Much of the talk heading into the Charlottesville Super Regional centered around Mississippi State’s strong bullpen.
And that was exactly the case in the aftermath of the Bulldogs’ 6-5 series-clinching win over Virginia on Monday afternoon.
Mississippi State relievers Chad Girodo and Jonathan Holder proved the difference.
“I love their bullpen,” said Virginia coach Brian O’Connor. “We’ve faced some pretty good bullpens this year – N.C. State, North Carolina, people like that -- Mississippi State’s is right up there, if not the best that we’ve seen all year.
“Their ability to throw some of those left handers out of the pen; we didn’t even see some of their righties. They caused us some fits.”
Girodo scattered five hits and two runs over his 4 2/3 innings of relief, fanning a whopping 10 Wahoos in the process.
The left-hander, who was picked by the Toronto Blue Jays in the ninth round of the MLB Draft on Friday , had Virginia hitters off balance with his three-quarter delivery.
“Coming from that low arm slot, the ball in his hand looks pretty similar on each of his pitches,” said Virginia catcher Nate Irving. “He did a great job of changing speeds and throwing strikes. When you do that consistently, you’re going to give yourself a chance to win.
“He went in there and attacked the zone -- and that [success] is what happens when you throw strikes and get ahead.”
Girodo said he threw predominantly sliders, mixed with occasional fastballs to keep Virginia hitters honest.
Girodo had struggled in his college career until making the decision, just before this season, to “drop down” in his delivery and throw from more a three-quarter angle.
“Things weren’t really going my way and I was like, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’” Girodo said. “I kind of just jumped off the cliff and tried it.”
Holder, a right-hander, made things more interesting than Bulldog fans may have liked in the ninth inning, though he was never really roughed up.
The Cavaliers’ rally was sparked by a routine grounder to third that a hustling Joe McCarthy turned into an infield single.
Holder then coaxed Brandon Downes into hitting a grounder to first baseman Wes Rea, only he took his eye off of Rea’s toss as he was running to cover first base and wound up falling on his rear.
“It takes a little bit to get moving and I was going full speed,” said the smiling 6-foot-2, 229-pounder. “Feed was good. I was over there looking for the ball and the bag at the same time. I looked down for the bag and the ball was coming and my feet came out from under me.”
Holder shook things off, though, and retired Derek Fisher on a grounder to end the game.
“I’m taught to be relaxed on every pitch,” Holder said. “Some stuff didn’t go my way, like on that 3-1 feed.
“It’s easy to give up and throw the towel in, but I tried to take the sting out of the bats and push through.”