Bulldogs Bounce Back To Top Tide 6-4

TUSCALOOSA – What's the best way to shake off a shellacking? Bouncing right back for a well-earned win, of course. Which Mississippi State did Saturday evening at Sowell-Thomas Field, ignoring an earlier lopsided loss to edge Alabama 6-4 and split the SEC doubleheader. "You're going to appreciate this," grinned pitcher John Lalor. "That's baseball!"

The Diamond Dogs could afford a few smiles. Not only did they respond successfully to a 21-7 afternoon loss, they overcame a four-run Alabama outburst in the bottom of the fifth with consecutive two-run frames to take control of the nightcap. Russ Sneed's two-out double in the top of the seventh turned the lead back in State's favor 5-4, and closer Aaron Weatherford protected a two-run margin by hanging the last two zeros on Alabama's linescore.

"The first game was bad, and we had an opportunity to buckle in the second game," said Weatherford. "I was real proud of the team for bouncing back and getting in position to win." Mississippi State ended the long day 16-22 overall, 4-13 SEC, while Alabama was 21-19, 7-10 SEC, and with the split slipped a spot in the Western Division to a tie for third.

"It felt good to force a rubber game tomorrow," said Sneed. "It's going to be a big day for us."

Only because the Bulldogs didn't let the afternoon blowout carry over. And because a trio of moundsmen limited the home team to a single offensive inning. In fact a Tide order that cranked four home runs in game-one managed just four base hits—all singles—in the nightcap. State starter Ricky Bowen put in five full frames, the first four scoreless, before giving up the four runs on three fifth-inning hits. He walked five but also struck out seven and did exactly what the club needed.

"Ricky did a good job to get the game to the late innings," said Lalor. "I was just looking to get the ball to Weatherford, go out and not give up any runs." The righthanded reliever worked the sixth and seventh innings with a hit, three strikeouts, and no more scores. He also received the decision, improving to 2-3 on the year, by being on-the-record when State's offense seized opportunity.

Mobile native Weatherford picked up his fourth save with three strikeouts and no damage in his two turns. He walked a Tider in the ninth but shot down Brandon May to end the evening. "That's what you dream about right there, especially against my home state like this. I can't think of a better opportunity and I had fun tonight."

Lefthander Miers Quigley gave the Tide a good starting effort but tired after five frames as pitching-thin Alabama tried to ride the starter too long. Quigley (4-3) was assessed for all six runs in 7.1 total turns, with 11 base hits, five walks and five strikeouts.

Bowen was under self-imposed pressure immediately as he loaded the bases on walks in his first inning. SS Ryan Powers prevented any damage with a diving stop, long throw and favorable call at first to strand everyone. But the Bulldogs wasted a similar situation in their third after walks of CF Grant Hogue and RF Nick Hardy and an errored grounder off LF Jason Nappi's bat. Quigley came back to strike out DH Cody Freeman and fly-out 1B Tyler Moore.

It was the Bulldogs breaking the scoring-ice in the fourth with some help. Sneed worked a walk and with two outs drew a balk off Quigley. That free base made the difference because C Brooks Lewis pushed Sneed to third with a grounder, and Powers laced a single into center for the RBI. The lead would last just over an inning.

After the initial control issues Bowen sat ten of eleven and erased the one runner on a twin-killing. But an out into the fifth he walked the eight- and nine-batters, earning a talk with Coach Russ McNickle. The advice didn't help as State's battery combined to hand Alabama the tying run with a wild pitch, compounded by catcher Lewis' wild throw past Sneed, letting Ross Wilson race all the way around from second base.

Order-topper Josh Rutledge gave his team the lead with a clean single up the middle to score Alex Kubal, and eventually came home himself on another wild Bowen pitch. May, who reached on a single past first base, became the fourth Alabama run of the inning and game as game-one hero Alex Avila's short-hop grounder went off Moore's glove.

Maybe the sudden lead relaxed Quigley a bit too much; more likely he was losing steam because he walked Sneed with one out. Butler's fly tailed just enough to fall in front of the ‘Bama centerfielder for a pair on. Polk sent pinch-batter Jeff Flagg out in place of Lewis to try to tie it on one swing; he flew out to center instead. But Powers came through with a clutch safety into the left-centerfield gap that scored both runners.

State also changed batteries with Lalor pitching to Ryan Duffy. A hit batsman and walk did no harm as Powers again started a nifty double-play off the bat of Kubal. "I threw a slider he'd hopefully bounce in and the middle-infield did a great job," said Lalor. When he returned it was still a one-run game, except the advantage was with the Dogs.

With Nappi on first and two down, Moore landed a shot a step fair inside the left-field line for a double. Polk couldn't risk trying to send Nappi there, which proved wise. Because on 0-1 Sneed went the opposite way, dropping a double just out of centerfielder Kubal's reach. The third baseman had seen inside-fastballs earlier from Quigley and "I knew he wasn't going to throw me any more fastballs. He threw a couple of changeups, I got one up and it ended up falling for me." Both runners made home for the 5-4 Mississippi State lead at the stretch.

"It was good to get some runs in there," said Lalor. So good that a two-out walk of Avila didn't rattle him; Lalor fanned clean-up man Matt Bentley on full count. Quigley was sent back out for the MSU eighth, walking Powers with one down and getting hit by Hogue before righthander Jimmy Nelson took the ball. He had two outs when Nappi reached on a slow bouncer the second baseman had to charge, loading all corners for Freeman. On full-count the designated hitter had to dodge a high and tight fastball for a run-scoring walk and 6-4 lead.

Which was the right situation for Weatherford, especially as he entered to face the second half of Alabama's order. "It kind of worked out, you know. You can't always get it like that! But I had stuff working and just went after people." He sat all three in the eighth, gave a one-out walk in the ninth that Powers partly negated with another fine defensive stop and force at second. May never had a chance on 2-2, waving at the fastball on the outer half.

Having been out-hit 22 to 14 in the first game, the Bulldogs had a 12 to four margin in the second with all three extra-base knocks. MSU pitchers also won the strikeout battle, 13 to five. That's baseball, indeed. "It's a crazy game and I was glad we were able to bounce back and put a good game together," Lalor said.

Hogue got his 21st steal of the season, currently tops in the SEC and tied for the 7th-best season in MSU history with Del Bender (1978). He came out after the eighth inning, having landed awkwardly dodging the ‘Bama second baseman on Nappi's infield single, but Polk said afterwards the centerfielder is OK for Sunday's rubber game.

A contest which will likely have little in common with either Saturday contest, Sneed expects. "You watch SEC scores, any series you can see a team lose big and come back. Just because of baseball being baseball. And that's just the way the SEC is."

State will start senior southpaw Justin Pigott (2-1, 4.57) tomorrow, his first work since injuring a shoulder March 15. Alabama will send Robert Phares (1-3, 6.81) to the mound.

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