With Win, MSU Keeps SEC Tournament Hopes Alive

STARKVILLE, Miss. - An infield error by Arkansas allowed Craig Tatum to score the game-winning run as Mississippi State defeated the Razorbacks 3-2 in 10 innings in Southeastern Conference baseball action Saturday night. A Dudy Noble Field crowd of 2,036 watched as the Bulldogs and Razorbacks finally got their rain-plagued series underway. The Friday night series opener was rained out. Saturday's contest was pushed back 4 1/2 hours before it finally got started.

"It feels really good to finally win a tight game," MSU starting pitcher Alan Johnson said. "It seems like we have had a tough time getting the job done here lately. This was the type of game we would not have won earlier in the year. It seems like we don't get a hit here and we don't make a play there. It's been frustrating. So, it was finally good to get a win."

The victory snapped MSU's seven game losing streak in Southeastern Conference play. The Bulldogs improved to 30-21 overall and 9-16 in league play. MSU trails Auburn by half a game for ninth place in the overall standings. The Bulldogs trail Tennessee and Vanderbilt by 2 1/2 games for a potential spot in the eight-team SEC Tournament, which begins May 26 in Hoover, Ala.

Meanwhile, Arkansas fell to 34-17 overall and 16-9 in conference play. The Razorbacks lead Ole Miss and LSU by one-half game in the Western Division standings and are a half-game behind Georgia for first place in the overall league race.

In the MSU 10th inning, Steve Gendron started things with a single to right field off new Razorback pitcher Jay Sawatski. Brad Corley then drew a walk. Craig Tatum then hit a ground ball. Arkansas retired Corley at second base but could not complete the double play. With runners at first and third, Brad Jones hit a soft chopper to first base. The Razorbacks were able to tag Gendron out in a rundown between third and home. With runners at first and second, Tyler Scarbrough hit a ground ball to Arkansas third baseman Brett Hagedorn. Hagedorn throw to first was wide, allowing Tatum to race home with the game-winning run.

"Our kids played well and competed hard," MSU coach Ron Polk said. "We played like we were playing for a championship. The crowd was good and very much into the game. Arkansas is playing for the (Southeastern Conference) title. I think we really helped a lot of schools out by what we did here tonight."

Johnson pitched as if he was in a championship-type game. The junior right-hander came within one out of pitching the Bulldogs' second complete game of the season. Johnson left with two outs in the ninth inning and the teams tied 2-2. Saunders Ramsey (5-1) faced only four batters the rest of the way to pick up the win.

MSU scored first in the fifth inning. Thomas Berkery and Joseph Hunter had back-to-back one-out singles for MSU. Jeff Butts reached on a fielder's choice sending Berkery to third base. Arkansas failed to get an out on the play due to a high throw. Jeffrey Rea then hit another ground ball but the Razorbacks could not complete the double play. That play scored Berkery with the game's first run.

Arkansas finally touched Johnson for the game-tying score in the eighth inning. Devin Day hit a lead-off single and later took second base on a wild pitch. A sacrifice bunt by Scott Bridges moved Day to third base. Day then scored on a sacrifice fly by Casey Rowlett.

The Bulldogs battled back for a 2-1 lead in their half of the eighth inning. Gendron singled through the infield. The MSU co-captain then stole second when Craig Tatum swung and missed on a hit-and-run. Two pitches later, Tatum singled down the left field line to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 advantage.

"This is such a big weekend for us," Tatum said. "We know our backs are against the wall. One thing I can say is this team does not panic. We don't get down on ourselves."

Arkansas battled back for a 2-2 tie with another run in the ninth inning. Jake Dugger started things with a lead-off single to left field. After a foul out, Clay Goodwin singled Dugger to second base. An RBI single by Haas Pratt tied the game 2-2. Johnson then got a nice line drive catch by center fielder Hunter for the second out in the inning.

Ramsey then entered and stranded a pair of Razorbacks at second and third base.

"We pitched the game very well," Polk said. "Sometimes, we've pitched it well and not caught any breaks. This was a situation where we had a couple of chances and didn't get it done. Fortunately, our kids kept battling."

Johnson worked the first 8 2/3 innings, allowing nine hits and two runs (both earned). Johnson struck out five and walked none. Ramsey issued a lead-off walk in the 10th inning but a caught stealing wiped out that Razorback.

For Arkansas, Clint Brannon pitched the first seven innings. Brannon allowed six hits and one run (unearned). Brannon struck out four and walked two. Boyd Goodner threw the eighth and ninth innings. Sawatski (7-3) pitched the 10th inning for the Razorbacks.

Gendron, Tatum and Berkery each had two hits for MSU, which finished with 10 hits. Dugger, Pratt and Day each had two hits for Arkansas, who finished with nine hits.

Also for the Razorbacks, center fielder Casey Rowlett had a big game. Rowlett threw one MSU runner out at the plate and another MSU runner at third base. Rowlett also had a nice running catch in center field robbing the Bulldogs of a potential extra-base hit. Not to be outdone, MSU's Hunter also threw an Arkansas player out at the plate with a perfect strike to Tatum in the game's second inning.

MSU and Arkansas will complete their weekend league series with a 1 p.m. doubleheader Sunday. Each Sunday contest will be seven innings in length.

MSU 3, Arkansas 2 (10 innings)
Arkansas 34-17 000 000 011 0 - 2 9 2
MSU 30-21 000 010 010 1 - 3 10 0
WP-Ramsey (5-1). LP-Sawatski (7-3). 2B-Pratt (9). 3B-None. HR-None. T-3:01. A-2,036.

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