LAFAYETTE — Opening the bullpen door solidified another Mississippi State victory as the Bulldogs moved into the championship game of the NCAA Lafayette regional Saturday night.
The Bulldogs got a scoreless performance from their relievers for the second time in as many regional games, this time featuring Jonathan Holder, who threw the final 5.1 innings in a 3-1 victory over Jackson State at M.L. “Tigue” Moore Field.
Holder entered the game with two outs with the bases loaded in the fourth inning after starter Ben Bracewell walked in the Tigers’ only run.
It didn’t take long to end the JSU rally, as Holder struck out left fielder Bryce Taylor to end the threat.
Mississippi State (39-22) is now in position to win a third regional tournament in the past four years as the Bulldogs await the winner of Sunday’s 1 p.m. elimination game between host UL-Lafayette and Jackson State.
The winner of the JSU-UL-Lafayette game will play MSU at 6 p.m. Sunday. The Bulldogs have to lose twice to be eliminated.
Jakcson State coach Omar Johnson said Holder’s pitch assortment proved effective.
“We expected the curve, but (Holder) located the fastball as well,” said Johnson, whose team moved to 32-24.
Holder threw 65 pitches and struck out nine of the 17 batters he faced.
The effort from Holder complemented the one Friday by reliever Myles Gentry, who retired all 12 of the batters that he faced in relief during a 5-2 win over San Diego State.
Holder’s pitching performance overshadowed the effort of JSU starting pitcher Desmond Russell, who pitched a complete game, allowing seven hits and striking out seven.
Russell’s appearance, which included 129 pitches, earned the praise of Bulldogs coach John Cohen.
“I thought Russell competed his heart out,” Cohen said. “He is just a warrior. He deserved to win the ball game tonight.”
Johnson said the Tigers had enough opportunities to score, but his team was never able to take advantage.
“We left those chances out there. (Mississippi State) is a good team,” said Johnson.
Cohen said Holder’s effectiveness came from his ability to use a curve and fastball equally well.
“The curveball and the fastball are both his hardest pitches to hit. Either one is not harder to hit than the other, because he mixes both so well,” Cohen said.
The Bulldogs grabbed a 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning. The scoring effort started with a leadoff single from right fielder Cody Brown, who moved around the bases on a fielder’s choice and wild pitch.
A Mattthew Britton fly ball to center field scored Brown.
JSU’s score in the fourth was initiated when the Tigers took advantage of Bracewell’s control problems.
Gary Thomas slashed a leadoff single to begin the bottom of the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by Russell. After that, Bracewell walked three of the next four batters.
MSU broke the game open with two sixth-inning runs.
Left fielder Jake Vickerson starting the two-run rally with a single, and a sacrifice bunt by second baseman Brett Pirtle advanced Vickerson to second.
Catcher Gavin Collins scored Vickerson on a single and Collins later scored on a fielder’s choice.