State Gets to Georgia Bullpen for Rally, Sexton Keeps Club in Striking Range Again

Technically it was supposed to be a Georgia reliever. Realistically? It was a relief to Mississippi State seeing Robert Tyler stay in his dugout for the seventh inning. Just ask Nathaniel Lowe.

“When (the pitcher) goes from 98 to 88, it’s a relief.”

The Diamond Dogs didn’t just sigh in relief after Georgia went to their bullpen. Mississippi State attacked Tyler’s replacements to tie and go ahead en route to a 3-1 victory at Dudy Noble Field. With the win the home Bulldogs (17-6-1, 4-1 SEC) clinched this second series of the league season in two games, following Thursday’s 9-2 final.

Georgia dropped its second league weekend and is 14-10, 1-4.

If the visiting Bulldogs had been able to ride Tyler longer, they could have evened the score. Their righthanded ace more than lived up to reputation and scouting. For seven innings he not only had a shutout, he was no-hitting the home team. Tyler exited with a 1-0 lead and in line for the decision.

Yet that slender margin with three innings left was all Mississippi State wanted, and needed.

“We had to have patience,” 2B John Holland said. “Get deeper in the game, get into the bullpen, see what happens.”

The Bulldogs responded by jumping on reliever Drew Moody for two runs in the bottom of the seventh and an insurance score in the eighth to take the series. They also notched five base hits in those two turns after being blanked for so long.

“Once it happens I feel the floodgates open,” Holland said. “We swing the bats so well I didn’t think it was going to happen, we were going to get our hits.”

“I’m pleased with the way our kids battled tonight,” Coach John Cohen said.

It was a battle both ways. As brilliant as Tyler’s stuff was, lighting up the radars in the mid-to-high 90s with a tempting breaking ball, control was a weak link. Tyler did strike out six Dogs but walked just as many. More to the point, he had to throw a lot of pitches early. If State couldn’t hit him, they could foul-off enough offerings to build the pitch count fast.

“He was on pace to throw, like, 130 by the fifth and nobody could do that,” said Lowe. The total hit 107 after 7.0 and that was it for the ace, who had been held back a day by Georgia to stay on Friday schedule.

Mississippi State countered with RHP Austin Sexton, on a day-less rest. The junior could not match velocity of course, but he did battle Georgia batters effectively enough with five shutout innings of his own. Even better, he kept the other Dogs knocking balls on the ground with just two fly-outs in his entire stint.

“He was just a changeup guy and they had a lot of lefties getting out front,” said Holland. “That’s what he always does. When Sexton is on the mound it’s one of my favorite days.” With good reason. The second sacker ended up with nine assists, seven off Sexton pitches.

Sexton had to strand four in scoring positions in his first three turns, then sat seven-straight to get into the sixth. His closest call to then was a two-out single in the fifth and a deep drive that CF Jacob Robson needed all his speed to get and extend the shutout.

That ended in the sixth after a leadoff walk, single, and bunt. LJ Talley lifted a fly ball to center for the sacrifice RBI and 1-0 lead that with Tyler looked insurmountable. Except Tyler was wearing down at last. And Georgia had left two more runners un-scored which they would soon regret.

“I thought Austin matched (Tyler) pitch for pitch, just in a different style,” Cohen said. Sexton had the one run on six hits with three walks and six strikeouts for a no-decision.

That went to RHP Ryan Rigby when he inherited the 2-1 lead. With the bottom-third of MSU’s order up Georgia made the change to Moody. He did ground-out a pinch hitter before Holland chopped a ball that hopped over the third baseman. By the time the UG shortstop got to hit his throw was not going to beat the Bulldog to the bag, ending the no-hitter.

Cohen rolled the pinch-dice by sending Elih Marrero to the plate. The freshman rewarded this faith by knocking State’s first clean base hit for Dogs on corners with the top of the order coming back up. CF Jacob Robson didn’t strike Moody’s pitch well, poking it the other way to the third baseman.

Talley fielded, looked Holland back, then fired for second…and missed badly. Holland tied it up on the error. Marrero was hung-up on a ground ball between third and home and run down, but Robson took second base behind him.

That left Lowe in the RBI situation. He’d not hit Tyler but wasn’t outed either, walking three times. So Lowe was ready to swing and laced a single to rightfield that scored Robson.

State gave Rigby a little more margin to work with in their eighth. 3B Reid Humphreys worked a full-count walk in leadoff and made second by taking off as Collins grounded, avoiding a double-play. New RF Cody Brown made it matter by taking Moody back up the middle for the RBI-single.

Rigby had had to strand the tying runner in the seventh, but he rolled the rest of the way. Holland had a big hand, and glove, in this. His sliding snag and on-grass throw for a (likely generous) out call at first got the eighth started, and he went to the other side for a merely impressive grab-and-throw for the next out. From there Rigby used routine flies and strikeouts to pick up his second victory, on 3.0 scoreless innings with one hit and two fannings.

With the win State has now won both their initial league weekends. Put another way, they just doubled their entire series-success score of 2015 in two chances. So, do the Bulldogs look at Saturday (2:00) as going for a sweep, or just the next SEC chance to build the record?

“Both,” Holland said. “That’s something we didn’t get to do last year. Winning two series is something we didn’t do last year, either. We’re on cloud-nine but we have to come right back down.”

Both teams were to set their game-three starters sometime in the late evening.

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