STARKVILLE – Chuckles of disbelief turned to shouts of joy for Mississippi State on Sunday.
The Bulldogs kept swinging, and finally the baseball fell favorably in an 8-5 comeback win over Alabama on Sunday.
Those who showed up to Dudy Noble Field – the crowd of 1,437 was the venue’s smallest for an SEC game this season – saw MSU (25-18, 8-13 SEC) avoid the sweep while shrugging off Saturday’s woes.
It was after dropping a doubleheader to Alabama (28-19, 10-11) to open the series that MSU coach John Cohen ranted for three full minutes on the tough breaks his team has been catching. Sunday, he was more calm and praised his players’ ability to keep pushing.
“They know it hasn’t gone our way, and they kind of laugh every time we hit the rocket right at the guy with the bases loaded,” Cohen said. “They think it’s funny, because they know it’s going to come back around. Coach Cohen doesn’t think it’s funny, but they really believe that things are going to happen, because they know how close we are.”
Things came around in the eighth inning. After scoring two in the seventh to cut Alabama’s lead to 5-4, MSU tied it thanks to Jaron Shepherd’s double and a Tide throwing error.
Then catcher Cody Freeman stepped up and smashed a two-run homer to left-center field off reliever Josh Rosecrans for a 7-5 lead.
“I think it gave us a lot of boost on the field,” Freeman said of his blast, “but as far as the dugout, I think our dugout stayed energized the whole time, as far as the game went.”
That upbeat attitude was needed, because early on it looked like more of the same for MSU. It loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth inning, but Hunter Renfroe hit a hard grounder that turned into a 5-2-3 double play, and C.T. Bradford popped out to preserve Alabama’s 4-2 lead.
MSU was 0 for 6 with the bases loaded on the weekend, and it stranded 34 runners, including 11 on Sunday.
MSU had 13 hits in the finale, three each by Freeman and Nick Vickerson. Jarrod Parks had an eighth-inning single to extend his hitting streak to 16 games.
Freshman Evan Mitchell (4-1) threw 32/3 innings of relief to get the win. He allowed one unearned run on two hits. Caleb Reed, making his third appearance of the weekend, got the final two outs for his eighth save.
“My curveball felt real good today, and my fastball at times,” Mitchell said, “but sometimes the fastball, I couldn’t locate it. It’s nice to have that second pitch I can throw any time I wanted.”
Still in the hunt
MSU might have lost the series, but it didn’t lose any ground in the Western Division and stayed out of the cellar. It entered the weekend two games out of the first, and that remains the case. Only now, Alabama has moved into a tie for first with Arkansas, while Auburn and Ole Miss (both 9-12) are tied for third.
LSU (7-14) brings up the rear at 7-14.
“We’re just so close to being able to knock this door down a little bit and making a run in this league,” Cohen said. “I really believe that.”
Jared Reaves, who leads Alabama in RBIs, smashed a three-run home run to left field for a 3-0 lead before MSU starter Kendall Graveman could get a man out in the first.
State got two of those runs back in the second on Brent Brownlee’s homer to left, his first long ball of the season.
Bama got an RBI double from Brett Booth in the fourth and an RBI single from Brock Bennett in the sixth for a 5-2 lead.
In his first SEC start of the season, Graveman was charged with four runs on seven hits in 52/3 innings. Reliever Adam Windsor (3-1) took the loss.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal