Surprisedly, Mississippi State jumped on freshman starting pitcher Wade LeBlanc for two runs in the top of the first on a two-out, first-pitch home run by sophomore first baseman Brad Jones for a early 2-0 lead.
"He threw me a first-pitch fastball and luckily I put a good swing on it," said Brad Jones, who has now hit 8 home runs this season. "I hit it to the deepest part and I thought (their center fielder) was going to have a chance to rob me, but he didn't."
State came right back in the top of the second and scored two more runs. After senior Tyler Scarbrough singled up the middle, sophomore Joseph Hunter hit into a fielder's choice. The next batter, sophomore Jeff Butts, walked on a 3-2 count. With men on first and second, freshman Jeffrey Rea doubled to left field, knocking in Hunter for the first run of the inning. Senior Steve Gendron knocked in the final run of the inning with a sacrifice fly to right field.
LeBlanc settled down after the second inning and shut the Bulldogs down the next three innings.
Alabama, in the bottom of the fourth, got on the scoreboard with an Evan Bush solo home run to right center.
Alabama added another run in the bottom of the fifth on a Emeel Salem two-out double down the right field line that was just out of the reach of a diving Thomas Berkery. Greg Paiml, who had reached on a fielding error, scored on the play to make the score 4-2.
In the top of the sixth, Mississippi State finally got to LeBlanc again with a three-run inning. After one out, Scarbrough and Hunter both had infield singles. Butts singled to center field, advancing the runners to second and third. Rea, with the bases now loaded, singled up the middle to knock in Scarbrough. Gendron knocked in his second run of the game with a sacrifice fly to center field, his second of the game. Sophomore Brad Corley singled to center field to knock in Butts for the final run of the inning.
Alabama came right back in their half of the inning to score two runs on a two-run home run by Michael McCallister. After Paiml and David Ferazza both singled, MSU brought in Brett Cleveland to replace MSU starting pitcher Alan Johnson. Cleveland walked Allen Rice to load the bases, then struck out Salem on a 2-2 count to end the inning with no further damage being done.
Alabama replaced LeBlanc, who was roughed up for 7 runs on 11 hits, with reliever Seth Johnson in the top of the seventh inning.
"(LeBlanc) was throwing balls where hitters were able to hit them, " said Jones. "I don't know if his arm was tired after throwing a ton of innings this year."
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Alabama grabbed their first lead of the game with a four-run inning. Ethan Bush led off the inning with a single down the right field line. After Gabe Scott struck out on a 1-2 count, Zac Welch knocked Cleveland out of the game with a single up the middle just out of the reach of shortstop Steve Gendron. Reliever Jamie Gant, inheriting a one-out, men on 1st an 2nd situation, threw a wild pitch to move the runners to 2nd and 3rd. On a 2-0 count to Michael McCallister, Gant threw another wild pitch which allowed Bush to score Alabama's 5th run of the game. Gant, after walking McCallister on a 3-2 count to put men on 1st and 3rd with one out, was replaced by MSU closer Saunders Ramsey. Ramsey quickly got a 1-2 count on Carlos Sosa, but gave up an RBI single on the next pitch. After striking out Greg Paiml for the second out of the inning, Ramset gave up a two-run double to David Ferazza that left fielder Jeff Butts made a valiant effort to snag while sliding toward the wall running alongside the left field line. Allen Rice ended the inning on a easy groundout to second base.
"When you get up by that many runs and then they come back with key hits, it will definitely take it out of you," said Joseph Hunter, "but our hitters never gave up."
Neither team scored in the eight inning.
MSU, completely shut down by Johnson in the seventh and eighth innings, started off the ninth inning with a walk. Alabama quickly brought in their ace, left hander Taylor Tankersley to face lefthanded Brad Jones. Tankersley hit him on the first pitch to put men on 1st and 2nd with no outs. Sophomore Craig Tatum's hard hit ground ball to the second baseman was thrown to home where the base runner was tagged out for the first out of the inning. The next batter, Thomas Berkery, followed with a fly ball near the left field line that appeared to have a chance to fall in but was snagged by the left fielder for the second out of the inning. Scarbrough, with men on 1st and 2nd, tied the game up with a line drive to left field that scored Jones on a bang-bang play at home where the catcher couldn't hold onto the ball as Jones slide into him. Hunter, on a 1-0 count, hit a crowd-silencing, three-run home run that cleared the fence just to the right of the scoreboard in left field to put the Bulldogs up 11-8. Butts ended the inning with a popup to short.
"I felt good when I got up there," said Hunter of his at-bat that produced the game-winning home run. "He threw one right down the middle of the plate. I wasn't sure if it was going to go out with the wind blowing in but it got up and got out.
"When Brad Jones scored on the base hit, I knew we were going to win. I knew we were going to get another base hit to win."
Now down 11-8, the Crimson Tide came right back in their half of the inning and put a scare in the few MSU fans that attended the game. Sosa led off the inning with a single to right field. On a 3-2 count, pinch hitter Brandon Belcher walked to put men on 1st and 2nd with no outs to the delight of the Alabama fans. Ferazza, who had earlier doubled against Ramsey, advanced the two runners with a groundout to short. Rice, with men on 2nd and 3rd, hit a sacrifice fly to center field to score Alabama's 9th run of the game. Ramsey slammed the door shut by striking out Sosa on a 1-2 count.
LeBlanc, who was shelled for a season-high in runs and hits, came into the game with a 1.60 ERA, 8 complete games and an SEC-low oppposing team batting average of .197. Johnson, in his 2 innings, allowed 1 run on 1 hit and 1 walk. He also struck out 3. Tankersley (2-5) took the loss after allowing 3 runs in 1 inning of work.
"(Tankersley) has been their ace and is expected to be a very high draft pick, but we got to him," said Polk.
MSU's Alan Johnson allowed 4 runs (3 earned) on 8 hits and 3 walks in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out 3. Ramsey, who is now 7-1 on the season with the victory, allowed 2 runs on 4 hits and 2 walks in his 2 2/3 innings of work.
Both teams hit the ball well with 14 hits each.
Alabama was led at the plate with a 3-for-5 night by David Ferazza and a two-hit night by Emeel Salem, Evan Bush and Carlos Sosa.
MSU also had four hitters with multi-hit nights; Tyler Scarbrough (4-for-5, 1 RBI), Jeffrey Rea (2-for-3, 2 RBI), Brad Jones (2-for-4, 1 HR, 2 RBI) and Joseph Hunter (2-for-5, 1 HR, 3 RBI).
"Our hitters did a great job tonight of battling and staying in it," said Hunter. "Alabama's pitching has one of the lowest ERAs in the league and we did a great job against them."
The series continues Saturday at 4 p.m. State senior Jeff Lacher (3-6, 4.46) will face Alabama junior righty Andrew Walker (4-0, 3.17).
"It is going to be a tough game for us (Saturday), not just because it is on the road but because it is a 4 o'clock ballgame and it will be very hot," said Polk.
MISSISSIPPI STATE 11, ALABAMA 9
MSU 220 003 004 --- 4-11-1
ALA 000 112 401 --- 9-14-0
WP - Saunders Ramsey (7-1). LP - Taylor Tankersley (2-5). HR - Brad Jones (8), Joseph Hunter (2), Evan Bush (8), Michael McCallister (3). T - 3:18. ATT - 4,532 (paid).
Gene Swindoll is the owner/publisher of Gene's Page (http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com), the source for Mississippi State sports on TheInsiders sports network. You can contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.