"I tried to stay down in the zone, locate my fastball and use my slider as my out pitch," said Castle of his game-winning performance.
Castle (2-3) walked three, struck out five and was backed by solid play by the Kentucky defense, which turned a pair of inning-ending double plays.
"Their pitcher had a fastball and curve and he had a great changeup to the righthanders that kept them off-track. He did a great job," said MSU first baseman Matthew Brinson. "He threw strikes and got ahead of the hitters. What else can you do?"
Kentucky jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning. Mike Breyman singled sharply off MSU start Alana Johnson, and Caleb Stewart followed with a bunt single. Jake Kingi advanced the runners with a sacrifice bunt and both runners scored on a Caleb Brock's two-out single to left that third baseman Steve Gendron just missed on a diving attempt.
State evened the score at 2-2 in the third. Castle struck out the first two batters he faced in the inning and walked Maniscalco, who stole second. Steve Gendron followed with a double to left-center field and scored on a single by Brad Corley.
The Wildcats jumped on Johnson for three runs in the fourth to regain the lead. Breyman doubled, Stewart singled and Kungi beat out an RBI bunt single. Joe Nailll's base-loaded single in front of a diving Jon Mungle scored two more to give the Wildcats a 5-2 lead. Kentucky chased Johnson from the hill during a three-run sixth-inning burst. Johnson retired the first two batters in the inning, but Kentucky sandwiched a pair of doubles around a hit batsman and Casey Gilvin's run-scoring single to right. The second double of the inning, a two-run shot to left by Brad Pickerell, gave Kentucky an 8-2 lead.
"The key to the ballgame was it seemed like eveytime they got guys on base with two outs, they knocked them in," said Polk. "(Kentucky coach) Keith Madison said that they haven't been doing that."
Johnson, this week's SEC Pitcher of the Week, gave up eight runs on 10 hits, both season-highs, and struck out eight.
"I felt like my stuff was good," said Johnson. "Coming in, they were 0-10 in the SEC and that always makes you a little nervous because you know they are going to get that first win sometime and it just happened to be today."
Kentucky out-hit State 12-7, with Caleb Brock and Caleb Stewart collecting three hits each. Craig Tatum and Matthew Brinson singled twice each to lead State at the plate. Tatum extended his hitting streak to 12 games, while Matthew Maniscalco's career-best 16-game hitting streak came to an end.
KENTUCKY 8, MISSISSIPPI STATE 2
UK 020 303 000 --- 8-12-0
MSU 002 000 000 --- 2- 7-0
WP --- Heath Castle (2-3). LP --- Alan Johnson (4-1). HR --- . T --- . ATT --- 6,062 (paid). 4,712 (actual).
Alan Johnson, Jamie Gant (6) and J.B. Tucker. Heath Castle and Caleb Brock.
"As a pitcher, you can't get rattled. You just have to let things go as the game progresses and go out and pitch your game."
"They got untracked hitting and they had a few balls fall right in front of us. That kind of kept their innings going and allowed them to get a pretty good bit of runs."
Did you noticed you didn't have your best stuff while you were in the bullpen prior to the game? "I felt like my stuff was good. Coming in, they were 0-10 in the SEC and that always makes you a little nervous because you know they are going to get that first win sometime and it just happened to be today."
When you saw that they were making all the plays today, did you almost think that it was going to be there day today?
"Yeah, you have to give them credit. They had their second baseman and shortstop positioned well throughout the entire game. We just hit it right to them."
Your team is about to go into four SEC series that will tell the tale in the SEC West.
"I believe our next five series are against top 20 to 25 teams. It will really tell how our season will develop for the post-season. It will be a big plus for us if we can win 3 or 4 or even all of those series."
They really played well defensively.
"They played an excellent game defensively. Their third baseman was diving all over the place making plays. Their second baseman made some key plays. Their pitcher came out, threw strikes and was effecive and they got the timely hits. They weren't the hardest hits but they fell in. That's what baseball is. You aren't going to win them all."
You guys hit the ball pretty well yourself but they didn't fall in.
"We hit the ball real hard, but we just hit it right at them. That's the way baseball is sometimes; sometimes they fall in, sometimes they don't."
Talk about their pitcher.
"Their pitcher had a fastball and curve and he had a great changeup to the righthanders that kept them off-track. He did a great job. He threw strikes and got ahead of the hitters. What else can you do?"
Alan mentioned that they were due for a win.
"They odds were in their favor. Starting out 0-10, they were going to win one eventually. They are not going to go 0-30 in this league."
You guys seem to play well after a loss.
"Definitely. Someone asked if we are more focused. I told them, no, we just refocus and take it to another level."
KENTUCKY PITCHER HEATH CASTLE
Were you guys just looking for the one win to stop the losing streak?
"We just needed to get the monkey off of our back. It feels great to win."
What did you try to do against MSU's hitters today?
"I tried to stay down in the zone, locate my fastball and use my slider as my out pitch."
You've been pitching really well in SEC play.
"Yeah, I've been getting a little better every outing. I've been working hard, trying to stay down in the zone."
Talk about your team's hitting.
"'We are a great hitting ballclub. We are still hitting over .300. This is our fifth loss in thirty games. In baseball, you lose games. That is just how it is. The great thing is we get to play them again tomorrow. So, we have another opportunity to get more hits and win."
Your team is atop of SEC and ranked fifth in the country. Is there more pressure on you to win because of that?
"I don't think there is pressure. It's great that we are ranked 5th in the country, but I don't think anybody is saying we've got to stay 5th. It's nice to be noticed throughout the country but we just have to do our job in the SEC and try to be number 1 there. That is what matters the most. We keep winning in the SEC, we'll be alright."
"Heath Castle pitched well. (Kentucky coach) Keith Madison told me that he has been pitching well up until the 6th inning. He pitched a gem against Arkansas last week and he's been drafted twice. He has the best numbers of anyone on the staff."
"We struck out 10 of them and didn't walk but one guy. We only struck out five but hit into a couple of double plays. It seemed like everytime we hit a ball, it was somewhat right at them. The key to the ballgame was it seemed like eveytime they got guys on base with two outs, they knocked them in. Keith Madison said that they haven't been doing that."
"If they had been doing that this year, they would probably be a lot better off in regard to their record. There is no team in this league that you could say is not a good ballclub. It's like Auburn two years ago. They started off 0-9, then they started winning and went to the SEC Tournament and the regional. It makes no difference in this league what your record is. Anybody can beat anyone else. You will see that as the season progresses. We still have our goal of winning every SEC series. You do that, then you win the SEC title unless someone just runs away with it. Tomorrow, if we play well and pitch well, we have the chance to win our fourth SEC series in a row."
Talk about Alan Johnson's pitching today.
"He struck out 8 today and didn't walk anybody. It seemed like they hit a couple of well hit balls and a couple that weren't that well hit. They got a couple of bunts that were well placed. I don't think he pitched that badly. It's just when you get those great two-out hits, it makes you look like you didn't pitch well."
How close were you to taking him out earlier in the game?
"I didn't think his pitch counts were bad and he had won two SEC pitcher of the week awards. He wasn't walking anybody. He just seemed like a hard-luck pitcher today because it seemed like everything they hit today found real estate, whether it was hit hard or not hit hard."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing email@example.com.