Eighth-Inning Collapse Means 10-5 Loss

There might be worse ways to open a SEC schedule. Blowing a 5-2 lead to lose 10-5, at home, to an opponent showing few signs of life for seven-plus innings must rank pretty low on the list though.

Alabama used an eight-run assault in the top of the eighth to turn deficit into victory, in their SEC season opener. It was the first of two contests at Dudy Noble Field, with the second game set to begin at 5:40. The Crimson Tide was 10-6 after taking game-one, while Mississippi State was 15-5.

It was the fifth loss in seven games for the host Bulldogs.

Up to that fatal frame the Bulldogs were feeling confident of winning the league lidlifter with their own mid-game comeback. Trailing 2-0 going to the bottom of the fourth Mississippi State scored in each of the following four turns for the 5-2 margin after seven.

They even had two outs in the eighth with a lone runner aboard, on third base. From there things didn’t just fall apart for State; they collapsed completely, as Alabama would send 13 to the batters box in a comeback that probably shocked the winners as much as it did the losers.

The loss landed on RHP Trevor Fitts (1-2), but that was more a matter of time-and-place as no other bullpen Bulldog had any better luck in relief. It was LHP Ross Mitchell on the mound who had the three-run margin to begin the eighth. He’d entered in the seventh to roll a double-play and get a ground out protecting what was a 4-2 lead.

By the time Mitchell returned it was 5-2 after a bases-loaded walk of RF Cody Brown forced home pinch-runner OF Michael Smith. But the real story of that inning was too similar to others for State, as two Dogs were left on bases by a fly-out. Before the day no less than 15 Bulldog runners were stuck on bases and seven of them in scoring positions.

A leadoff single and walk didn’t even seem to set up much trouble, as again Mitchell rolled a twin-killing. That did leave a runner on third base, and J.C. Wilhite both extended the inning and narrowed the lead with his first-pitch single. When Mitchell plunked the #7 batter, Fitts was called in with a righthander in the box.

Catcher Josh Lovelady let one get off his mitt to advance both runners, and it cost dearly. On 3-1 Willy Haynie blooped a little lob that shortstop Heck could only get a bit of glove on. Both runners were waved around for a 5-5 tie. And, a fast call for LHP Daniel Brown.

He missed low on full-count to nine-batter Riley Colburn, then hit Chandlar Avant’s foot to load the bases. Brown fell behind 3-0 before a couple of called strikes. Georgi Salem wasn’t fazed, despite his .231 average the veteran took the fastball up the middle for a two-run single.

Now down 7-5 State went back to the bullpen and RHP Zac Houston had no better fortune. He had to face Mikey White with two on, and quickly saw it become none on as White no-doubted a blast over leftfield. And Alabama still left two un-scored runners when the inning finally ended.

The Tide changed pitchers themselves in the MSU eighth with one on and a 3-0 count to Jake Vickerson, as Thomas Burrows entered to fly him out. In the ninth a leadoff infield single by CF Jacob Robson was erased on a line-out double-play. A walk of SS Seth Heck meant nothing either as Burrows flew-out Brown.

That last bit was the other side-story of State’s day. The five Alabama pitchers all combined to walk a dozen Dogs, the most free passes in five seasons. Only one of them would ultimately score; and Brown’s free pass forced a run over. Otherwise Mississippi State just about wasted every gift Crimson Tide hurlers presented. And of the eight base hits, only four really left the infield. The rest were ground-ball singles off gloves or with no throws.

Alabama finished with eleven hits, and White’s homer (2) was the only extra-base knock.

State also squandered a solid start from RHP Preston Brown. He worked 6.0-plus innings with two runs on just five hits, and while Brown walked four he did get five strikeouts. He also minimized damage in the top of the fourth, which should have been the only real offensive inning for Alabama. After consecutive RBI-singles with two outs staked the Tide to their 2-0 lead, Brown got a grounder to first base to leave the bases loaded.

By contrast Alabama should have lost it early and badly. Starter Taylor Guilbeau was only hit twice in his 4.2 innings, but then he didn’t throw much worth swinging at with seven walks of the 24 he faced. He struck out three and was charged with the first two State runs.

Those came in the fourth and fifth innings after falling behind. A leadoff single and errored bunt had a pair of Dogs on, with both pushed into scoring positions. 2B Ryan Gridley’s grounder scored LF Reid Humphreys, but C Josh Lovelady would be left at third base.

In the fifth a one-out walk eventually had 3B Matt Spruill on third base with the other bags occupied by DH Brent Rooker and Humphreys. Lovelady worked the count full before watching ball-four from Ray Castillo to force the tying run across. Castillo did keep it there with a grounder, more missed MSU chances.

He was still on the hill in the MSU sixth when 1B Wes Rea came up with two on (infield single, walk) and one out. The outfield defense shaded to the left-center gap but Rea placed his drive there anyway, for a two-run double. In the MSU seventh it was Brown coming up with bases loaded and two outs, to see the walk and get his RBI off Alex Watkins.

It wasn’t enough margin. Not after Mitchell’s three runs on two hits, and the go-ahead contact on Fitts. D.Brown was charged with three runs on the one hit, with a walk.

Jake Hubbard (2-1) got the unlikely winning decision on 0.2 innings, with Thomas Burrows going the last 2.0 official with no runs on a hit and a walk.

Humphreys had two of State’s hits in three trips with another walk before he was replaced. Alabama’s White was 3-of-4 with the three RBI and three runs, while Wilhite drove in two in a 2-of-5 day with one run.

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