By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
HOOVER, Ala. – Mississippi State knew what was coming, but Jerad Grundy and a well-rested Kentucky team still did as they pleased on Thursday.
Behind a strong six-inning outing from Grundy (5-3), a junior left-hander, the fourth-seeded Wildcats defeated seventh-seeded MSU 5-1 at Regions Park to advance to the semifinals of the SEC Tournament.
State (36-22) will play LSU in an elimination game at 3 p.m. today. The winner plays Kentucky (43-15) on Saturday at noon.
Less than a week after taking a loss in Starkville, Grundy gave up just one run on four hits, recording nine swinging strikeouts as the Bulldogs were confounded by his changeups and sliders.
MSU coach John Cohen said the team spent an hour Thursday morning studying film of Grundy, and the players knew to lay off the “soft” pitches down in the zone. They didn’t.
“I mean, almost situation by situation our kids knew exactly what was going to happen before he did (it), and the kid did a great job of executing exactly what we told our kids was going to happen,” Cohen said.
MSU got a run on Grundy in the first inning thanks to Trey Porter’s RBI single, but he settled in after that.
“The first couple of innings I was 2-0 a lot, and that makes it difficult to get people out,” Grundy said. “Being able to throw my off-speed stuff earlier in the count for strikes, it really helps when you get 0-2, 1-2.”
State didn’t have a hit after the third inning and struck out a total of 11 times. Reliever Alex Phillips threw three hitless innings to earn his seventh save.
MSU saw a 5-game winning streak snapped, a run that included three wins over Kentucky last weekend.
“They wanted to desperately win this baseball game. They did a nice job in their execution, and we didn’t,” Cohen said. “Mentally we were a little bit tired and not as locked in as I wanted us to be today.”
The Bulldogs were playing their third game in as many days here, while the Wildcats got the day off Wednesday.
Third baseman Thomas McCarthy was 4 of 5 with three doubles, three runs scored and an RBI for Kentucky. Michael Williams had three hits, and the two-through-five hitters in the lineup accounted for 11 of the Wildcats’ 12 hits.
MSU starter Kendall Graveman (4-4) lasted 21/3 innings but had to exit because an injured groin was bothering him. He gave up two runs on six hits and was followed by five relievers.
“Kendall is a kid who wants to pitch a lot and he just couldn’t get down on the mound,” Cohen said. “I thought he created some movement early, but when you’re talking about recreating the same type of movement with your body over and over again, eventually it’s going to wear on you.”