OXFORD — Just throw strikes.
It’s the mantra Mississippi State baseball coach John Cohen has repeated all season. Its importance reared its head in the ninth inning Saturday in Ole Miss’ come-from-behind 8-7 victory against MSU in 10 innings.
After limiting Ole Miss to three walks and two runs through 8 2/3 innings, MSU walked three in the ninth and allowed Ole Miss to erase a 7-2 lead.
“It’s all about throwing strikes,” Cohen said. “Statistically, the averages say if you just throw it in the zone and make them hit it, they stand a better chance of getting out than they do getting a hit. But when you don’t put the ball in the zone, when you hits guys on 0-2 counts, you give them a chance to score runs without earning it.”
MSU relievers Zac Houston and Dakota Hudson were the main culprits. Entering the game with runners on first and second with no outs in the ninth, Houston retired two but walked shortstop Errol Robinson. He then hit second baseman Will Golsan, a freshman from New Hope, to force in a run.
From there, the wheels fell off for a bullpen that has blown leads of at least three runs or more four times this season.
“Once it started rolling downhill, we couldn’t stop it,” Cohen said. “In golf, you can’t walk up and tell a golfer to hit a 10-foot putt. In baseball, same thing. You can’t just tell them to throw strikes. They know they have to. Doing it is another matter entirely.”
Britton starts hitting
A knee injury suffered in March during series against Kentucky robbed third baseman Matthew Britton of much of his senior season. Britton has played in 21 of MSU’s 51 games, but he started making up for lost time Saturday, ripping a single and a double in his first two at-bats. In the first, he singled and scored on a double by Luke Reynolds. He added an RBI single in the second.
In the fourth, Britton scored another run on a groundout to first, giving him two runs driven in. Entering play, he had five RBIs.
Bouncing back offensively
In its 11-1 loss to Ole Miss in the Governor’s Cup game on April 28, MSU had six hits against starting pitcher Scott Weathersby, who held the Bulldogs scoreless in seven innings.
On Saturday, Weathersby had given up three hits and a run through MSU’s first three batters of the game. He went on to give up five runs in five innings. MSU had 10 hits against Weathersby.
Reynolds stays hot
Junior college transfer Luke Reynolds struggled in his transition to the Southeastern Conference, registering eight hits in his first 52 at-bats. But Reynolds added two more hits, including an RBI double, Saturday. With his 2-for-5 performance, Reynolds has 17 hits in his last 29 at-bats. He has six doubles in that span.
Reynolds has accomplished that despite playing through a sprained ankle suffered May 1 in an 11-4 loss to LSU.
“You’d love to see what he could do if he was healthy right now,” Cohen said. “He’s found it. He’s seeing the ball well and he has become very valuable.”
The big sweep
Ole Miss entered the game with a chance at a rare sweep of MSU across all three major men’s sports. Prior to the series finale, Ole Miss owned wins in all six meetings between the schools in football, men’s basketball, and baseball. Thanks to the five-run explosion in the ninth and the game-winner in the 10th, the Rebels finished the 7-0 blanking. It was the best performance in the series since MSU went 6-1 in the series in 2011. The last all-sport sweep for Ole Miss came in 1972.
Making his mark
Junior Michael Smith doubled in his first at-bat of the season in a win against Cincinnati on Feb. 13. It took until the ninth inning of Saturday’s game before Smith delivered another extra-base hit.
Smith, who entered the game as a replacement for left fielder Reid Humphreys in the top of the seventh, stepped up to the plate with a runner on second base and drilled a triple to deep center against reliever Jacob Waguespack to score pinch-runner Cody Brown and give MSU a 6-2 lead. Smith scored one pitch later on a single by second baseman John Holland to make it 7-2.
Follow Dispatch sports writer
Brandon Walker on Twitter