HOOVER, Ala. – Mississippi State saw its extra-inning magic expire in the midnight hour Thursday night at the Southeastern Conference Baseball Tournament.
Kentucky scored the game-winning run in the 12th inning as the Wildcats knocked off the Bulldogs 7-6 in the final game of the third day of the tournament at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
MSU had won its seven previous seven extra-inning games. On this night, the visiting team Bulldogs allowed the game-tying run in the ninth inning and then had runners thrown out at the plate in both the 10th and 12th innings.
“The one thing is that we walked too many guys,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “We walked some guys we shouldn’t have. We let too many leadoff guys get on. We had some situational opportunities we didn’t take advantage of. I am really proud of how the guys competed tonight.”
“Offensively, we had a good night and a good plan. We just missed on some situational things.”
Fifth-seeded MSU (37-21) will now face top-seeded Florida (38-20) in an elimination game Friday. That contest will start 30 minutes after the completion of the 3 p.m. Ole Miss-Arkansas game. The MSU-Florida contest will be televised regionally by Comcast Sports Southeast and will also be available nationally on ESPN3.
MSU started the scoring with a lone run in the fourth inning. Brett Pirtle had a single and Gavin Collins later added a one-out walk. A groundout advanced runners and a wild pitch brought Pirtle home.
UK answered in its half of the fourth inning. Michael Thomas hit his eighth home run of the year. That run snapped a scoreless streak of 25 innings over his last four starts for MSU starting pitcher Ross Mitchell.
The Maroon and White went back to building the lead in the fifth inning. C.T. Bradford singled and took second base on a sacrifice ground out by Jake Vickerson. After a fly out, Seth Heck extended his streak to 18 straight games with an RBI-single to right center. Collins followed with another single before Cody Brown lined a run-producing single to bump the lead to 3-1.
An inning later, Wes Rea and Matthew Britton started things with back-to-back hits. The rally quickly faded and only produced one run on a Vickerson sacrifice fly.
Kentucky chased Mitchell during a game-tying three-run sixth inning. A.J. Reed began that inning with a four-pitch walk. Ka’ai Tom followed with a double down the line, bringing Reed home. Thomas followed with a hit and a passed ball put runners in scoring position. A sacrifice fly by Storm Wilson and RBI-single by Thomas Bernal brought Kentucky even in the game. An additional hit chased Mitchell with one out in the frame.
From there, Ben Bracewell followed in relief and got two outs to protect the tied score. Mitchell worked 5.1 innings, allowing eight hits and four runs (all earned), with two walks and no strikeouts.
MSU reclaimed the lead but failed to expand it in the seventh inning. Hits by Heck and Collins and a walk to Brown loaded the bases. However, a double play ball kept the MSU damage to one run in the inning.
Equally big for the Maroon and White, Vance Tatum entered in relief and got a double play in the home half of the inning to protect the one-run lead.
Kentucky again tied the contest with a lone run in the eighth inning. New pitcher Myles Gentry walked UK’s Bernal and allowed a double to Matt Reida. This time, Jonathan Holder entered in relief. A ground ball out tied the game but a strikeout and fly out snuffed the threat with two Wildcats in scoring position.
In the ninth inning, Pirtle started things with a single for MSU. After a sacrifice bunt by Heck, Collins followed with an RBI-single. A caught stealing loomed large as MSU left the frame only leading 6-5.
In the home half of the inning, Holder surrendered a leadoff double to Reed. After a wild pitch moved him to third, a sacrifice fly by Tom tied the game. UK managed another hit before Holder forced the extra innings with a fly out and ground out to work the Bulldogs out of that tight spot.
The Bulldogs appeared poised to take control in the 10th inning. Pinch hitter Alex Detz reached on a fielding error to start the at-bat. After a foul out, pinch runner Derrick Armstrong took third on a Matthew Britton single. Bradford followed with fly ball to center field. However, UK center fielder Austin Cousino threw home to retire Armstrong on a tremendous defensive play.
In the UK 12th inning, Reida greeted new MSU pitcher Preston Brown (4-3) with a leadoff double. Reida took third base on a wild pitch. A pair of walks followed to load the bases. After a ground out, a high chop on the infield hit by pinch hitter Zach Arnold produced a hit and the game-winning score.
“This is a great experience for our kids,” Cohen said. “It is the first game we have lost in extra innings this year. We have to protect some pitchers for next week and then hold someone to start either Friday or Saturday in this tournament. That is why we got Holder out there. I really like the energy level and how we competed.”
The Bulldogs finished with 16 hits and stranded 11 base runners. Collins had four hits, while Pirtle, Heck, Brown, Rea and Britton each had multiple hits.
The Wildcats also finished with 16 hits, made the game’s only four errors and stranded 13 base runners. Reida had four hits, while Thomas had three hits. Tom, Wilson and Bernal had multiple hits. Spencer Jack (4-1) allowed four hits and one run (earned) in four innings of work to earn the win.