LEXINGTON, Ky. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) – A five-run sixth inning provided the difference as No. 14 Mississippi State rallied past No. 8 Kentucky 8-4 in a Southeastern Conference baseball game played Friday night at Cliff Hagan Stadium.
The Bulldogs captured the opening game of a three-game conference series, while winning their first true road contest of the season. The victory also marked a happy homecoming for MSU head coach John Cohen, who served five seasons as UK’s head coach. The contest was MSU’s first game played at Kentucky since the 2008 season.
“We got some balls on the barrel,” Cohen said. “We really wanted to extend their starting pitcher (A.J. Reed). He throws 106 pitches through five innings. I am proud of our guys for continue to believe and continuing to work hard.
“Through five innings, we had 11 line drive outs. We knew the Kentucky bullpen was not as strong as it has been. Our job was to get into that pen because we thought we could have some add-on runs late.”
With the victory, MSU improved to 21-4 overall and 2-2 in league play, while Kentucky fell to 16-5 and 2-2. The Bulldogs won a conference series opener for the first time, after accomplishing that feat seven times last season. MSU is now 2-2 this season against Top 10 opponents.
For MSU, the tone was set on the mound. Sophomore left-hander Jacob Lindgren delivered another strong start. Despite a second straight Friday no decision, Lindgren pitched well, working 4.1 innings, while allowing six hits and four runs (all earned), with six strikeouts and four walks.
Ross Mitchell (5-0) finished the contest in relief. Mitchell worked the final 4.2 innings, allowing five hits and no runs, with three strikeouts and no walks.
“It started on the mound for us tonight,” Cohen said. “Lingo (Lindgren) really gave us a chance out there. It was a tough zone for both teams. When you have that, you just have to keep shoving it into the strike zone. The ball was not carrying great tonight so you could really challenge hitters.
“Ross did a great job of picking (Lindgren) up. He throws 56 pitches in 4.2 innings and that is very effective. You really can’t lose track of what he means to our ballclub. He just goes out there, fills the strike zone and gets out.”
The Bulldogs built an early 2-0 lead with single scores in the first and fourth inning. The Wildcats responded with two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to grab a 4-2 lead.
MSU came right back with five runs on four hits in the sixth inning. UK also helped out with three of its four errors coming in that half inning.
Wes Rea began things by reaching on a dropped fly ball. Brett Pirtle and Daryl Norris followed with back-to-back hits to load the bases. This ended the night for Reed (2-3) on the mound.
After a strikeout, Adam Frazier reached on an infield error, which forced in a run. C.T. Bradford connected for a game-tying sacrifice fly. Another infield hit by Hunter Renfroe re-loaded the bases.
Mitch Slauter followed with a two-run single, with another run coming home as the ball was misplayed coming back to the infield.
In the ninth inning, MSU capped its scoring when Renfroe hit his seventh home run of the season. The Bulldog right fielder has now hit safely in 10 straight games and 22 of 25 games this season.
Mitchell got the Bulldogs’ conference-leading 34th double play ball to close out the victory.
The Bulldogs finished with 10 hits. Renfroe had three hits, while Frazier and Pirtle each added two hits.
The Wildcats finished with 11 hits. Thomas Bernal had three hits, while Zac Zellers and Max Kuhn each added two hits.
The series resumes with an 11 a.m. CT start Saturday. Due to a forecast of wintry weather conditions for the remainder of the weekend, a doubleheader will be played Saturday, with each game nine innings in length. Saturday’s opener will be televised regionally by Fox Sports Net South.
After Saturday’s twinbill, the Bulldogs return home to face Austin Peay at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday.