Mississippi State Baseball Beats Alabama, Advances In SEC Tournament
HOOVER, Ala. (MSU Athletics) – Junior right-hander Zac Houston knew this was his time to shine.
Houston pitched a career-best 8 2/3 innings, allowing just four hits, as third-ranked and top-seeded Mississippi State opened its play in the Southeastern Conference Tournament with a 4-1 win over No. 9 seed Alabama Wednesday night at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium.
MSU (41-14-1) won its tournament opener for a fourth straight time in this event. Playing Alabama (33-25) for the first time since 2002, the Bulldogs came within one out of a shutout thanks to the splendid performance from Houston. MSU has beaten Alabama three of four tries this season and won 12 straight games overall.
MSU will face either Florida or LSU Thursday in the winners’ bracket of the tournament. That contest will start 30 minutes after the completion of the 4:30 p.m. game between Vanderbilt and Ole Miss and will be shown live nationally on the SEC Network.
“Zac Houston really gave us a lift tonight,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “He filled the strike zone and didn’t walk anybody. In this ballpark, if you do that, you can have a lot of success. We would like to have a scored a few more runs because we missed out on some opportunities. However, we had some timely hits and the pitching was outstanding.”
Houston (5-0) threw 120 pitches, allowing four hits, with five strikeouts and no walks. With an Alabama runner at second base, Blake Smith entered for a game-ending strikeout and his fourth save of the year.
The Bulldogs plated single scores in the first, third, fourth and sixth innings.
In the first inning, back-to-back singles by Jake Mangum and Jack Kruger got things going. After a double play ball, Gavin Collins began his four-hit night with an RBI-single.
In the third inning, John Holland singled, stole second and reached third on interference. Mangum followed with a ground ball out.
In the fourth inning, Collins continued his tear by leading off the inning with his team-best 10th home run of the season – a line shot just inside the left field foul pole.
In the sixth inning, Collins singled, took second on a ground ball out and later scored on a hit by Brent Rooker.
Alabama ace Geoffrey Bramblett (5-4) worked 5 2/3 innings, allowing nine hits and four runs (all earned), with four strikeouts and no walks. Sam Finnerty finished the contest for the Crimson Tide.
Houston carried a two-hit shutout into the ninth inning and retired 13 straight by getting the first two batters in the ninth inning on five pitches. His previous career high was six innings against Nicholls State.
The shutout was threatened in the seventh inning when Reid Humphreys made a leaping catch at the outfield wall robbing the Crimson Tide of a home run. Georgie Salem and Chandler Taylor then broke up the shutout for good with back-to-back two-out doubles for the Crimson Tide in the ninth inning. Smith then closed the contest on a three-pitch strikeout.
MSU finished with 12 hits. The Bulldogs had have had 10 or more hits in eight of their last nine games. It was Collins’ 14th multi-hit game and first four-hit game, and he is also currently riding a career-high 18-game hitting streak. Mangum and Holland each added two hits.
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