STARKVILLE – Reality caught up with Mississippi State on Friday night, and just in time for Auburn.
The visiting Tigers scored six runs in the top of the ninth inning to escape Dudy Noble Field with a 9-8 win over the Bulldogs in Game 1 of the SEC series.
State (15-14, 3-7 SEC) entered the ninth with a 6-3 lead, but closer Chad Crosswhite got lit up for all six runs, on four hits. Joseph Sanders’ three-run home run to left field, with two outs, gave Auburn a 9-6 lead.
“We’re not good enough to win these games yet,” first-year MSU coach John Cohen said. “We will be, but we’re not good enough yet.”
After working a quiet eighth, Crosswhite (0-3) let Auburn (19-9, 5-5) back in it with a couple of one-out hits. Then the Bulldog defense aided Auburn’s cause.
Justin Hargett’s grounder slipped past sure-handed shortstop Ryan Powers for an RBI single, and left fielder Ryan Collins flubbed the ball, allowing the tying run to score unearned.
MSU didn’t go quietly, pushing two runs across in the bottom of the ninth. The Bulldogs left the winning run on first base when Collins grounded out to short.
Reliever Michael Hurst (2-0) threw one inning to earn the win, while Austin Hubbard got the save.
“Our kids are learning how to compete, and you’re starting to see glimpses of it,” Cohen said. “But for every step we take forward in those areas, our kids make bad decisions in others.”
One of the glimpses could be found in MSU starting pitcher Tyler Whitney’s performance. In 6.1 innings of work, matching a season high, Whitney allowed 10 hits but just the three runs. He struck out a career-high nine batters and walked two.
That was wasted, as were the heroics of MSU first baseman Connor Powers. His two-run homer in the seventh inning broke a 3-3 tie and was the second time in the game he put the Bulldogs ahead.
Auburn finished with 18 hits to MSU’s 15.
Left fielder Luke Adkins tied it for MSU in the fourth inning with a two-out solo home run to deep right field. That came moments after a busted hit-and-run that got catcher Scott DeLoach thrown out at second.
Adkins also had an RBI double in the eighth inning to make it 6-3.
State pulled ahead in the fifth in typical Cohen fashion. After singling to right field, Ryan Powers moved to second on Grant Hogue’s bunt single, took third on a delayed steal, and scored on Connor Powers’ bouncing single through the box to make it 3-2 MSU.
However, the Bulldogs stranded two runners in scoring position. That was a problem for both teams early on – MSU left eight runners on base, while Auburn stranded 12.
When Whitney was pulled after 123 pitches, he had an 0-2 count on Ben Jones. Reliever Jared Wesson gave up a game-tying single.
Auburn looked to take the lead when Brian McElroy smoked one off the center field wall, but Jones was gunned down at home by Ryan Powers’ relay throw to end the inning.
Game 2 is set for 2 p.m. today.
Brad Locke/Daily Journal