(Photo Courtesy: Kelly Price, MSU Athletics)
STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI/MSU Athletics) – No. 11 Mississippi State returned home and used its popular formula of aggressive base running and strong relief pitching to nail down a victory.
MSU held off Alabama 6-5 in the opening-game of a three-game Southeastern Conference series Thursday night at Dudy Noble Field.
With the win, MSU improved to 26-14 overall and 11-5 in league play. Alabama fell to 15-23 and 2-14. The Bulldogs have won the opening game of a conference series for the fourth time in six tries this season.
“This league is such a beast,” head coach Andy Cannizaro said. “I am proud at how hard we are competing right now. You have to fight to get every win in this league. The more we play, the deeper our lineup is getting. This team is becoming a lot better as it gets more balance.”
Riley Self and Spencer Price were again strong in the final two innings of the game. Self got four outs, while Price allowed two hits but also got the final two outs for his nation-best 14th save. Overall, the Bulldogs had 3.1 innings of scoreless relief from the bullpen, which also included Trey Jolly and Trysten Barlow.
“Both Riley and Spencer are phenomenal competitors,” Cannizaro said. “I love giving each of them the ball late in games. They have great composure and are dominant on the mound. It also gives us a chance to give teams two different looks there at the end of the game.”
Konnor Pilkington drew the start and battled through 5.2 innings of work to get the win. Pilkington (4-3) allowed five hits and five runs (four earned), with five strikeouts and four walks. As a staff, the Bulldogs struck out 10.
The Bulldogs finished with nine hits. Tanner Poole had his second three-hit game of the season. Ryan Gridley had two hits for his 15th multi-hit game of the season.
MSU erased a 1-0 deficit in the second inning on an RBI-single by Poole. The Bulldogs took the lead for good an inning later when Gridley beat out an infield bunt, which was erred and led to a run. Elijah MacNamee followed with a sacrifice fly for a 3-2 lead.
The Bulldogs broke a 3-3 tie with three runs in the home half of the fifth inning.
Josh Lovelady had an RBI-single, while Harrison Bragg had an RBI-double in that at-bat. Another Alabama error also led to another run.
Sam Finnerty had three of Alabama’s eight hits. Starting pitcher Dylan Duarte (2-4) worked 4.2 innings and took the loss.
The two sides will return to the field Friday for a doubleheader that will begin at 4 p.m. CT. Game two of the twin billing will begin approximately 30 minutes following the conclusion of the day’s first game, with both games to be nine innings. Both games will air live on SEC Network+ via WatchESPN.com and the Watch ESPN app.