By John Zenor/The Associated Press
HOOVER, Ala. — Jonathan Holder picked up his third save of the Southeastern Conference tournament with a scoreless ninth inning and Mississippi State advanced to the championship game with a 2-1 win over Kentucky Saturday.
Holder worked around a throwing error to leave the potential tying run on third, escaping with two grounders and an infield popup. He also got the win in Friday night’s game against LSU.
Mississippi State (38-22) plays either Vanderbilt or Florida for the championship on Sunday. The Bulldogs, who also swept the Wildcats on the regular season’s final weekend, are seeking their seventh SEC tournament title and first since 2005.
Reliever Nick Routt (3-5) snuffed out a potential threat in the fifth, entering when Kentucky (43-16) had two men on base. Routt got A.J. Reed to strike out looking to escape and pitched three more scoreless innings after that.
Bulldogs coach John Cohen called that strikeout “the defining moment of the game.”
“Nick Routt was a star today,” Cohen said. “He was waiting for his opportunity and he got it and took full advantage of it. And Jonathan Holder shut it down in the ninth inning and every time he’s gotten it he’s done an unbelievable job for us.”
Holder had to overcome a defensive miscue to open the inning.
Lucas Witt reached on a throwing error by third baseman Sam Frost — who moved from second for the final inning — and moved to second and third on grounders. Holder then got Austin Cousino to pop up to short stop to end the game and extend his school-record streak of scoreless innings to 27-1/3.
“He’s tough to hit,” said teammate Adam Frazier, who had two hits. “When he comes in, we’re pretty comfortable. The nickname going around is ‘The Truth.’ As long as he keeps doing that, we’ll keep that nickname.”
The Bulldogs took a 2-1 lead in the first three innings and nursed it the rest of the way. Demarcus Henderson led off with a single, moved to second on Mitch Slauter’s sacrifice bunt and scored on a single up the middle by Wes Rea.
The Bulldogs used a similar method in the third, producing a run with Frazier’s leadoff single, Brent Brownlee’s sacrifice and Trey Porter’s RBI single up the middle.
Kentucky tied it in the bottom half with J.T. Riddle’s solo home run to right, his fifth of the season. Riddle had three of the Wildcats’ nine hits.
Kentucky starter Corey Littrell (8-2) allowed two runs in six innings.
“It was a great game for the fans,” Kentucky coach Gary Henderson said. “Extremely disappointed that we’re not playing (Sunday). I’m really proud of our guys. They were tough. Clearly it was a rough day for us offensively, but it was just that type of game.”
Read more in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal.