May 22, 2013 4:37:17 AM
HOOVER, Ala. - Mississippi State University's opening round game in the Southeastern Conference Tournament was defined by redemption.
Senior catcher Mitch Slauter, who is admittedly "85 to 90 percent" since nursing a broken right hand, delivered the game-winning single in the 17th inning of a 4 hour, 39 minute 2-1 victory for the Bulldogs. It was against the team he likely would've signed with out of Barton County Community College in Kansas had MSU not made a late offer three years ago.
"Missouri (recruiting coordinator) Karrick Jackson was my contact there and tonight was the first time I got to see him since they recruited me," Slauter said. "It was just nice to see one finally drop for me."
Before his single to short centerfield that drove in freshman pinch runner Kyle Hann from second base, Slauter was 0 for his last 20 at-bats.
"Of course I didn't get a whole lot of it but sure enough, that's the one that falls for me," Slauter said. "We had runners in scoring position nearly every inning of the extras so you'd have to believe it had to end sometime."
No. 16 MSU (41-16) used 23 players in a game that ended at 12:35 a.m., and tied for the longest game in SEC Tournament history. It also tied for the longest game in the 123 years of the MSU program and was the longest contest ever that Missouri was involved with.
"This is a game of opportunity and I thought some of our guys made the most of their opportunity tonight," MSU coach John Cohen said. "We were just horrible offensively tonight and in the long run, we found a way to win a ball game because our pitching was so dominate."
In eight innings of relief, the MSU bullpen trio of Jonathan Holder, Ross Mitchell and Will Cox combined to allow just three hits. Cox (3-1) got his first victory since March 3 after the Amory native tossed three shutout innings in a 29-pitch outing. Cox has been extremely effective since dropping down his motion to a side arm style against right handed hitters and was able to work two strikeouts against a Missouri team that came to Hoover, Ala., hitting just .247 for the season.
In a extra inning situation, Cox gave up a game-winning home run to Louisiana State University power hitter Mason Katz in the SEC opening game at Dudy Noble Field but has commanded his pitches in a much more confident manner since that learning experience over two months ago.
"The simple answer is I learned not to give up home runs to really talented players in this league," Cox said with a laugh. "It's just a matter of focusing and tonight I was so locked in on what I was doing in the dugout between innings."
Missouri (18-31) was led by what was likely the final appearance on the mound for junior starting pitcher Rob Zastryzny. The Tigers ace, who was rated 77th by Baseball America Top 250 prospects, went nine innings and allowed seven hits while striking out seven in a 124-pitch effort. The Tigers 6-foot-3 southpaw effectively mixed his 93 miles-per-hour fastball with a biting slider and professional changeup that created several ground ball outs.
"He is a guy that I believe will be pitching in the Major Leagues very soon because he has the talent and the competitiveness," Missouri coach Tim Jamieson said. "He was focused and on a mission tonight. He made no mistakes."
The only other run-scoring hit for the Bulldogs was by Hunter Renfroe after he muscled a loop hit into short centerfield to tie the score in the fifth inning. Renfroe had struggled to a 1 for 16 slump over the last week that left numerous runners on. The projected first round pick in next month's MLB Draft and 2013 C Spire Ferriss Trophy winner, given to the best college player in the state of Mississippi finished the night 2 for 7 with a walk and was one of six MSU players with a multi-hit game.
"He did need that so badly and it was just one of the few productive swings that we took toward the middle of the field," Cohen said. "It's important for him to find a way to square that barrel up after the frustration I know he is feeling."
Missouri took an early 1-0 lead in the third inning when MSU starting catcher Nick Ammirati threw the ball in left field trying to throw out Tigers senior Brandon Champagne in his attempt to steal third base. Missouri was trying to replicate last year's postseason magic from winning the 2012 Big 12 Conference tournament.
"Tonight just reaffirmed the way I feel about the entire league in general," Jamieson said. "There isn't much different in the pitching from the Big 12 and SEC but the benches are so much deeper and filled with so much talent."
36 players were used in the game with MSU using six pitchers, four pinch runners, three pinch hitters and 24 members of their 27-man roster. Both teams went scoreless for 10 innings, setting a new record for most consecutive scoreless innings in a SEC Tournament game.
"You just feel like there's 20 different ways you could've won the game earlier but I'm sure Missouri is in that dugout right now feeling the same way going home," Cohen said. "When you look back at your season when it's over, these are the games that make you feel maybe something great was meant to be and supposed to happen."
By surviving the 17-inning thriller, MSU avoided a disappointing resume loss to a team with a ratings percentage index of higher than 150 in what would've been the final memory for the NCAA Baseball selection committee before host sites are announced Sunday evening.
"You don't go into this thinking, 'Are we going to host with a loss here?' because you're honestly trying to just manage your way through a ball game," Cohen said. "You worry about tomorrow tomorrow or I guess in this case it's you worry about today this morning. We left a lot of people in Starkville saying 'see ya tomorrow' and we didn't know it would come as quickly as it did."
Both Cohen and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson confirmed the Bulldogs will likely send senior left handed pitcher Luis Pollorena (6-3, 4.11) to the mound in the last game of the double elimination round tonight. It will be the 20th career start and 56th appearance in a MSU uniform for the 5-foot-7 southpaw in a rematch of Thursday's contest against University of South Carolina left hander Nolan Belcher.
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
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