HOOVER, Ala. Mississippi State’s oft-leaky infield sprang a leak Thursday at the worst possible time.
An infield error set up a Mark Ellis RBI single in the bottom of the 10th inning to give Florida a 6-5 win in the winner’s bracket of the SEC Tournament.
The Bulldogs, who had four errors in a Wednesday win against Vanderbilt, have booted 96 balls this season.
The loss, before 3,236 at Hoover Metropolitan Stadium, dropped MSU (37-21) to the loser’s bracket to face Kentucky (33-23) at 11:30 a.m.
“We had opportunities. That’s what makes it frustrating,” said MSU coach Ron Polk, who was ejected in the bottom of the seventh inning after disputing a ball-strike call by home plate umpire Ken Couch.
“If Adam Piatt’s line drive falls in, we win. It’s that simple. The late error hurt us, but it never should’ve gotten to that.”
The Bulldogs had taken a 5-4 lead when Brian Weise scored on a wild pitch. Two outs later, Rob Hauswald walked to load the bases.
Piatt drilled a Paul Rigdon fastball directly at Florida third baseman Mark Ellis, who said, “I had to catch it. It was self-defense.”
The Gators (42-14) tied it in the bottom of the seventh inning on John Tamargo’s single. The game-tying hit came on the pitch following Polk’s ejection.
Three innings later, combined with Rigdon’s hitless relief, the Gators won it on an RBI single from Ellis. The winning run, scored by Rick Eckstein, reached on a Brad Freeman error.
“It was my fault. I stayed back on the ball instead of coming to get it,” Freeman said. “Any time you don’t come get it, bad things can happen and this was pretty bad.”
Freeman had staked the Bulldogs to an early 4-2 lead with a two-RBI double. Freeman was the only MSU player to have two hits off Florida’s John Kaufman and Rigdon, the eventual winner. After Florida tied it with single runs in the fourth and fifth innings, MSU went ahead on the wild pitch in the top of the seventh inning.
“We got what we wanted and Adam hit it well. It’s a game of inches,” Polk said. “Florida’s a quality club. It’s over. Kentucky’s playing well right now. We’ll see what happens tomorrow.”
FLORIDA 6, MISSISSIPPI STATE 5
Miss. State 001 300 100 0 5 6 1
Florida 020 110 100 1 6 11 0
WP – Paul Rigdon (9-2). LP – David Hooten (8-7). Multiple hits – (MS) Brad Freeman 2. (F) David Eckstein 2, Mark Ellis 2, Chuck Hazzard 3. 2B – (MS) Brad Freeman, Rob Hauswald, Brian Wiese. (F) David Eckstein, John Tamargo. HR – (F) Chuck Hazard. Records: Mississippi State 37-21. Florida 42-14. Attendance: 3,226. Time: 3:13.
Notes: Florida outfielder Chris Chism played at New Hope and is the only Mississippian on the Gators roster. … MSU pitching coach Pat McMahon planned on starting Scott Polk or Brett Wheeler against Kentucky and using Van Johnson as the closer. … Polk was ejected in the seventh inning by home plate umpire Ken Couch. … One out when winning run scored.