Georgia broke a tied contest with three runs in their eighth inning and three more in the ninth to take a 11-8 decision and salvage something from their weekend at Dudy Noble Field. The visiting Bulldogs left 15-10 and 2-4 SEC, while Mississippi State had to settle for a series win and finish week-two of conference play 17-7-1 and 4-2.
The outcome naturally left a lot of what-if in home Bulldog minds, after clinching another SEC series in two games before dropping the third. The same happened last week at Vanderbilt. Certainly it was on Coach John Cohen’s mind.
“Our two day-threes have not been our finest hours in league play so far.”
‘Hours’ was an operative word Saturday. It took four of them plus 52 more minutes to complete a nine-inning affair. That eclipsed the longest standard-length MSU game on record, a 2009 home match won by Kentucky 22-17. That was also a game-three and lasted just under four-and-a-half hours.
But that too was in the big-bat and live-ball years. This numbing afternoon had ‘only’ 19 runs on 25 combined hits. The trouble for both teams, and the pitchers most of all, was a tight strike zone by umpire Mark Chapman. Some moundsmen handled it better than others but not by a lot in the long, long, long afternoon.
“Obviously we didn’t throw enough strikes tonight,” said Cohen, as seven State pitchers allowed 15 hits with ten walks and one plunking. Looking at Georgia’s line, “And in fact it’s worse, they walked 12,” Cohen noted, to go with ten MSU hits.
Somebody had to get the decision though. It was Bo Tucker, third of five Georgians to pitch. His 4.1 inning stint, begun in the fourth and ending in the eighth, was just effective enough. Tucker (3-1) got the win on allowing one run on four hits with three walks and two strikeouts. He also got it on great timing, as in his sting the UG offense busted loose at last.
State’s LHP Daniel Brown (2-2) took the loss on 3.2 innings, as the fifth Bulldog pitcher. He absorbed four runs on just two hits but walked five against as many strikeouts.
“Daniel had his moments where he threw pretty well,” Cohen said. “But we had some many exchanges where we had big misses, and it’s hard to play defense behind that for five hours. For both teams.”
Brown had been the game-three, or -four starter the first five weekends including at Vanderbilt. With Georgia’s statistics indicating they bat much better against lefthanders, State went with true freshman Keegan James instead. State’s stats showed he was the best of available arms in strike-thrower, too.
The stat sheets were wrong. James scuffled up to a two-out, two-on situation in the top of the second and was lifted on a 1-2 count against the top of the UG order. RHP Blake Smith got a fly-out on the first pitch.
But Smith ran into his own troubles in the third by loading up the bases. LHP Kale Breaux entered and nicked LJ Talley for a free RBI before striking out a pair.
Mississippi State didn’t get to UG starter Heath Holder in the first two innings despite five Dogs reaching. In the third 1B Nathaniel Lowe evened the score with a double that plated RF Cody Brown all the way from first base. Lowe would score on a grounder by LF Reid Humphreys for a brief 2-1 lead that should have been larger. Three walks loaded up the bases before SS Ryan Gridley struck out, and Georgia tied it on a off-the-fence double by Skyler Webber.
That brought in RHP Noah Hughes to roll a double-play. The MSU Bulldogs countered again as Humphreys doubled off Tucker, scoring a pair. Words were exchanged and tempers flared after the play and umpires had to get between the squads. Georgia was the more aggrieved dugout though, and that might have been the unintended turning point.
Because from then on UG out-scored State nine runs to one into the bottom of the ninth. They tied it up only two swings in the fifth as both the aptly-named Trevor Kieboom and Talley crushed Hughes’ offerings over the fences.
The exchanges of scores continued. Robson singled-in C Elih Marrero for a brief 5-4 lead, only to have Georgia get it back in their sixth on a one-out fly ball to left-center. Humphreys’ throw was strong and on-line as UG’s Wrenn tagged at third, but 3B Gavin Collins cut it off, presumably called to do so by a teammate.
Oddly at 5-5 the pitchers began to take charge. Tucker and Brown combined for a couple of in-order turns until the UG eighth. With two outs and a runner on second, Brown lost the zone and walked three-straight. The third was a lefthanded hitter so leaving him in for that bases-loaded situation made sense. It just didn’t work as the ball-four forced across a lead run.
RHP Zac Houston took over and was two strikes ahead when Logan Moody tried to protect the plate. “Zac makes a great 0-2 pitch on the inner-half,” Cohen said. “The hitter stops his swing, doesn’t even swing at it, and drives in two runs.” Because Moody’s bloop got just over 2B John Holland’s glove for a single.
8-5 was a tough enough deficit. 11-5 was fatal. Three singles to open the eighth off Houston scored one run before LHP Vance Tatum entered. After a strikeout he was tagged for a two-run double by Talley.
State did keep the agony going with a three-run ninth as pinch-hitter OF Jake Mangum singled in one, Robson grounded-in another, and OF Brent Rooker’s fly ball was good for a sacrifice. The tying run never got to the plate though as reliever Blake Cairns ended it on a grounder to get his first save.
Talley drove in five RBI with his two hits, while Skyler Webber was 4-of-6 with a RBI and two runs. Robson led State with a 4-of-6 afternoon too, driving in a pair and scoring once. Lowe and Marrero each had a pair of hits.
Holland was hitless in one official appearance as he walked three times, but it was a highlight-quality leaping grab over the rightfield fence by Moody that robbed him of a seventh-inning homer which would have been good for a lead.
Robson, seemingly involved with the fourth-inning verbiage, credited Georgia for changing the game when so close to getting swept. “But at the same time we showed who we were, we’re tough individuals and we’re not going to back down from anything. A tough loss, but we’re going to move on from it.”
Thanks to this early series the Bulldogs have Easter Sunday off. They practice Monday before making the first of two annual appearances in Pearl’s Trustmark Park, to play Southern Miss on Tuesday.