"I guess that's the longest time I've ever played one game!" State 1B Connor Powers said. "I got here at eight this morning and don't even know what time it is now."
But he and his teammates knew what the score was. Along with a 10-8 Friday win, Alabama was able to sweep the abbreviated series and leave town 32-15, 14-9 SEC and still in the thick of the Western Division race. The Bulldogs fell to 21-26, 6-17 SEC, and with six league games left on the schedule for all intents and purposes out of contention for a SEC Tournament berth. Simply not playing game-three effectively is a loss for State with so much ground to make up in only two weekends.
Certainly Cohen and club were willing to hang around the still-soggy field for a third shot at their rival. And had game-two ended around 4:35, the SEC was willing to allow a seven-inning affair to begin by 5:00. That option was erased as Alabama padded their lead with a pair of eighth-inning runs after play resumed, then State came back for five scores in their own turn. The ninth was more of the almost-same with each side pushing four men across the plate which of course left the visitors one to the better.
So all that the five home runs hit by four Dogs (two off the bat of C.Powers) in those innings for eight combined RBI was extend the affair just past 5:00 and assure everyone was heading home as soon as R.Powers' ball was snared. "And I think it's pretty appropriate that we end the game on a line-drive," said Cohen.
"I told the umpires we want to play, period, but rules are in place to protect really the visiting institutions who have a long ways to go or in the case of Alabama here have final exams."
The Tiders figured they had passed another sort of test in earning the victory. Having given up seven of State's runs in the bottom of the first Saturday inning Alabama might have begun thinking about playing for a Sunday rubber game. Yet UA starter Del Howell was the near-forgotten hero for limiting the Bulldogs to that lone outburst on day-one, surviving seven hits and five walks in the process. Indeed State might have lost it by not expanding their early margin.
"Look at the scoreboard," Powers said when all was done. "We got seven in the first, then a bunch of zeros. That's because we didn't make enough adjustments as hitters to what the pitcher was doing."
At the same time MSU had good reason to rue the overnight halt. Because lefthanded starter Nick Routt was the best chance of evening the series, and after taking two runs in Alabama's first turn and another score in the second he also established control. Routt ended up with three runs on seven hits and six strikeouts in an impressive five-inning outing. How much farther he would have gone had rain not arrived Saturday evening can't be known as he was at 101 pitches (Howell 107). But Routt was certainly coming back for at least another inning or two and would have likely gotten his team that much closer to success on Sunday.
Instead it was put in reliever Lee Swindle's right hand to re-start the game. And after going 1-2-3, with a light drizzle already falling, the righty was hit hard in the Sunday seventh. A single and walks loaded the bases, and what should have been no worse than a run-scoring double-play grounder couldn't be covered cleanly by either middle-infielder for all-safe and one in. After a sacrifice fly got Alabama within 7-5 two were still on bases for Brandon May to drive in with his double. It was the first of a huge late-game for the Tide third baseman.
Paxton Pace took over pitching for State only to re-load the bags on a plunking and walk. Centerfielder Alex Kubal changed the game entirely on a ‘Wonderboy' moment, because with thunder still echoing after a local lightning strike he hammered the first pitch over leftfield for a grand slam and 11-7 lead. As soon as the Tide tied it up scheduled game-three starter Adam Scott was prepped to pitch in place of Nathan Kilcrease.
After stranding two Dogs in the seventh the increasing rain finally brought a halt that lasted four minutes under thee hours. Alabama picked up where they'd left off as May expanded the lead to 13-7 with his two-run shot off Drew Hollinghead. But the Bulldogs must have caught something, or as likely Scott lost something, in the long delay. Because after C Scott DeLoach led off with a single State got back-to-back-to-back homers from 3B Russ Sneed, C.Powers, and DH Ryan Duffy for four runs. His lead down to 13-11, Scott walked substitute LF Brent Brownlee and with one out gave a single to 2B Jet Butler. Alabama ought to have gotten out of the inning on a comebacker to the mound but after a force of Butler the relay was thrown wildly and Brownlee came home. CF Grant Hogue would have kept the inning going had his laser-shot been a step either way instead of directly into the shortstop's glove.
"Grant hits a rocket that is going to change the nature of the game," Cohen mused later. Of course that was assuming MSU pitching would have been any better off with a tie or lead. Given how Tyler Whitney worked the ninth that would have been a bold notion too, as like his counterpart Scott the scheduled State #3 starter was rattled around and gave back four runs. Not surprisingly Kubal, the nine-hitter, got it started with a single and worked around to third where he could score on a single by Ross Wilson.
That could have been coped with except that Dog defense kicked the door ajar again as Sneed missed his first baseman's mitt on a throw. That gave May one more chance to swing and he slugged another homer, this time a three-run shot that proved the game-winner. Barely. Because with two on and an out in State's last chance C.Powers knocked it out again for a two-run homer. An out and walk of pinch-batter Luke Adkins later it was Collins' turn; his drive easily cleared the fence.
That was enough for Scott as Tyler White took the ball. While Butler worked on with a smart bunt-single, R.Powers ran out of luck with his line-out. Both teams were probably a bit surprised this one didn't get through considering the 35 total hits with six doubles and eight home runs. And, five combined errors, noe of which could be blamed on the fielding conditions. "Any time something went wrong the other team capitalized on it," said Powers. "Errors, a guy makes a bad pitch and we hit it out, each team just kept hitting and hitting."
"It shows a lot about our club mentally to be able to sit there for that long a period of time and come out, at least offensively, and do some things well," said Cohen. But, "We have some things we're not doing very well; we're not defending the infield very well and we're obviously not locating pitches very well. Those two things are really hurting us." Whether before or after the second delay relief work was catastrophic with 11 hits and 16 runs added to the relievers' or starters-turned-relievers accounts. Swindle (1-4) took the loss though this was a true team effort. Kilcrease (3-2) picked up the unique winning decision.
Under the circumstances Cohen really could find some encouraging aspects, to the point he talked of ‘winning' the last two innings. Trouble was what happened in the previous seven, or specifically the seventh when Alabama scored eight times on a shaky staff. This wasn't especially surprising given how the season has played out, but disappointing all the same. "There are no moral victories even though you're down a bunch because Mississippi State is a not a moral victory baseball institution. It's a winning baseball institution," Cohen said.
With two longballs Connor Powers moved into a tie with Richie Grayum for 10th on the MSU career list with 35 homers. He and Butler each had three hits for State, and Powers and Sneed both scored thrice. Alabama got a huge outing from Mays with seven RBI on three hits and three runs scored. Kubal, belying his slot in the order, was 4-of-5 with 5 RBI and three runs.
The Bulldogs don't play again until the weekend series at Ole Miss.