Yet the visitors had their chances to salvage something from the series, following Saturday's double-header defeats. Scoring in four-straight innings had Alabama ahead 6-3 while starter Justin Kamplain was holding the Bulldogs to four hits. The difference, again, came down to a better Bulldog bullpen and some scrappy late swinging.
"This is what we expect of our kids, especially the ones that have been through this before," said Cohen.
Count junior CF Bradford in that number. He had a 3-for-5 day going already, including a clutch RBI-hit in the key seventh inning when State battled back to tie the tally 6-6. In the eleventh he was coming up with Renfroe on second, having led off the inning with a single and reaching second as 2B Brett Pirtle was plunked squaring to bunt. It was the third time Pirtle got hit this day, and the biggest.
1B Wes Rea wasn't able to move anyone over while Cohen was talking, so Bradford didn't have a sacrifice or squeeze opportunity anyway. Nor did he worry. "I had a good feeling," he said, because Bradford had a good read on Tide reliever Jon Keller and was looking for a slider. "I'd been getting out early on it on the weekend with that pitch and that's what I'd been sitting on."
Sure enough the first offering was a slider from the lefthander, and Bradford swung. The result was a medium-speed liner that Renfroe had to watch first. "He takes one step back, holds his ground—which is what we teach—and it gets through," Cohen said. "He did a great job of baserunning." Because even with the delay Renfroe's great speed and flawless turn at third got him home ahead of the wide-right throw from rightfielder Ben Moore.
The win was State's second extra-inning success of the series, after a 5-4 final in Saturday's second game. This one made a winner of RHP Jonathan Holder, his second of the season out of the bullpen. Holder had entered in the ninth with the go-ahead runner on base and left him unscored. He also tossed the tenth and eleventh for an official 3.0 inning stint with six strikeouts, a walk, and no Alabama hits.
"He brought me in and I got out and came to the dugout, and said you know what, let me go until somebody gets a big hit," Holder said. "So they let me go." Because nobody could touch his hard-breaking curveball. Girodo received no decision or save or anything, as he had in Saturday's extra-inning win. What he got instead was a lot of applause for 2.2 tough turns, holding Alabama at their six run with two hits, a walk, and two strikeouts. His second-day effort made it possible for State to win at all.
"He was electric, he looked great," Bradford said. "He threw strikes and looked really good."
LHP Jacob Lindgren went the first 3.0 innings for State with two runs on seven hits and four strikeouts. LHP Ross Mitchell wasn't hit as hard but allowed three runs on two hits with a couple of walks and a strikeout. Both deserved a little better than the lines read.
"We made a couple of mistakes that really hurt us," Cohen said. "The double-play in the four-hole, the bunt play we don't get an out. But outside of that I thought we played pretty solid defense. And Butch (Thompson) did a really good job managing the pitching staff, and the two guys that caught for us."
Initially it seemed State wouldn't need hard-headed bullpen work as they scored twice off Kamplain in the first inning. Bradford's contact plated both with two outs, as he chopped a grounder Kamplain deflected. Second baseman Kyle Overstreet got to the ricochet and threw it wide of second base, scoring Renfroe and Pirtle. Bradford only received credit for one RBI due to the error.
But Kamplain settled down with three scoreless innings, while his offense got to Lindgren in the third. After a Steven Cole single, a grounder by Kenny Roberts to Pirtle was snagged but unwisely throw, high, to second. Georgie Salem dropped his bunt so well on the wet field he reached too for bases loaded. Lindgren steadied to roll a double-play and give up one run and end that inning with a strikeout of Moore.
Loading everything up in the fourth with no outs was too much to survive. Consecutive singles were followed by the expected bunt that 3B Alex Detz fielded only to stumble and throw short. A full-count walk of Andrew Miller forced the tying run across and brought in Mitchell. He escaped this big jam too, with one comebacker for a force at home and double-up at first; then another bouncer back to the mound.
Still Alabama had tied it up, and after two quick outs in their fifth everything changed. Austen Smith doubled to the warning track, and Brett Booth walked. Mikey White had a 2-2 count when he saw a floater hanging in his wheelhouse, and sailed it over left-centerfield for the 5-2 scoreboard. It wasn't just his first homer of the season but his college career.
State did get one of those back in the bottom of the frame after a one-out walk of Renfroe and plunking of Pirtle. Both were running as Rea swung, grounding to shortstop and advancing his teammates. Kamplain scored Renfroe with a wild pitch before getting a called strikeout of Bradford to keep it 5-3. And his offense restored a three-run cushion as Moore singled off Girodo to plate Cole, who'd reached off RHP Will Cox.
Which was all Alabama did with Girodo, who historically has been best in left-on-left matchups. He got it done against the right-side dominant Tide order. "We needed him to roll through some righthanded hitters and he did that," Cohen said. "His slider was a really good pitch and allowed us to get through some innings. We just didn't want to go to Holder because he threw a couple of pitches yesterday. But that guy always wants the baseball."
First though State had to make it a Holder situation. Tucker Hawley did go in-order in the bottom of the fifth, then fell apart in the sixth. SS Adam Frazier watched four balls go by, and Detz singled his way on. It still didn't seem much danger was developing as Renfroe saw a low strike-three called, and Pirtle flew out. Rea kept the inning going though with a single that scored Frazier.
But it was Bradford's double past the glove of the diving rightfielder that scored Detz. "He came fastball-in to a couple of lefties with two strikes. Which I got down two strikes and that's kind of what I was sitting on and it worked out." Rea was wisely held at third base as Alabama back to the bullpen. Lefthander Keller was called on to face lefty Jacob Robson, who'd pinched in the sixth. Robson chopped one that somehow hopped over the pitcher, with the second baseman getting it on the third hop with no play anywhere. Rea tied it up on the infield single.
Much as State didn't want to go to Holder too soon after his 44-pitch Saturday stint, the leadoff ninth-inning single was the cue. His fastball was maybe too fast and not locating early, but the bender warped Tide batters out of shape. "I had a little bit left in the beginning, after that I was using my legs and letting my arm work." Some Alabamans appeared to stand in the box expecting to swish, and they did.
Keller (3-6) got the tough loss on his 3.2 innings with the one run on four hits. Bradford went 4-of-6 with three RBI, while Detz was the other Dog with multiple hits. White was 3-of-5 for the Tide and both teams came away with 11 safeties. Because it wasn't a save setting, Holder couldn't break the season record. So he goes into the week with 13 saves still.
This was State's second SEC sweep of the season, but taking three from the Tide was tougher than brooming at Texas A&M three weeks ago. "And Alabama is a good club," Cohen said. "They didn't come in with good offensive numbers but you'd never know that by the way they swung it. And I thought we did some things to help them. They're a club that can do some things in the post-season for sure."
The Bulldogs learned later that with their wins and some other SEC scores, State locked-up a berth in the SEC Tournament. Which almost certainly will mean a NCAA invitation to follow. But getting to post-season was taken for-granted this year. Hosting a Regional and winning is the 2013 goal, and sweeping a home set was a necessary step in that direction.
"But we're not there yet," reminded Cohen. State is off until Friday when they travel to Oxford for what sets up as a straightforward battle for Regional trump-position.