STARKVILLE, MS (WDAM) - For the first nine innings of baseball at Dudy Noble Field Friday afternoon, No. 21 University of Southern Mississippi had managed just three baserunners, never more than one in any inning.
The first time the Golden Eagles got more than one hit in an inning against No. 9 Mississippi State, USM won the ballgame.
Charlie Fischer’s pinch-hit single up the middle in the top of the 10th inning sent pinch runner Brant Blaylock home with the game’s only run as the Golden Eagles topped the Bulldogs 1-0.
For a second, consecutive weekend, the Golden Eagles (4-0) opened a three-game series with an extra-inning victory on a Friday.
USM extended its winning streak over the Bulldogs to four games by handing State (4-1) not only its first loss of the season but its first loss at newly renovated Dudy Noble.
“Great ballgame,” USM coach Scott Berry said of a gray, grim afternoon dominated by pitching. “Both (starting pitchers) really minimized everything and offensively, people just couldn’t get things going.
But sometimes, it’s not how you start, but how you finish, and that’s kind of the way it ended up (Friday).”
USM freshman left-hander Ryan Och (0-1) allowed just two singles in 2 1/3 innings to pick up the first win of his collegiate career.
“Exhilarating,” Och said. “This is the stuff you live for.”
And Och and starter Walker Powell kept the Golden Eagles alive and in the game while USM tried to survive MSU left-hander Ethan Small.
USM could do nothing with Small, who had the Golden Eagles guessing, swinging early, swinging late, swinging over and through.
Small went a season-high seven innings, striking out a career-high 13 batters, topping the 11 Youngstown State University batters he struck out over five innings in the 2019 season opener.
It was the most strikeouts by a Bulldogs’ hurler since Chris Stratton whiffed 17 against Louisiana State University on March 16, 2012.
The Golden Eagles managed just two bases runners against Small. Designated hitter Erick Hoard was hit by a pitch with two outs in the second inning and Slater got the first hit off Small with an infield single in the seventh inning
“He had what, 13 Ks?” Powell said. “He was shoving it, and I had to match him the best I could to keep our team in it, definitely.”
And that did Powell, scattering five singles while striking out two over a career-best 7 2/3 innings. Powell allowed just two baserunners to reach scoring position, none getting past second base.
“He threw a helluva game,” Och said, “and when they passed the torch, I just wanted to keep it going and follow in his footsteps. I have a great defense behind me and I trust them all.”
Och came on to get the last out in the bottom of the eighth inning with a Bulldog on second and leadoff hitter Jake Mangum at the plate.
Mangum, who already had two of State’s first five hits, grounded sharply to second, where Matthew Guidry bobbled the ball before recovering to get Mangum.
Guidry walked with two outs on the ninth, but Trysten Barlow (0-1) struck out Hunter Slater to end the inning.
Och got out of a jam in the ninth inning, when State shortstop Jordan Westburg singled with one out and then stole second with two outs. But Och caught right fielder Elijah Macnamee looking at a third strike, sending the game into extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, Matt Wallner grounded to second and Macnamee made a jewel of a catch on Cole Donaldson’s fly into the right-fielder corner.
But Hoard singled through the middle with two outs, before being lifted for pinch-runner Brant Blaylock.
Blaylock, who played for Mississippi State in 2016, had been scheduled to start in right field Friday, but had “tweaked” his left wrist and was a lineup scratch when he could not grip let alone swing a bat.
That slid Waller from designated hitter into right field and slid Hoard into the designated hitter role at the moment.
Hoard, who was the lone Golden Eagle to reach base twice in the game, then gave way to the teammate he had stepped in for, as if the game had somehow come full circle.
“I was amped,” Blaylock said. “After getting scratched from the lineup, the biggest role I could play (Friday) was to pinch run. I went in and tried to the best I could and we managed to scratch a run across.”
Blaylock moved up to second on a wild pitch, and Danny Lynch followed by coaxing a walk from Barlow.
That ended Barlow’s night, bringing in right-handed reliever Ryan Self. USM then brought in the left-hander Fischer to face Self instead of right-handed hitter Storme Cooper.
“I’d waited my turn the whole game,” Fischer said. “Every time we had a guy step on the field, we believed in him, so I knew these guys had my back, and I was able to deliver.”
Fischer, who is now 2-for-2 in pinch-hit opportunities this season, faced two strikes and barely held up for a checked swing to bring the count 1-2.
Fischer then sent Self’s next offering bounding through the middle, sending Blaylock scrambling home for a 1-0 lead.
Och allowed a two-out single in the bottom of the 10th inning, but after a visit from USM pitching Christian Ostrander, got a flyball to center to end the game.
“He just told me, ‘This is your ballgame, I’m just giving you a breather,’” Och said, “He said, ‘Go and shove it.’
“I don’t know how to describe it. Big rivalry. It’s just incredible.”
First pitch for Saturday’s second game was originally set 2 p.m., but has been moved to noon to avoid expected inclement weather as much as possible.