NASHVILLE – C.T. Bradford had a one-inning, four-run outing Sunday as the Bulldogs’ starting pitcher, but he stayed in the lineup as the designated hitter and redeemed himself in a big way.
He picked up the deciding RBI to cap a five-run eighth inning rally, as the Bulldogs upset No. 2 Vanderbilt 9-8 in a game they had trailed since the first inning.
“I knew when I came out I was going to have probably four more at-bats,” Bradford said. “And I knew if I was going help the team win I was going to have to do something with the bat.”
Bradford’s two-out single through the left side of the infield off Vandy closer Navery Moore (3-1) scored Cody Freeman, and Bulldogs relievers Andrew Busby and Taylor Stark held Vandy scoreless over the last two frames to preserve the win.
It was Mississippi State’s (15-6, 1-2 SEC) first win in 13 tries against the Commodores (19-2, 2-1) and helped them avoid what would have been a humbling sweep after being shut out the first two games.
“I think we definitely grew up this weekend,” Bradford said. “We learned we can be beat, obviously, but we learned how to bounce back after getting beat.
“Over a season that’s going to be a big factor when you learn to come back after a loss or come back after being down in a game.”
Chad Girodo (1-0) pitched a scoreless seventh to pick up the win for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State’s usual closer Caleb Reed entered the game in the second inning and allowed three runs in five innings, but did enough damage control after Bradford’s rocky start to give the Bulldogs’ bats time to come alive.
While Vandy starter Taylor Hill (1-0) had a serviceable outing for the Commodores, only two of the four runs he allowed were earned, he made one costly pitch to Mississippi State third baseman Jarrod Parks in the fifth.
Parks drove that pitch over the left-field wall and forced Hill out of the game holding a 6-4 lead.
“I was just thinking fast ball in and he threw it there and left it up a little bit,” Parks said. “And I was able to get some good barrel on it. That’s what we always try to do, get their starter out of the game.”
Likewise, Vanderbilt first baseman Aaron Westlake menaced the Bulldogs early, driving in two with a homer in the first inning over a leaping Brent Brownlee in center and hitting an RBI double in the second to give Vandy an early 6-1 lead. The Commodores led 8-4 going into the eighth before the Bulldogs mounted their rally.
With Vanderbilt just a few outs from sweeping the series, their players voiced their disappointment following the game.
“It’s tough sweeping an SEC team,” Westlake said. “We had them on the ropes, but we just couldn’t put them away.”
For Mississippi State, meanwhile, the surprising win lifted spirits in the dugout after back-to-back shut out losses.
“There was definitely a lot of questions going around about the offense of this team,” Parks said. “It felt good putting the win up, first of all, but putting some runs up, too…”
After having only one shut out in his tenure coming into the weekend series, Coach John Cohen voiced a similar sense of relief.
“It was big for us,” Cohen said. “Our kids really hung in there.”
Greg Sullivan/Special to the Journal