Small comes up big for MSU in win over South Alabama

By JOEL COLEMAN

sports@starkvilledailynews.com

 

Don’t let the name fool you. Ethan Small can come up big.

Small put forth a dominant performance in relief on Tuesday night to help Mississippi State come from behind to top South Alabama 7-3 at Dudy Noble Field.

“My fastball and change-up were good,” Small said. “I threw a couple of breaking balls, but pretty much filling up the zone with everything I had was the key.”

Small earned the win, going 2 1/3 perfect innings and striking out three.

Gavin Collins hit a pair of two-run homers and Brent Rooker, dealing with a sore ankle, came off the bench to deliver a key pinch-hit, two-run double to pace the MSU offense after the Bulldogs had fallen into a 3-0 deficit.

“This team is so poised,” Collins said. “It’s incredible how mature we are to understand that we have such a good lineup one through nine that everyone has the potential to put the ball in the gap. We don’t panic when (we’re down).”

Mississippi State (9-3-1) fell in a hole early as South Alabama (9-4) took advantage of the struggles of MSU freshman Noah Hughes. After fellow freshman Kale Breaux pitched a pair of scoreless innings in his first career start, Hughes came on in the third and found trouble.

Following a leadoff single, Hughes retired back-to-back Jaguar batters before Jared Barnes delivered a two-out, two-run homer deep over the left field wall.

Hughes then walked the next batter before being lifted for another freshman, Ryan Cyr, who immediately surrendered a run-scoring double to Ben Gann.

MSU began to claw back in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs, Nathaniel Lowe laced a single to center off of South Alabama starting pitcher Hunter Soleymani for the Bulldogs’ first hit of the game. Collins followed with a two-run shot to left to pull Mississippi State within one at 3-2.

The Bulldogs pushed ahead in the bottom of the sixth. With one out, Cody Brown and Jack Kruger each walked. Rooker then pinch hit for Lowe and doubled down the left field line allowing both Brown and Kruger to cross the plate for a 4-3 MSU lead.

“I thought the biggest swing of the night was Rooker coming off the bench,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “He stepped up there and hit a big double for us in a huge portion of the ballgame.”

Mississippi State added on in the late innings. In the seventh, Reid Humphreys led off with a single. He’d later score on a two-out single from Jacob Robson.

In the eighth inning, Cole Gordon started things with a single just ahead of the second homer of the game from Collins.

Collins now has three home runs in his last two games.

“The ball is looking good and I’m just taking aggressive at-bats and trying to be ready to hit every pitch and not take a pitch off,” Collins said.

MSU pitchers closed out Tuesday’s game retiring the final 14 South Alabama batters they faced. Ryan Rigby sat down his last batter ahead of Small’s perfect outing and dominant performances from Zac Houston and Blake Smith in the eighth and ninth innings respectively.

“I thought we got a lot of things accomplished,” Cohen said reflecting on the night. “Small stands out as the freshman who stood out and pitched well for us. The last two guys, Smith and Houston, their stuff was almost un-hittable.”

Cohen and the Bulldogs hope for more of the same this weekend as Mississippi State returns to action on Friday for the first game of a weekend series against Oregon at Dudy Noble Field.

First pitch on Friday is set for 6:30 p.m.

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