STARKVILLE — Mississippi State pitchers Ross Mitchell and Jonathan Holder earned a giant thank you from their coaches, players, and fans Saturday night.
Mitchell and Holder held Tennessee to two hits in 10 innings to give time for No. 21 MSU time to rally for a 1-0 victory Saturday night in front of a crowd of 7,321 at Dudy Noble Field.
A week after Mitchell pitched a complete-game shutout at Auburn, the junior left-hander allowed two hits in 6 1/3 innings in a 92-pitch effort. The crafty left-hander, who doesn’t eclipse 85 mph on the radar gun, kept Tennessee off the scoreboard with a career-high five strikeouts. Mitchell’s ERA dropped to 1.98 after Saturday’s outing.
“It’s amazing to watch different teams try to attack Ross a different way each time out,” MSU junior shortstop Seth Heck said. “They tried to get his pitch count up and get him out of the game earlier, and even that didn’t work for them.”
Mitchell gave MSU a team-leading seventh quality start of the season before giving way earlier than expected to Holder, the Bulldogs’ power arm out of the bullpen. Holder got consistent swing-and-miss action up and down the lineup with his curveball and an explosive fastball.
Holder, MSU’s preseason All-American at closer, earned his fifth win after throwing 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief. He struck out seven.
“I just felt like I had some adrenaline tonight when I came into the game,” Holder said. “For the first time in a while, it felt normal and I had everything working.”
Heck finally sent the home fans away happy with a run-scoring single in the 10th over the reach of third baseman Taylor Smart. MSU (32-19, 15-11 Southeastern Conference) had left nine runners on base before the walk-of chopper by the Bulldogs shortstop. Heck took a fastball off Kyle Serrano (3-3) for the walk-off hit to force Tennessee to come back at 1:36 p.m. today to try and win its first series in Starkville since 2004.
“What you saw tonight was good baseball that is old fashioned with it being based on pitching and defense,” MSU coach John Cohen said. “It’s a shame anybody had to lose that game, but we’re at home and needed this.”
Tennessee (29-19, 11-15) received a brilliant effort from senior Nick Williams. The right-hander didn’t allow a run in his 133-pitch outing and backed up a solid start against Kentucky with nine scoreless innings.
“I can’t put into words what (Nick) did tonight and the home plate umpire and MSU’s coaching staff talked about what a warrior he was all night long,” Tennessee coach Dave Serrano said. “In pitching sometimes you can get frustrated to keep getting out of jams and there is nothing to show for it, but tonight showed the character of that young man.”
After racking up seven strikeouts through six innings, Williams showed senior maturity by pitching out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in seventh and a tough spot with runners on in the ninth. Williams had eight strikeouts, including one on his final pitch to send the game into extra innings
“It’s a tough loss for us, but you just have to tip your hat to the other team with the way they pitched it and defended it, too,” Williams said. “Everybody is growing up this weekend and we’re believing in ourselves.”
With wins by Vanderbilt and LSU, MSU needed the victory Saturday to stay in contention for one of the four byes out of the single-elimination round in the upcoming SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala.
Tennessee will go with sophomore left-hander Andy Cox, who received a hold in Friday night’s victory against MSU. MSU has announced sophomore Preston Brown (4-1, 2.28 ERA) as its starting pitcher, but Cohen said that decision could change before the scheduled first pitch.