"So it's going to be a fun game tomorrow no matter what happens," said 1B Brian LaNinfa. Despite defeat Alabama (30-24, 14-15 SEC) clinched a berth in the league tournament with Kentucky's second loss to Auburn of the weekend.
Friday was fun enough for Pigott, who worked eight complete innings for the winning decision. He hung seven zeroes on the board before allowing his only run in the top of the eighth, and that on a fielder's choice grounder. Alabama managed six base hits off the southpaw, who struck out five and issued a couple of walks. And while Pigott (5-5) only tossed 107 pitches they were spread over three full hours while State's offense scored runs here and there. "It was a lonnnng night," he said.
It would have been even longer had Coach Ron Polk not lifted the starter after eight, and not because he was tiring. "We might start him Wednesday at Hoover, right now he's pitching the best of anybody on the staff."
Pigott didn't think he was all that sharp this time. "It was just making pitches when you needed them the most. Thankfully that happened tonight. Command was sketchy at times on the fastball but the slider bailed me out a few times and the changup. And great defense." State turned one twin-killing and played errorless ball in the field.
The Bulldogs played pretty well at the plate also, even if the nine total hits were equaled by the Tide. State's contact was much more productive, particularly when LaNinfa was swinging. The senior drove in four of the nine runs, on a RBI single, two-run homer, and bases-loaded walk. Yet LaNinfa didn't claim disproportionate credit, saying it was a team approach to batting that broke the Bulldogs out of their recent SEC scoring slump.
"Coach Hedges and Coach Raffo put us in the cages this morning and told us to loosen up and go back to the basics," LaNinfa said. "I think some of us have been pressing the last few weekends. You just have to go with the approach you have all year and be relaxed."
Tide starter Miers Quigley (4-7) took the loss on a 5.2 inning stint. The lefthander gave up all nine Bulldog hits and seven runs, striking out four with three walks. A relaxed approach wasn't easy though. "The scouting report said he was effectively wild, you just had to be patient," said LaNinfa.
Except State didn't wait around to start scoring, cashing in on some first-inning opportunities. With one out LFJoseph McCaskill worked a walk and C Edward Easley pounded a hot hopper past the diving third baseman and into the corner for a double. 1B Moreland delivered the first RBI with a ground-out to the right side, scoring McCaskill; and LaNinfa made it 2-0 as his hard shot ricocheted off Quigley for an infield single.
DH Russ Sneed and CF Mark Goforth were left unscored in the second inning, but Quigley had no such luck in the third. Moreland doubled with one out and after falling behind two strikes LaNinfa evened the count, then got something in the wheelhouse that ended up clearing rightfield.
"I was just trying to get a single to score Mitch but I got a ball up and got it out."
Meanwhile Pigott was working for his win. "I got away with some things early, fortunately got two outs and they hit some balls at some guys. It was just going out there and competing, the usual." A leadoff double in the second by Kent Matthes came to nought as Pigott got a strikeout, one-hopper back to his glove, and line-out. Singles in both the third and fourth did no harm either, and McCaskill's flat-dive grab in the fifth saved another hit.
Pigott's real test was the Tide sixth, though more of his temper than talent. Order-topper Emeel Salem walked on a very close pitch, and Brandon Belcher played games by calling time but not stepping out until the pitcher was in motion. Pigott kept cool. "They do that stuff all the time, whatever. They try to get you out of rhythm, step out and try to ruin that." After a sac-bunt he struck out Thursday hero Alex Avila and coaxed a line-out from cleanup batter Matthes.
"I was just trying to keep them off the board the best I could so we could keep tacking on to it and maybe get an easy win. And we did." His offense rewarded the effort with some insurance in the bottom of the frame, as Sneed led off with a single, stole into scoring position, and came home on Rea's rip past the first baseman.
The Dogs didn't settle for one run as 2B Jeffrey Rea jumped for second and earned a balk-call. On 2-2 he was running again and McCaskill punched a seeing-eye single right over the second bag for the 6-0 lead. And, a pitching change with Casey Kebodeaux called in. Except all he threw was balls, walking three-straight and forcing in McCaskill for State's seventh run. Patrick Kelly took over to leave the sacks full on a strikeout.
The lengthy break didn't seem to bother Pigott either, though he did allow a one-out single in the seventh. The pitcher erased that runner and the next batter by fielding his position and starting the double-play.
Pigott was a strikeout into the eight before a trio of singles filled all posts with the meat of UA's order to come. He thought he had struck out Avila on 2-2 but didn't get the inside corner call, and the Tide third baseman was able to push his team's first run across with a grounder to second base. Pigott made sure it was the only score with a fly ball to rightfield.
Kelly got an out and walk into the MSU eighth before Austin Graham was given the ball. He dirtballed substitute LF Nick Hardy over to second and plunked Easley. Another wild pitch had both runners in scoring positions and Moreland pushed Hardy across with a right-side roller. Yet another errant Graham pitch let Easley score for the last Bulldog run.
Leading 9-1 State let senior Mike Valentine work the ninth inning. He was tagged for a one-out double and RBI single, and with bases loaded walked in a third Tide scorer. 3B Connor Powers had to make a nifty running snare and throw to end the evening before things got more interesting.
With both Divisions decided these West rivals are playing for seeding in next week's SEC Tournament, as well as bids to the following NCAA tourney. State is locked in as #2 out of the West but could be seeded either third or fourth overall in the eight-team tourney pending Saturday's scores. The Bulldogs are reasonably confident of a bid now and still have hopes of hosting a first-round Regional. Alabama goes to Hoover likely still needing a win or two to strengthen their NCAA case, and taking the last series on the schedule would be as big a boost.
"It's definitely a must-win," said Pigott who will be watching. "Just to give us a little momentum for tomorrow and maybe finish strong and see what happens with the whole tournament and Regional stuff."
"And I'd rather be a third (overall) seed in the SEC, I think that gives us better chances of hosting. So tomorrow is huge," Polk noted. State will start senior righthander Josh Johnson (2-2, 5.67) while Alabama expects to throw lefty Will Stoup (2-0, 4.17).