STARKVILLE, Miss.- In a game which was closer than the 6-2 final score indicates, the Alabama baseball team took down Mississippi State in the series finale at Dudy Noble Field on Sunday.
Coming off of two straight defeats of the comeback walkoff variety, the pressure was on the team to get the job done with their backs against the wall. They answered the bell.
Much of the game was a pitchers’ duel. Alabama’s Grayson Hitt turned in his best outing of the season, going six frames with just one run on four hits to accompany five strikeouts. He became the second Alabama starter of the weekend to throw a three-digit number of pitches, 102. On the home side, Bulldog starter Cade Smith also went six innings, fanning seven on 112 pitches but also giving up three runs. All three Tide starters in the series went five innings or more.
In the first inning, Mississippi State took a 1-0 lead when catcher Logan Tanner doubled in Luke Hancock. This meant that the Crimson Tide would have to play from behind for the third time in the series. However, they squared the game in the second inning when Drew Williamson sent Owen Diodati home by way of a single. The lead then flipped to Alabama, 2-1, in the fourth inning when Bryce Eblin doubled in Bama catcher Dominic Tamez.
With two outs and no crimson on the base-paths in the top of the sixth, the Bulldogs elected to continue throwing Smith with his pitch count rising into the 100s. Facing Williamson, he threw a two-strike pitch that he, Tanner, and many of the Bulldog faithful thought was strike three.
The home plate umpire did not agree, and Williamson sent Smith’s 111th offering over the right field fence and out of the stadium.
In the home half of the seventh, Antoine Jean, who is normally a starting pitcher for the Crimson Tide, came on in relief and recorded two quick outs. The Bulldog offense livened up for two straight singles and then loaded the bases when Jim Jarvis committed a fielding error. Their second run scored when Hancock took a pitch to the shoulder, but Jean snuffed out the rally by striking out Tanner on three pitches. He subsequently stranded a runner in the bottom of the eighth to keep the game at 3-2.
Alabama scored in the ninth inning in all three games of the series. This time, they did so thrice, and all three runs came with two out. First, Tommy Seidl was intentionally walked to bring up Zane Denton, who was 0-4 up to that point. This decision proved costly, as he singled to cross Williamson. Diodati then scored Seidl and Tamez scored Denton.
This meant that if State was going to mount another comeback, they were going to do it while staring in the face of the largest ninth-frame deficit they had faced all series. This time, it was too much. Jean pulled it together after a leadoff walk and did what his head coach said on Saturday that the bullpen had to do: “get the final three outs.”
Head coach Brad Bohannon called the outcome “a big win, on so many levels.”
“Just a really well-rounded effort by our club,” he said. “Really big for our kids to win a tight game on the road and to close the game out. The next time that we’re in a tight game on the road, our guys will know that we can do it.” He praised his starting pitchers for the weekend, as well as Jean’s relief effort, and said the offense is making good strides.
“You can say a lot of things about our team, but you can’t say that they don’t fight.”
Hitt earned the win, his second on the campaign, and Jean got the save, his first.
Alabama moved to 14-11 (2-4 SEC) and snapped a three-game skid with the victory. Mississippi State fell to 15-10 (3-3 SEC). The Tide will next face in-state opposition in the form of South Alabama on Tuesday at Sewell-Thomas Stadium. First pitch is slated for 6 p.m. CT.