Bulldogs drop two to Alabama

STARKVILLE – Mississippi State could not hold on to a late lead as Alabama rallied to a 5-4 Southeastern Conference baseball win in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday night at Dudy Noble Field.

The Crimson Tide actually took both ends of the twinbill while clinching their first conference series in four weekends. Brett Whitaker hit a pinch-hit home run in the top half of the tenth inning to give Alabama an identical 5-4 victory in the opener.

Alabama improved to 28-18 overall and 10-10 in league play, while MSU fell to 24-18 and 7-13. The top three teams in the Western Division standings all lost Saturday, keeping the Bulldogs within 3-1/2 games of the division lead. Alabama has now taken eight straight games and six straight series from MSU.

One theme held true in both contests. The Bulldogs stranded base runners (10 in the opener, 13 in the nightcap) and were victimized by critical errors (four total for the two contests).

“In my 20 years of coaching, I’ve never seen anything like this,” MSU head coach John Cohen said. “We are doing the right thing, 99 percent of the time. We smoke balls right at people or almost make a great play. We just need something to go right for us because our kids deserve it.”

The Bulldogs struck first in the nightcap. An RBI-double by Nick Vickerson gave the Maroon and White a 1-0 lead in the home half of the first inning.

Alabama reached MSU starter Nick Routt for a pair of runs in the fourth inning. Andrew Miller singled, took second on a wild pitch and later scored on an RBI-single by Brett Booth. An overthrow getting the ball back in allowed another run to score.

The Bulldogs battled back for a 2-2 tie on Nick Vickerson’s third home run of the year in the sixth inning.

Alabama grabbed a 3-2 lead in the top half of the seventh inning when another overthrow was made on a double steal attempt. A single by Brock Bennett and walk to Austen Smith preceded that score.

Not deterred, the Bulldogs bounced back on top 4-3 with a pair of scores in the seventh inning. A pair of walks by Alabama relief pitching opened the door. The Bulldogs scored with back-to-back RBI-singles by Adam Frazier and Wes Thigpen. A great defensive play by UA second baseman Josh Sanders ended the inning, costing the Bulldogs a pair of runs and snuffing the threat with the bases loaded.

Alabama took the lead for good in the top half of the eighth inning when Bennett touched Luis Pollorena and Jared Reaves touched Caleb Reed for back-to-back RBI-singles.

The Bulldogs finished with nine hits. Vickerson and Cody Freeman each had multiple hits. Jarrod Parks ran his hit streak to 15 games.

The Crimson Tide finished with 10 hits. Bennett had three hits, while Taylor Dugas had two hits.

Routt was lifted in the fifth inning. Devin Jones and Taylor Stark preceded Pollorena (5-3), who only faced two batters and took the loss. Reed faced three batters, before Chad Girodo got all three outs in the ninth inning.

Starting pitcher Adam Morgan allowed five hits and three runs (all earned) in six innings of work. Trey Pilkington (2-3) threw the seventh inning and got the win. Nathan Kennedy worked around a pair of hits in the eighth inning. Jonathan Smart faced four batters in the ninth inning before nailing down his eighth save.

In the opener, Whitaker’s first hit of the season cleared the left center field fence and made the Crimson Tide a winner. The UA pinch hitter had been hitless in eight at-bats prior to that swing. The home run also broke up Reed’s string of nine straight appearances without allowing a run.

For the Bulldogs, Jaron Shepherd became the second MSU player this season to homer twice in a game. For the MSU right fielder, it was his first two long balls of the year. Shepherd’s first solo blast kickstarted a three-run second inning. Shepherd’s second blast tied the game 4-4 in the home half of the eighth inning.

MSU’s Chris Stratton started and was lifted during Alabama’s game-tying two-run fifth inning. Tim Statz followed in relief. Statz was tagged for the go-ahead single by UA’s Bennett in the sixth inning. From there, Pollorena fired three innings of scoreless relief before giving way to Reed (0-1) with one out in the ninth inning.

The Bulldogs pounded out 15 hits but stranded 10 base runners and had three more thrown out attempting steals. Shepherd and Vickerson each paced MSU with three hits apiece.

Miller had three of Alabama’s 12 hits. Smart (3-1) pitched the final 2.1 innings of scoreless relief to garner the win.

The series finale is at 1:30 p.m. Sunday.

Click here for more at Brad Locke’s Inside Mississippi State Sports blog.

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