Controversial Ending Completes Sweep of Tide as State Grabs First Place

The controversy will linger. The score will stand. And Mississippi State will lead the league standings.

Luke Alexander’s bases-loaded, one-out grounder into the middle infield gave the Bulldogs a 13-12 final in 13 innings to complete both a Friday doubleheader and series sweep of visiting Alabama. It took nearly six hours to complete too, but pushed Mississippi State alone atop the SEC standings at 13-5 and 28-14 overall.

“I hadn’t been a part of a game like this,” said Alexander, credited with a RBI-single to end the evening. Or the morning.

“Definitely one of the more incredible games I’ve seen, playing ‘til two o’clock,” RHP Brant Blaylock said. “Coming out with a W makes it good.”

Good and strange. Alabama (15-25, 2-16) had plenty reasons for frustrations already having blown leads of 5-0 and 12-9. The contest only continued into the unlucky 13th because an Alexander popup was dropped by pitcher Davis Vainer for the tying run to score from third base.

This paled compared to the ending. After reliever Tyler Adams walked a pair of Bulldogs on in the 13th with one out, lefthander Sonny Potter completed stuffing the sacks with another free pass to C Dustin Skelton. Alexander already had a big, clean hit with his two-run homer back in the sixth inning. He also had his dropped pop which had plated DH Hunter Vansau for the 12-12 deadlock.

Now almost anything would end the evening. Anything but a double-play grounder and Potter seemed to have coaxed it as Alexander bounced one left-of-second base. Where, Vansau was running from on any contact.

The low roller glanced off Vansau’s foot, affirmed by TV replay. Shortstop Chandler Avant changed angles but not in time to make any play as LF Cody Brown crossed the plate. Bulldogs celebrated, even dumping a cooler of ice in leftfield.

Crimson Tide players stayed on the field as umpires huddled. But as Coach Andy Cannizaro said, “It’s not a reviewable play.” The game was over.

“I don’t know what it hit or where it hit,” Alexander said of his third and oddest RBI. “Hey, we got a sweep and I’m happy with that.”

“Just what a crazy night,” Cannizaro said. “What a game. What a finish.”

The finish was only the fitting finishing touch to a frantic affair where both sides took and lost commanding leads and in unexpected ways. Alabama scored three times in their first turn off State starter RHP Jacob Billingsley and were in front 5-0 middle of the sixth inning. In fact righthander Jake Walters was not only shutting out the Dogs, he had a no-hitter going.

When the Bulldogs broke it up, they broke it open. Nine runners crossed the plate in the bottom of the sixth as four Alabamans pitched parts of it. 2B Hunter Stovall ended the no-hitter with a leadoff double. Walters didn’t leave until he’d been had two of the runs scored and put another pair of Dogs on base. He was excused only after DH Elijah MacNamee’s two-RBI single.

RHP Deacon Medders didn’t stop any bleeding. Substitute C Dustin Skelton immediately tagged him for a double off the centerfield wall scoring one; and Alexander followed with his fifth homer of the season for a 7-5 lead. Mike Oczypok was hustled in only to plunk RF Tanner Poole and have Stovall’s grounder booted for two on and still one out.

CF Jake Mangum’s fly ball was going to fall in short center for the base hit and at least one RBI already. Walker McCleney multiplied the damage by botching the play, as Poole and Stovall came home for the 9-5 lead. Righthander Zac Rogers got some help as with Dogs on corners a double-steal backfired and Mangum was out at home. Still State had gone from hitless to a 9-5 lead in one long inning.

Yet falling behind seemed only to free-up Alabama swings. They attacked a series of bullpen Bulldogs for two runs in both the seventh and eighth innings. The tying run came on a one-out single by Cobie Vance through a drawn-in infield, and off the early game’s winning pitcher RHP Peyton Plumlee.

RHP Trey Jolly held the 9-9 line with two quick outs. He was lifted after a one-out double in the Alabama ninth for RHP Spencer Price, normally the closer and the nation’s leader in saves. Price did his part but rolled his right ankle fielding a comebacker in the tenth.

Alabama took advantage of the now-limited relief choices to take their last lead in the 11th. A leadoff double and bunt meant a quick hook of LHP Andrew Mahoney. RHP Parker Ford was no better with consecutive plunkings loading the empty bases behind Chandler Taylor. So a double by Connor Short scored two, and a walk finished Ford for Blaylock.

A converted outfielder who only threw his first college innings on Tuesday night, the righthander did walk-in a run on two outs before stranding three. Which was key because the Bulldogs were able to match the three runs in their half.

Three singles put the tying runners on around an out, and Vainer wild-pitched in 1B Brent Rooker. Skelton’s fly ball cut the lead to 12-11 but two were out as Alexander got way under a ball sending it almost straight-up. “Running down the line I was frustrated,” he said.

But Vainer came in a step too far, tried to lunge back and catch in the same motion; fell flat on his back as the ball rattled loose. Vansau held up running for some reason on the two-out contact, but made home on the error for the re-tied tally.

It also put Blaylock in line for a win again. He retired the side in the 12th with two strikeouts and stranded a two-out single in the 13th. When Brown’s run stood in the bottom of the frame he was also a winner (1-0) on 2.2 turns with a hit, walk, and two strikeouts.

Adams (0-1) ate the loss with 0.1 of an inning, the one run on two walks with a strikeout. Alabama leftfielder Sam Finnerty had two of his team’s 14 hits with four RBI and two runs scored.

Ten Bulldogs of the dozen who batted collected at least one hit and none more than two. Alexander was one of the latter, though his game-winning ‘hit’ remained controversial. “The shortstop was saying the ball hit Vansau’s foot and re-directed the ball,” Cannizaro said.

“But it all happened so fast I don’t think anybody was actually able to pick up any miss-direction of the ball. And ultimately the game was over.”

So is Mississippi State’s weekend which began a day early and finished just about two days early as well. The Friday twinbill was allowed by the SEC for expected Saturday storms, and the Bulldogs took the early game 4-3 in a normal nine.

Meanwhile Kentucky and LSU split their own Friday doubleheader, leaving the Wildcats first in the East Division at 11-6 but at best a game back of the Bulldogs whatever happens Saturday. Arkansas and Arkansas began their series Friday with a single game won by the Tigers, which leaves them both 11-5 with two games left weather permitting.

So Mississippi State goes into week-seven of SEC season winners of five-straight series and either ahead of everybody or tied with either the Razorbacks or Tigers. Whatever can be said of how this game ended, it did end with a Bulldog win.

“We deserve a win like that to sweep and keep doing what we’re doing,” said Alexander.

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