Mississippi State spotted the visiting Bulldogs of Alabama A&M a first-inning run, then reeled off 18 of their own before taking the 18-2 final. With their win the home Bulldogs were 6-0 going into the second contest, against Marshall.
That game was suspended in the bottom of the fifth inning, right after State's Brent Rooker lined a two-run shot to break up the 1-1 tie. Mississippi State will have a 3-1 lead when play resumes Sunday, following conclusion of the 11:00am game between Alabama A&M and Marshall.
Going into Sunday, Alabama A&M is 2-4, having beaten Marshall in Friday’s opening game of the weekend round robin at Dudy Noble Field.
State starter RHP Austin Sexton easily overcame allowing an early score. He went otherwise-unscathed for his 6.0 complete inning stint, allowing just two hits and a walk. Sexton also struck out eight, best of the sophomore’s still-young career, and got his first win of this season.
“Josh (Lovelady) did a wonderful job calling pitches today,” Sexton said of his battery-mate. “That team is talented, a lot of juniors and seniors. They’re really aggressive and that helped me out a lot today. Luckily they swung at some pitches they shouldn’t have and that helped me.”
Alabama A&M’s Devin Smith (0-2) took the loss and half the scoring damage, charged with nine runs in his 2.0 innings. That came on just three hits, as Smith gave away five walks and a hit batsman to get the Bulldog offense going. Four more A&M Dogs would take turns pitching and giving up multiple runs each in the rout.
State got those 18 runs on just 13 base hits…and one of those might not even have been a safety. It became the game’s defining moment as a Texas Leaguer by 2B Ryan Gridley turned into a three-run, inside-the-park home run. That was the biggest part of State’s control-seizing second inning.
First though, Sexton to settle into his own groove. After an opening strikeout he plunked Patrick Dodson on a 1-2 count. Dodson was running and Austin Hulsey swinging, for a single to leftfield. With runners on corners Andrew Utterback lifted a fly ball to centerfield for the sacrifice-RBI. Utterback was caught stealing by Lovelady.
For his part A&M’s Smith had worked out of an opening walk in the first inning. He wasn’t nearly so fortunate the second time after a leadoff walk, of CF Jacob Robson. Gridley bunted him over before Smith loaded the other bases with a walk and plunking. 3B Luke Reynolds took four-straight balls to force in the tying runner Robson.
With two outs 1B John Holland gave Mississippi State the lead with a hard grounder his counterpart couldn’t handle, for an error scoring RF Cody Brown. The sacks were still stuffed so a walk of LF Reid Humphreys plated Lovelady for the 3-1 lead.
All of this had been achieved without a base hit. DH Brent Rooker took care of that item with his single to center, scoring both Reynolds and Holland. With the order starting over Robson got a single of his own, pushing Humphreys home for the 6-1 scoreboard. And setting up the day’s wildest play.
Gridley lifted a short fly ball that headed for no-man’s land in centerfield. Second baseman Julio Nunez made a heroic run out and appeared to have made the blind reaching catch before hitting the turf. But as he lay there and two teammates watched, seeing no need to make any other play, State’s Rooker and Robson ran on around just in case.
So did Gridley as second base umpire Tracy Cheek signaled fair ball. There was no throw home as Gridley came all the way for an official inside-the-park home run and 9-1 lead.
New A&M hurler Derrick Winters was able to leave two un-scored Bulldogs in the third inning. The fourth was another matter. Robson singled his way on, and this time Gridley drove a clean double for the RBI. With two outs Lovelady singled in Gridley for the 11-1 margin.
Sexton had three A&M Dogs reach in his second, one outed and the other stranded. Returning with the big lead he was touched for a one-out single, before sitting the next ten faced. In the middle of the stretch he fanned five-straight. And the batter who finally reached on him, two outs into the sixth, came on a plunking. He was shortly shot-down by Lovelady trying to steal second.
“Early on I was trying to throw a little bit too hard and force things. I went in the dugout after the first inning and talked to Coach (Butch) Thompson, and slowed things down. I just let the fastball move and that really helped me out a lot today.”
Righthander Taylor Knight threw a scoreless fifth against State. Then Rooker came up first in the sixth and took him over left-centerfield for the solo shot and first career homer. Robson notched his third base hit, with new CF Jake Vickerson taking his place on first base. Vickerson didn’t have to stay there because a steal and Cody Brown’s single to center scored him.
When State began the seventh with walks of Reynolds and new 1B Trent Waddell, around a plunking of Heck, Benford Jordan was instantly yanked for righthander Ben Ryder. He got a generous called strikeout of CF Joey Swinarski, but still had to face Rooker. A double played two more RBI.
And that wasn’t all the offense. Brown reached on a shortstop throwing error to open the Bulldog eighth and was joined on the paths by Reynolds via walking. New SS Matt Spruill made his swing a good one, lining down the right-stripe and legging it into a two-run triple. He might have been a little tired though as trying to score on 1B Trent Waddell’s fly ball to right he was thrown out.
RHP Levi Mintz took over Sexton’s win to throw the seventh and eight with two strikeouts and nobody reaching. For the ninth, State sent RHP Logan Elliott to the hill for his Bulldog pitching debut. He got consecutive grounders to second before grooving one to second baseman Julio Nunez. The drive cleared left-centerfield, the second homer of Nunez’ season and last score of the afternoon.
Batting in the fourth and fifth slots, Rooker and Robson both had three-hit days. Rooker was 3-of-5 with five RBI and two runs, while Robson was 3-of-3 scoring three times with a RBI. Heck and Gridley both had two hits each, with Gridley’s contacts producing four RBI. And while he did not bat safely, officially, Reynolds reached on three walks and scored three times.
Alabama A&M had just three base hits.