ORONO, Maine -- The surprise wasn't so much that national baseball power Mississippi State University beat Towson State yesterday in the opening round of the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament's Northeast Regional.
It was how hard East Coast Conference champion Towson made JTC the Bulldogs (41-19) work for their 10-4 win at University of Maine's Mahaney Diamond.
Mississippi State, a Southeastern Conference team seeded second in the six-team draw, led, 3-2, after 5 1/2 innings, then scored five in the bottom of the sixth to break the game open.
The win, Mississippi State's sixth straight in regional openers since 1985, earned it a date in today's winners' bracket in the double-elimination event against Maine, which beat Villanova, 10-3, last night.
From Mississippi State's viewpoint, the game might have appeared in doubt, but the Bulldogs said they felt it was only a matter of time before their bats got to Towson starter Larry Raynor (7-3).
"We were real relaxed, even though it was a 3-2 ballgame," said Mississippi State third baseman and reliever Chuck Daniel. "Towson was doing a real good job, giving us a real good ballgame. I guess we just had confidence. We knew we'd get to their pitcher by the end of the ballgame."
The end came for Raynor in the sixth, after he surrendered a one-out walk to Jimmy Gammill, then watched Rex Buckner put an outside fastball over the 375-foot sign in right-center for a two-run homer. Paul Petrulis followed with a single, Jeff Mackin drew a walk, Matt Carpenter added an infield hit to load the bases.
"I just didn't feel like I had my best stuff," said Raynor, a senior right-hander.
Mackin and Carpenter worked a double steal to score the third run. Daniel's sacrifice fly to center drove in the fourth, and Steve Hegan's line single to right gave Mississippi State an 8-2 lead, chasing Raynor.
"I've told our guys a thousand times it's the big inning that kills you in a ballgame," said Towson coach Mike Gottlieb, whose team is making its second regional appearance in four years. "With the walk and the other things that happened, they had a big inning."
The Bulldogs also had a big inning in the bottom of the first, breaking to a 3-0 lead. Leadoff walks to Daniel and Hegan set the table for Rob Norman, who doubled on a 2-0 fastball to score both runners. Norman went to third on a fly ball to center and scored on a wild pitch.
Towson battled back with single runs in the third and sixth innings against starter B. J. Wallace (10-5), a sophomore left-hander.
Alex Yost's leadoff walk in the third, a single by Jacen Martinez, a walk to Tom Coleman and an error on Mississippi State shortstop Jeff Mackin on Erik Sheetz's grounder scored the first run. Back-to-back doubles by Yost and Jeff Banks brought home the second. The hit was Banks' second of the season.
"We felt good with B. J. on the mound," said Mississippi State coach Ron Polk. "He didn't have his best stuff. They [the Tigers] played good ball. I just felt like we'd have a big inning eventually."
The Bulldogs scored single runs in the seventh and eighth to go up, 10-2, before Towson's Sheetz closed out the scoring with his 17th homer of the season, with one on in the ninth. Towson will pitch junior right-hander Rob Lynch today against Princeton (24-21).