘He’s about to hit one a long ways right here,’” Rea said. “That was kind of crazy. Things are falling our way right now, and we just have to keep it going.”
Oregon State pitcher Andrew Moore (14-2) said he might have gotten a little lazy after recording two quick outs to start the fifth. Renfroe was thinking fastball when he got something else too good not to drive.
“It was a 3-1 curveball,” Moore said, “and I tried to bury it because I knew we had a base open. I made a mistake, left it up a little bit. He’s a great player, and he made me pay for it.”
Renfroe didn’t think he’d gotten all of it at first, but the low trajectory gave it a chance, much to the delight of Graveman in the dugout.
“I think that was the biggest fist pump I’ve given all year,” the pitcher said.
The Bulldogs had a solid lead, a nice change from trailing Oregon State 4-3 after seven innings last Saturday and Indiana 3-2 after seven innings on Monday.
Renfroe said he had been getting texts and Facebook comments from Mississippi State fans, letting him know the close calls were starting to take a toll on them.
“They’re saying, ‘I’ve had to take my heart medication these last few days,’ and everything like that,” Renfroe said. “It feels a lot more relaxing on our defense (with the lead). We can sit there and actually enjoy it and have absolute confidence in our pitchers.”
Cohen said Friday started with his Bulldogs wandering the lower hallways at TD Ameritrade Park trying to find the door to the third-base dugout. Once they get between the lines, the rest is taking care of itself.
“I think these guys really believe something’s going to happen that’s going to allow us to win a game,” Cohen said.
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