The third ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs came to town for a three game series, and won two of three from the Crimson Tide this weekend. MSU won game one on Thursday by a score of 12-5, in a game that was much closer than the score indicates. Terrible weather on Friday forced a double header of two seven inning games on Saturday. Since Saturday was "get away" day, SEC rules mandated two seven inning games in an archaic rule that needs addressing. 'Bama took the first game in "extra" innings, scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth for a 4-3 win. State recovered in the second game to take the series with a 2-1 win. MSU improved to 30-14-1, 12-9 in the SEC, while 'Bama dropped to 25-20, 10-11 in conference play.
Game One - Lost 12-5
Tide ace Geoffrey Bramblett had one of his few poor performances of the season in Thursday's game one, but lasted six innings, allowing four hits, three walks and two strikeouts, allowing six runs, four of them earned. State struck in the first, scoring one run on two hits and a sacrifice fly. The Tide bounced back with two in the bottom of the frame on a two run single by Chandler Taylor.
The Dogs took control in the third, scoring five times on an error, two walks, a triple from Jake Mangum and a two run home run for Gavin Collins. Mangum is the son of former Alabama All-American defensive back John Mangum, and is a former Tide baseball commit.
'Bama started chipping away at the lead, scoring single runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth inning, making it a 6-5 game. The Tide also left four runners stranded in scoring position in those three innings, including on second and third with one out in the sixth.
Jon Keller replaced Bramblett in the seventh and pitched two innings, allowing one unearned run when he threw a pick off throw away at first base. Keller recored four strikeouts, and allowed two hits with two walks. Things unraveled in the top of the ninth off of Mike Oczypok and Dylan Duarte. Oczypok, who hadn't pitched since March 22nd because of injury, opened the inning and was greeted by back-to-back hits before yielding to Duarte. Duarte allowed two singles and a three-run homer before ending the inning with two strikeouts.
The Tide was outhit 11-8, while drawing four walks and striking out eight times. 'Bama handled State Dakota Hudson, fairly well, touching him for six hits and four runs in his five innings of work. Taylor, Hunter Webb and Keith Holcombe had two hits each to pace the attack. Taylor drove in three runs and blasted a triple on the night.
Game Two - Won 4-3 in Nine Innings
The scheduled seven inning game went into extra innings, and turned into a nine inning, lengthy affair, clocking in at 4 hours and four minutes. Mississippi State coach and Tuscaloosa native John Cohen had his fingerprints all over this game. Know for slow pace of play, multiple pitching changes, visits to the mound, and pick off plays, this game had all that and more.
Jake Walters started for the Tide, and continued to be excellent, pitching 6.1 innings, allowing seven hits and one walk, while striking out six and allowing two runs, both earned. Matt Foster pitched the final 2.2 innings and earned his fifth victory of the season, allowing only one unearned run.
State, on the other hand, used nine pitchers, two of which were replaced mid-batter, and three that didn't record an out, and four that only registered one out in their appearance. When Cody Henry, not a base stealing threat in any universe, singled in the second, MSU pitcher Austin Sexton attempted upwards of thirty pick off attempts at first base, including and incredible 15 throws in a row at one point. This seemed to be some sort of retaliation toward Henry, who was involved in a collision with State second baseman Hunter Stovall in Thursday's game, which caused Stovall to leave the game, and miss the rest of the series.
MSU started the scoring in the fourth, tallying two runs on a triple by Reid Humphreys. 'Bama answered in the bottom half, scoring twice on an RBI ground out by Keith Holcombe and a long double off the bat of Will Haynie. No other scores were made until the top of the ninth when the Tide got "Cohened" for a run. A lead off walk, followed by a sac bunt, which advanced the lead runner to third on an error, and a sacrifice fly scored a run. Classic Cohen ball, score a run with out the aid of a hit.
Down to their last chance the Tide was able to bounce back with the aid of some shaky State pitching. Daniel Cucjen lead off the inning, drawing a four pitch walk. Hunter Webb sacrificed Cucjen to second, before Georgie Salem also walked. Cobie Vance joined the parade with a walk of his own, and the fourth pitcher of the inning walked Chandler Taylor to force in the tying run. Chance Vincent then fought off a two strike pitch and bounced a single up the middle to score Salem with the winning run, a 4-3 Tide victory.
The Tide got outhit 8-7 in the game, but 10 walks, including three to Taylor and Salem helped lead the team to victory. Walters and Foster only walked two batters between them.
Game Three - Lost 2-1
Nick Eicholtz took the mound in the second game of the double header, and once again pitched lights out. The junior from Odessa, Florida, pitched six innings, allowing only four hits, with one walk and five strikeouts. The two runs he allowed were unearned. Thomas Burrows finally got in the action and pitched a perfect seventh inning.
Konnor Pilkington started for the Bulldogs and held the Tide at bay, allowing only three hits with two walks and seven strikeouts in 5.2 innings. Daniel Brown went the final 1.1 innings to earn his first save. State is a top-five team, but their game three starters have struggled for the most part this season. This was a season-long outing for Pilkington.
State scored their two runs in the second after Hunter Webb dropped a fly ball in left field that would have been out two, for a two-base error. Reid Humphreys singled in the first run, advanced on a hit a run ground out, and scored on a Ryan Gridley single.
The Tide finally got something going in the sixth, but could only push one run across. Georgie Salem led off with a single and eventually scored on a two out single by Chance Vincent. Cody Henry drew a walk to put the go ahead run on base, but a strikeout by Keith Holcombe ended the threat. Vincent had to be removed with a groin injury while at second, a big blow if serious, as he is the teams leading hitter and RBI man. Shortstop Chandler Avant is already out for the year with a broken ankle, and third baseman-DH Connor Short is out with a torn quad muscle, leaving the Tide infield short handed.
Burrows pitched a perfect top of the seventh and the Tide had one more chance, but went out quickly, weakly, and in order in the bottom half.
The reeling Tide, who after the March 31st victory over UGA, was 5-2 and in first place in the SEC West, is now sitting in fifth place with their 10-11 SEC record, is in much need of some victories. The pitching has continued to hold up for the most part, but the offense, who at times shows some signs of life, continues to disappoint. Defense, always a strong suit of Mitch Gaspard teams, has not lived up to expectations thus far, either. Injuries are a part of the game, but have plauged the Tide. Nick Eicholtz missed some starts early in the year, Thomas Burrows missed three weeks and Short has had a concussion, a pulled groin and now a pulled quad. Chandler Avant broke his ankle just when he had heated up at the plate, (.435 over his last 12 games) and for an offensively challenged team, that is a big blow. Vincent is the only player batting over .300 and is his injury is serious that would be another huge problem.
Watching Mississippi State can be frustrating at times, but the way they put the ball in play is impressive. Several times simple hit and runs kept the team out of double play possibilities, while advancing runners and scoring with out the aid of a hit at times. The 'Dogs ability to fight off two strike pitches is uncanny. Cohen's propensity for slowing the game down and frustrating teams with his antics helps his teams to victories. Pulling pitchers midcount and players after making an error is unorthodox, but seem to work for Mississippi State.
The Tide is off mid week (yea, no Tuesday Blues!) before hosting Auburn next weekend. Friday the game is at 7:00 p.m and will be national on the SEC Network, as will Saturday's 6:00 p.m. game. Sunday's game three is set for 1:00 p.m and will be available on SEC Network Plus, the Watch ESPN App.
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