HOOVER, Ala., – Zac Houston delivered 8 2/3 strong innings on the mound in Mississippi State’s SEC Tournament opener against Alabama on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound junior right-hander had pitched a shutout and limited the Crimson Tide to just two hits but was unable to get the final out he needed to record the complete game.
Houston gave up back-to-back doubles allowing Alabama to score in the bottom of the ninth but Blake Smith recorded a three-pitch strikeout and his fourth save to preserve a 4-1 victory to keep the top-seeded Bulldogs in the winner’s bracket.
“The ball just came out of (Houston’s) hand so good tonight,” said MSU skipper John Cohen. “His fastball was on both sides and had great spin. Just watching the reaction of the hitters, it seems like he was really on point with three different pitches so we just let him ride. I know he wanted to finish that game out more than anything in the world but he was at 120 pitches.”
Houston improved to 5-0 on the mound in his fifth start of the season and first against an SEC opponent. He struck out five and also bested his career-long outing which was six innings.
“By the fifth inning I really felt like I had command of all of my pitches,” Houston said. “Early in the game I was just trying to shove the fastball in there and beat barrels.”
MSU racked up a dozen hits at the dish led by Gavin Collins‘ 4-for-4 performance which included a home run and two RBIs. Collins also extended his hitting streak to 18 games.
Jake Mangum and John Holland were both 2-for-4 with a pair of singles with Mangum driving in a run as the Bulldogs improved to 41-14-1.
“We just have such a variety of different weapons in our lineup,” Collins said. “When you have the combination that we have, it can be hard to defend all of the time.”
Alabama (33-25) was held to four hits including ninth inning doubles by Georgie Salem and Chandler Taylor.
Geoffrey Bramblett fell to 5-4 giving up four runs on nine hits in 5 2/3 frames.
“Mississippi State had a really good flow to the game,” said Alabama coach Mitch Gaspard. “They never relinquished any momentum to us and that starts on the mound. They played really good and never let us breathe all night.”
State will plate the late game on SEC Network Thursday against LSU. The Bulldogs will start junior right-hander Dakota Hudson (7-2, 2.41 ERA) on the mound.