Ryan Gridley (Gene Swindoll, Gene's Page)

Bulldogs Move into Sole First Place During Busy SEC Evening

He’s made 16 relief appearance this season. He’s been as sure a set-up guy as there in the league. He’s even earned four winning decisions without a loss. But Riley Self didn’t have a single save.

He does now.

Mississippi State’s freshman entered to solve a eighth-inning jam and stayed to seal a 4-3 victory over Alabama. After Friday’s 6-5 final the Bulldogs clinched their series ahead of a nightcap starting at 8:05. It is Mississippi State’s fifth-straight won weekend and at least for the moment has the Dogs (27-14) on top of the SEC at 12-5 thanks to their two wins and an early-starting series.

Alabama is 15-24 and 2-15 going into game-three of the series Friday evening.

Righthander Self has been a success story already this rookie season. His usual duty has been middle- or late-relief, the latter most often and most recently. Self has thrived in setting up RHP Spencer Price to lead the NCAA in saves at 14.

Well, Price was warmed and ready in the ninth again. But Coach Andy Cannizaro sent Self back out to the hill to seal the Dogs’ deal against the bottom-three in Alabama’s order. He made quick work of everyone with a grounder to third base, a called strikeout, and a swinging strikeout.

Self’s real challenge had been upon entry in the eighth. Alabama had the tying runner on first base as LHP Trystan Barlow walked the only batter faced. Self stranded him on swinging strikeouts to give him four fannings out of five faced.

In the process Self made a winner of RHP Peyton Plumlee (5-1). The middle-man, taking over from starter RHP Cole Gordon for the Alabama fifth, went 3.1 steady turns with two hits and two strikeouts.

Plumlee was put in position to get the win because right after Gordon finished his standard four-inning stint the Bulldog offense caught up. Gordon had allowed three runs in the top of the third, struggling with control and giving more free bases than hits. Alabama left the sacks stuffed in their second but got to Gordon the next chance.

Cobie Vance grounded-in Walker McCleney to break scoring ice, and after an inning-extending single Cody Henry smoked a two-run double for the 3-0 lead.

Mississippi State got one of those back off Tide starter Nick Eicholtz as 1B Brent Rooker turned a routine bouncer base hit into a double. His aggressive running mattered because SS Ryan Gridley’s single to center could score him unchallenged.

After Gordon took care of the bottom of the Tide order in the fourth—shades of the future—his day was done as planned. That State’s offense got to Eicholtz in the bottom of that frame was timely for Plumlee. With runners on third and first and one out, 2B Hunter Stovall punched a single through to plate 3B Harrison Bragg.

CF Jake Mangum worked the count full before lifting a fly ball the other-way that fell in for a RBI-single. The 3-3 tie was broken in the Bulldog fifth as LF Cody Brown singled and stole into scoring position despite a pitch-out. DH Hunter Vansau’s bunt put him on third and brought righty Sam Finnerty to the hill.

His first pitch was lined down the left side by C Josh Lovelady for the double and 4-3 Bulldog lead. It was all the scoring for State, or anyone else.

Alabama did threaten in their sixth though. Plumlee had one on base with a leadoff single when Henry crushed a drive that somehow stayed inside the park and caromed off the fence for a double. The lead runner Chandler Taylor had to wait to see if the ball was caught and only made it to third base. He also stayed there. A called strikeout, first-pitch popup, and routine grounder kept the lead.

State should have padded the lead in their last offensive turn. Finnerty kept the one-run deficit by leaving the bases full on consecutive strikeouts. His line was a scoreless 3.2 innings with five hits and seven strikeouts.

Eicholtz (1-1) took the loss with 4.1 innings, all four Dog runs on his account with seven hits, three walks and two strikeouts. Gordon was charged with the three Alabama runs but came out clean in his fourth SEC start.

Going into the Friday finale, State was a half-game ahead of both Auburn and Arkansas. Those two were playing a series in Auburn and the host Tigers were well in front at last report, which would have made them both 11-5. On the other side Kentucky had beaten LSU in the first game of their own twinbill and were leading in game two. A win would make the Wildcats 12-5 as well.

But for at least a few hours the Bulldogs are alone on top. And if they can complete Friday’s pair successfully they go into a free Saturday still first.

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