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Mississippi State Gets Up Off The Mat In Heavyweight Fight With Georgia


Pitcher Tyler Davis reacts after clinching the 9-8 win over Georgia (MSU Athletics Photo)


By Colton Watson


A good fighter can deliver a well-placed haymaker when he needs to win a fight.


A great fighter knows how to get off the mat when he needs to stay in one.


Whether its nine innings or twelve rounds, sports are so often more about how someone reacts to getting hit in the mouth—literally or otherwise—than whether they can deliver a blow themselves.


Facing a feisty Georgia ball club with a propensity for throwing haymakers via the long ball last weekend for a three-game SEC series, Mississippi State was on that proverbial mat when seven players were ejected Saturday night, following an SEC review of a strange play before the bottom of the 8th of Game 2. The logic was like a right cross no one could have seen coming, sending the maroon Bulldogs home woozy on the wrong end of the count.


They were staggering on their feet in Game 3 after starting pitcher Nate Dohm returned from injury but threw only 12 pitches in his long-awaited return to the lineup. And, they looked down for the count when a grand slam put Georgia up 5-0 early in Sunday’s contest.


But, like a prize fighter with a lot more left in the tank than his opponent may give him credit for, Mississippi State battled back to earn a 9-8 decision on Sunday, and a 2-1 conference series win that they needed about as badly as a 20-year boxer needs ear surgery.


State came out swinging in the Friday game against Georgia, as they took a slim 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 8th before exploding for four runs in the inning. The usual suspects of shortstop David Mershon, right fielder Dakota Jordan, and first baseman Hunter Hines all reached base with two outs before CF Connor Hujsak sounded the final bell by belting a 1-2 pitch over the left field wall.


On Saturday, it was the pitchers delivering body blows in a tight 2-2 ball game. Switch pitcher Jurrangelo Cijntje (saint-juh) for Mississippi State and Brian Zeldin of Georgia gutted out some crucial innings for their squads, but the story was what took place between the top and bottom of the 8th.


After a well-executed relay cut down a potential lead run for Georgia at the plate, Mississippi State catcher Johnny Long took issue with Dylan Carter’s slide and left no question to anybody as to how he felt about it. That got both teams’ benches involved, as position players from both teams made their way toward home plate.


No punches were thrown, but when the judges in the SEC’s Birmingham office reached their decision (41 minutes and 3 booth reviews later), 11 total players were suspended for reasons no one is still quite sure of. That included seven starters for Mississippi State, and they batted in the bottom of the 8th and 9th with true freshmen and pitchers who were without a college at bat in their careers until Saturday night.


A TKO of sorts came off the bat of Clayton Chadwick, who homered off new pitcher Cam Schuelke, relieving the ejected Nolan Stevens, to give Georgia a 3-2 lead in the top of the 9th of Game Two. Chadwick, who appeared to have been involved in the dust-up, was somehow allowed to remain in the game and had a good weekend for UGA.


The 1-1 split between two packs of Bulldogs in Games 1 and 2 meant that Sunday’s rubber match felt like the final round of a heavyweight prize fight. The next gut punch to those wearing maroon at Dudy Noble field came when Dohm, State’s ace who had been on the shelf for a month, couldn’t make it through three batters before leaving the game with discomfort.


RHP Evan Siary bobbed and weaved out of trouble in the 1st and 2nd innings, but he got manhandled in the third, when he was touched for five runs. State punched back with four runs in the bottom of the frame and injected some life back into the crowd at Dudy Noble, who had been waiting since the previous night’s antics for something to get excited about.


Dogs in both dugouts went blow-for-blow after that. The gritty bout saw a 5-5 tie, a 6-5 Georgia lead, a 6-6 tie, a 7-6 State lead, and an 8-7 Georgia lead before the Dawgs of the maroon variety took the lead for good in the bottom of the 8th.


Mississippi State turncoat Slate Alford left his guard down and missed a chance at an inning-ending double play that allowed State to stay in the inning and score the winning pair of runs.


Speaking of getting off the mat, LHP Tyler Davis entered the ring after throwing 8 balls in 9 pitches vs Florida nine days prior in a game State lost by 1. He took over with ducks on the pond and no outs in the 7th to quell the threat, en route to 3.0 scoreless innings and a win for both him and the home Bulldogs. His knockout blow in the 9th came in the form of a three-pitch strikeout that birthed a seismic eruption from the crowd in Starkville.


A 9-8 victory for State evened up their conference record at 6-6, and Georgia slinked back to Athens with a black eye and a sore spirit as they fell to 5-7 in SEC play.


All weekend long, Mississippi State had ample opportunity to collapse into a heap and go quietly against Georgia. Even in the small hours of the morning between games 2 and 3, Mississippi State administrators fought tooth and nail for clarity and grace from the SEC office to repeal some ejections, which in the SEC carry varying degrees of automatic suspensions for ensuing games.


State got a shot in the arm when AD Zac Selmon took to social media Sunday morning to announce that only Long and third baseman Logan Kohler would be missing from Sunday’s fight, and that Mershon, Jordan, Hines, left fielder Bryce Chance, and second baseman Amani Larry would be reinstated for the game. The right decisions were made after the fact (for the most part—Kohler’s suspension is a bit perplexing given that the extent of his participation in the fracas amounted to comforting former high school teammate Dylan Carter after the bizarre play), but not in time to give State anything more than a puncher’s chance in Saturday’s game.


But despite the adversity, the controversy, the bad luck, and even injury, State showed Balboa-esque toughness by continuing to get up off the mat after every blow. Like any fighter worth his salt, State fought and fought until the final bell to be the last Bulldogs left standing at the end of the countdown.


*****

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