Bulldog Pitching Too Tough For Tigers

Mississippi State scored two runs with two outs in the sixth inning to break open a tie game on the way to the victory.

Starkville, Miss.--Pitchers Paul Maholm and Jonathan Papelbon combined to allow just two runs on nine hits while striking out 11 as the Mississippi State Bulldogs (25-5-1, 10-2) defeated the Auburn Tigers (27-8, 9-4) 4-2 Friday night in game one of a three-game series between the fifth and sixth-ranked teams in the country.

Auburn starter Eric Brandon gave up seven hits and four runs in 5 2/3 innings to get the loss. Bobby Huddleston and Josh Bell each had two of Auburn's nine hits in the game with Bell driving home both of the Tigers runs against the Bulldogs.

The Tigers threatened to break the game open early when they touched up Maholm in the second. Huddleston got the Auburn inning started with a single through the left side and Karl Amonite followed and reached when he was hit by a Maholm pitch to put runners on first and second with nobody out.

Scott Schade, one of Auburn's hottest hitters, came through again with a single to center field. Pushing the envelope, Coach Steve Renfroe sent Huddleston to the plate, but a strike to the plate gunned him down for the first out of the inning. One out later, freshman Josh Bell singled through the left side to score Amonite from second with Auburn's first run of the game. Chuck Jeroloman struck out to end the inning, but not before the Tigers took the early lead.

Josh Bell had two hits and two RBI Friday night.

Brandon escaped a problem in the third inning thanks to some clutch pitching when threatened. With one out in the inning, Thomas Berkery singled to left-center to bring Joseph Hunter to the plate. In what would be a theme for the evening, the bottom of the order delivered as Hunter was hit by a Brandon pitch to bring Alabama native Matthew Maniscalco to the plate. Brandon repeated his action, one of four hit batters on the night, to load the bases, but he got out of the inning thanks to back-to-back fly balls by the Bulldogs. He wouldn't be as fortunate in the fourth.

Big Matthew Brinson led off the inning with a walk and another hit batsmen by Brandon put the Bulldogs in business. After a sacrifice bunt moved both runners over, a groundout to Schade at third base scored MSU's first run of the game. That's when Berkery would strike for the second time as he singled to drive home the second run of the inning and give the Bulldogs the 2-1 lead. With Brandon struggling with his control but holding on and Maholm his usual tough self on the mound, this one was headed for a late-inning decision.

Struggling coming into the game with hits in just two of his last 27 at-bats, Bell would continue his good night in the fifth inning off Maholm. With one out, he drove a pitch deep over the center field wall for his fourth home run of the season. Tied again at two, the game looked to be right where the Tigers wanted it, but the Bulldogs had other ideas.

With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the inning, Brandon was cruising until the bottom of the Bulldog order bit him for the final time on the night. Already with two hits, Berkery was hit by a pitch to bring Hunter to the plate. Seizing his opportunity, Hunter drilled a triple to left-center field that scored Berkery from first to give MSU the lead. Maniscalco followed with a single to center field on a full count pitch and just like that the Bulldogs led 4-2.

That would be all the runs the home team needed as Maholm and Papelbon combined to shut down the Tigers the rest of the way. Their performance spoiled a good outing by Auburn's Chris Dennis in relief as he didn't give up a hit in the final 2 1/3 innings while striking out two Bulldog hitters.

Auburn hopes to even the series Saturday afternoon at 3 when Arnold Hughey takes the mound against Allen Johnson for the Bulldogs.

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