"The Georgia Bulldogs have won their last six games, so we are facing a team that is on a little bit of a roll right now, but we have to stop them Saturday."
The home run capped a late-game comeback for the homestanding Georgia Bulldogs, who trailed 4-1 after six innings. Georgia scored a run in the seventh, added three more to take a 5-4 lead in the eighth, and after State plated a single run in the ninth to tie the score, got the game-winning blast from McClain.
UG's projected Sunday starter, freshman Will Startup (3-3) picked up the win with 1.2 innings of game-closing relief.
"They closed the ball game with Will Startup, who is their starter for Sunday," said Polk. "I'm anxious to see what they are going to do for their Sunday starter."
Mississippi State jumped on Georgia starter Michael Hyle for three runs in the first inning. Matthew Maniscalco and Matthew Brinson laced doubles, Jon Mungle and Robby Goodson hit singles and Steve Gendron added a sacrifice fly to stake MSU starter Paul Maholm to a 3-0 lead. That lead crew to 4-1 in the sixth when Brinson reached with his second hit of the night and Goodson followed with a run-scoring two-out single to right. Hyle ended his 5.2-inning mound stint following Goodson's hit.
"We just didn't expand the lead on Hyle," said Polk. "Once we got the three-spot in the first innning, I thought that Hyle really pitched very well."
Maholm gave up back-to-back singles to open the seventh, giving way to relief ace Jonathan Papelbon. Papelbon fanned the first Bulldog he faced, Lee Mitchell, walked Jon Armitage to load the bases, the retired Justin McClain and Marshall Szabo on infield groundouts. McClain, who narrowly missed a grand slam with a towering foul ball down the left field line, drove in Georgia's second run in with his groundout to Maniscalco at shortstop.
"It was very hot here, very humid," said Polk. "Paul's pitch counts were about 107 or 108. He got a little tired, so we went with Papelbon, who has been an ace for us all year. He made some good pitches and he made some bad pitches against a good-hitting ball club."
State had an opportunity to answer Georgia's run, loading the bases when Brandon Moorhead, the third of four UG pitchers in the game, walked the three batters he faced. Moorhead then gave way to Startup, who retired Goodson on a line drive to left. Bulldog lead runner Steve Gendron attempted to score from third on the sharply-hit line drive but was pegged at the plate on a perfect throw by back-up left fielder Josh Smith.
Georgia made the most of a similar bases-loaded opportunity in the bottom of the eight. Curt Sammons delivered a one-out single to left-center field and Papelbon walked the next two batters to load the bases. David Coffey followed with a sacrifice fly to right to make it a 4-3 game, and Mitchell doubled past a diving Jon Mungle in the left-center gap to plate the tying and go-ahead runs for Georgia.
Mississippi State kept the game alive with a run in the top of the ninth. J.B. Tucker delivered a pinch-hit double to right, Thomas Berkery advanced him to third with a single, and Tucker came home on a wild pitch uncorked by Startup.
Georgia ended the game on the first pitch to McClain, whose fourth home run strapped the Bulldogs with their first Friday night loss of the year.
Goodson went 2-for-4 and drove in two runs while Brinson and Berkery added two hits apiece to State's 10-hit offense. The first three hitters in the Georgia batting order, Justin Holmes, Coffey and Mitchell had two hits each to lead Georgia at the plate.
Papelbon, who had given up one earned run in 35.2 innings, was tagged with four runs on three hits and three walks. Starter Paul Maholm struck out six, walked four and gave up two runs on nine hits.
The series continues Saturday at 1 p.m. CDT at Foley Field, with sophomore righty Alan Johnson (5-2, 3.70) schedule to start for Mississippi State.
"It is going to be a hot, humid day tomorrow, so I know it is going to be tough for either of the boys to go the route," said Polk. "A lot is going to depend on the bullpen. Hopefully, we do a little better job in the bullpen tomorrow than we were able to do tonight."
GEORGIA 6, MISSISSIPPI STATE 5
MSU 300 001 001 -- 5-10-0
UG 010 000 131 -- 6-12-0
WP -- Will Startup (3-3). LP -- Jonathan Papelbon (6-2). HR -- (UG) Justin McClain (4). T -- 3:15. ATT -- 2,544.
Paul Maholm, Jonathan Papelbon (7) and Craig Tatum. Michael Hyle, Paul Lubrano (6), Brandon Moorhead (8), Will Startup (8) and Clint Sammons.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.