Dogs Drop Sunday Opener 9-8 In Extra Inning

Pinch-hitter Brock Bennett's single in the bottom of the eighth scored Andrew Miller from second base to give Alabama a 9-8 victory over Mississippi State and clinch the interrupted weekend series in the first half of a Sunday doubleheader. The other seven-inning contest was to begin at 3:15.

Bennett's game-winning hit came with one out in the extra inning and at the expense of Bulldog reliever Devin Jones, who had just taken over after Miller doubled his way into scoring position. Bennett watched a couple of balls before punching his safety up the middle. Mississippi State centerfielder Jaron Shepherd charged in but even with a clean recovery had no shot at beating Miller to the plate.

State's Ben Bracewell (0-2) took the loss after forcing an extra inning with a scoreless seventh. Alabama's Nathan Kilcrease (3-1) earned the win by working the last four full innings, with a lone Bulldog run allowed on four hits. Kilcrease had lost his chance for a save after giving up tying score in State's sixth, but kept himself in winning position by stranding Dogs at third and first bases in the top of the eighth.

Late-game deeds aside, the larger story was how visiting State was able to take a 7-0 lead behind sterling starting pitching from Chris Stratton…and watch it all get away in one big Tide outburst. Freshman righthander Stratton dominated his first three innings only to lose everything in the fourth frame, allowing among other hurts a grand slam and three-run homer. His final line showed eight runs on nine hits with a strikeout and walk.

Crimson Tide starter Adam Morgan wasn't a lot better off with five runs on seven hits before he could be removed. But those huge fourth-inning swings helped take him off the hook, and spoil what was looking like a second-straight sterling start for Stratton.

It took State a couple of turns to break through against Morgan with three unproductive hits. One out into the third though RF Luke Adkins became the first Dog to get a fly ball behind the defense, his deep shot falling beyond the centerfielder's glove for a double. 1B Connor Powers did a bit better with a drive off the wall left-of-center and the Dogs' first run.

DH Russ Sneed stayed on the ground with a clean hit into center scoring Powers. A two-out single by LF Ryan Duffy nearly decapitated teammate 2B Jet Butler leading off first, and walk of C Cody Freeman filled the bases. It also finished Morgan for lefty Matt Taylor. His first pitch, a high strike, drew a dugout objection from Cohen and a lengthy lecture from ump A.J. Lostaglio.

CF Jaron Shepherd looked at one more strike, then went the other way with a double lined into the leftfield corner scoring all three teammates ahead of him for a 5-0 Bulldog lead Stratton could work with. A two-out double in the third by Josh Rutledge was no worry, and soon the margin was two runs better. Adkins surprised the right side of the Tide infield with a bunt-single, and with one out got to second, then third via a wild pitch and passed ball. Taylor walked Sneed for Dogs on corners, and with two outs plunked Duffy for stuffed sacks again. Alabama summoned righthander Jason Townsend, who thought he'd got a check-swing strikeout of Freeman.

But first base ump Todd Henderson disagreed for a RBI-walk scoring Adkins. This time it was the Alabama dugout getting a warning, but when Townsend missed four times to Shepherd he was gone. Brett Whitaker took over and while Ogden struck it smartly his liner was right to the leftfielder.

A 7-0 lead should have been sufficient for a short game and with Stratton on the hill just a week after he'd gone nine-full in beating Tennessee. The rookie couldn't handle such prosperity though as he was hit for a double and single to begin his fourth, then walked the bases full with the bottom third of the order coming up. Third baseman Jake Smith swung above his slot, lining a shot off the scoreboard for a grand slam.

And more damage was to come, with a one-out infield single and walk putting a pair on. Shepherd couldn't quite get to Josh Rutledge' line-drive, getting the margin within 7-5. Then Ross Wilson rode the wind over leftfield for a three-run homer and 8-7 Alabama lead. This completed Stratton's awful inning as Chad Girodo entered for ground-outs. The eight runs were the most in an Alabama inning this season. Girodo did his job well, retiring all eight he would face with three strikeouts.

Up a run Alabama wasted no time running closer Kilcrease to the hill. He erased a one-out walk of Adkins with a double-play, and was an out into the sixth when Butler singled through the middle. Sam Frost got the pinch-run duty and made second as Duffy fought off strike-three for a dribbler. It didn't look as if Freeman's infield hit would make a difference, but Frost never stopped as Alabama tried for a play at first.

By the time the Tide first baseman noticed, Frost was on his way and able to slide across safely for a 8-8 tie.

Girodo took care of the bottom of the sixth, then in the seventh Bracewell didn't begin well by walking Wilson, and with one out Kelton gave a scare with a deep drive. Fortunately for State it was to the deepest part with Shepherd pulling it in, and a grounder back to the mound took everyone to the eighth. Frost kept MSU's eighth inning going with his single through the middle. Then Duffy followed suit for Dogs on opposing corners. Freeman had walked twice already, but this time he saw a 1-2 strike on the outside corner to strand the pair.

State out-hit the home team 13 safeties to 11, but those two big swings in the fourth offset just about everything else. Such as the face that only Rutledge had more than one Alabama hit, while four Dogs hit safely twice. Shepherd had a season-high four RBI.

With two wins already Alabama (24-15, 7-10 SEC) is assured of ending the weekend ahead of State (20-19, 5-12) in the league standings. Bulldog freshman Luke Bole (2-0, 6.92 era) started the third game while Tucker Hawley (1-1, 4.58) was on the mound for Alabama.

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