Bouncing back from a really ugly loss at South Alabama and beating big Alabama 6-5 was good for Mississippi State. Good to open the early-starting series with a Thursday victory, good to begin the second half of SEC season successfully. Just, good to take a back-and-forth brawl, as Coach Andy Cannizaro called it.
“Both teams played extremely hard. Both teams just kind of stood in the middle of the ring throwing punches back-and-forth. We’re very fortunate to come out on the victorious end tonight.”
Alabama (15-23, 2-14) didn’t look like a league cellar dweller. The Crimson Tide gave State (26-14, 11-5) all it could handle by leading twice and forcing a half-way tie.
Not until the Bulldogs scratched out three runs in bottom of the fifth frame did things take a home-team turn. “That inning was the game-changer,” said shortstop Gridley, who got things going with a one-out single and accounted for the lead run.
“Once we scored those three we had a lot of confidence going the rest of the way.”
Alabama didn’t fold, cutting two off their deficit immediately at expense of State starter LHP Konnor Pilkington. The Bulldog bullpen patched it together as LHP Trysten Barlow stranded tying and go-ahead runners in scoring positions in the sixth; then righthanders Riley Self and Spencer Price took care of the end game.
“I thought Pilkington gave us a good start, we had some timely hits,” Gridley said. “It ended up working out in our favor.”
Pilkington (4-3) wasn’t grading himself as easily. State’s ace did go 5.2 turns, right at what Cannizaro wants to begin series. He allowed the five runs on as many hits with an uncharacteristic four walks and five strikeouts.
His command wasn’t crisp though and Alabama batters were just the type to cause some problems.
“I left some balls up, they attacked a couple,” Pilkington said. “They fouled a lot of balls off in the first inning which kind of raised my pitch count.” In the second inning Chandler Taylor attacked in leadoff and sailed his 10th homer of the season over centerfield. A single, Gridley fielding error, and plunking loaded up all corners in the Alabama third for Cobie Vance to ground-in a run. Pilkington needed a strikeout of Taylor to keep the deficit down.
Sam Finnerty’s fourth-inning double plated Cody Henry for a 3-3 tie at the time. By the sixth the Bulldogs were up 6-3 but with two outs and two on the starter was lifted. RHP Trey Jolly was greeted by the top of the Tide order and a Chandler Avant single for the RBI. Jolley walked the bases full and wild-pitched in another run.
When Jolly got down 2-1 to Vance he was yanked for Barlow to get the inning-ending grounder.
State was playing catch-up early on, against lefthander Dylan Duarte. Walks got him in second-inning trouble as RF Tanner Poole singled LF Cody Brown in. In the third it was another free base, this one an intentional pass of league-leading hitter 1B Brent Rooker setting up issues.
Gridley fouled off one bunt attempt, but as the Tide defense stayed back he tried again and dumped a beauty to the left side. It would have gone for a hit anyway but Duarte forced a high throw sailed into rightfield. Rooker came all the way home from first base.
Gridley worked around to third and scored on a well-hit and better-caught liner to center by Walker McCleney for the sacrifice.
Duarte (2-4) took the loss on 4.2 innings with five runs on five hits, four walks and a pair of strikeouts. He had two outs and two on in the MSU fifth when Alabama played percentages and went with righthander Garrett Suchey. This solved nothing immediately.
C Josh Lovelady stayed with him before finding something to drop in rightfield. Taylor multiplied things with a wild throw way up the third base line which let Gridley and DH Elijah MacNamee score from second and first bases. 3B Harrison Bragg drove one at Taylor too, this one miss-read the other way and getting over his glove for the RBI-double.
Suchey settled down and worked into the ninth, with Mike Oszypok getting the last two outs. Meawhile Self entered to go in-order for the eighth and get the first out of the ninth as Brown robbed Kaufman of at least a base hit. A single brought in closer Self.
He didn’t do things easily and needed a ground ball to strand the tying and lead runners, picking up his 14th save. Bulldog batters managed nine hits, none by the 1-2 punch of CF Jake Mangum and Rooker at the top of the order. Alabama did have a good pitching plan for them.
“They were working away, working away, trying to get ahead and spinning late in the count,” Gridley said. “And it was working well, then they brought in their back-half guys.”
Poole went 3-of-4 and Gridley 2-of-5 with two runs. Twice Bulldogs were able to go first-to-home as pressure on Alabama’s shaky defense showed. Finnerty was the Tide batting star, 3-of-4 in the eight-spot with two runs and a RBI.
With weekend weather coming, Mississippi State and Alabama got SEC approval to play a Friday twinbill. Both are nine-inning games beginning at 4:00. Cannizaro said State will stick with the announced schedule of RHP Cole Gordon (2-0, 4.18), then RHP Jacob Billingsley (1-0, 3.80). Alabama lists righty Nick Eicholtz (1-0, 5.15) as their starter for what would be a normal game-two, and TBA.