By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. – Mississippi State staged a furious late rally but went home in a simmering mood.
After overcoming a 6-2 deficit in the final two innings on Sunday, the Bulldogs fell 8-7 to Alabama on Austen Smith’s two-run walk-off double. That helped the Crimson Tide (18-30, 7-17 SEC) avoid a weekend sweep.
So while MSU (29-18, 12-12) still won the series, players and coaches did not depart Sewell-Thomas Stadium with good feelings. What happened immediately before and after the winning hit didn’t help matters.
“There are things you can control in this game, and there are things that you can’t, and in terms of the things we can control, I thought our kids did a great job of fighting their tails off,” head coach John Cohen said. “We ain’t backing down to anybody. We are not going to back down to anybody no matter what the conditions, no matter what happens to our club, no matter what happens.”
That was in answer to a question about a call on the pitch prior to Smith’s game winner. Smith bounced a pitch near his feet that, after a throw to first base for what would’ve been the game’s final out, was ruled a foul ball. The umpires convened and ruled the ball hit in the batter’s box, making it a foul ball.
Cohen argued that the ball hit the plate, which would have made it fair. He continued to vehemently state his case as the home plate ump, Steve Dew, exited the field through the MSU dugout.
“I can’t discuss anything about umpires, so I’m not going to do that,” Cohen said. “Obviously, suffice to say that I disagreed, or I would not have gone and asked for an explanation.”
Moments later, an Alabama security guard and MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson engaged in a shouting match in the dugout. Thompson did not return a message seeking comment.
Several MSU players and coaches attempted to block the view of media and fans who were on the field at the time of the confrontation.
The finish ruined a late rally by MSU, which scored three times in the eighth inning. Phillip Casey’s RBI single got it going, and his two-run single in the ninth gave MSU a 7-6 lead.
After retiring the first two Alabama hitters, reliever Nick Routt (2-5) gave up back-to-back singles. Taylor Stark entered and allowed Smith’s double.
“We never think we’re out,” said MSU designated hitter Trey Porter, who had four hits. “We have the best pitching staff in the country, and we know that they’re going to hold them every single time we get some runs on the board.”
Alabama used a four-run fourth inning to stake a 5-1 lead, and each of those five runs were unearned thanks to a pair of State errors. Starting pitcher Luis Pollorena lasted 22⁄3 innings, yielding one run on two hits.
Brandon Woodruff was charged with three runs in one inning, and MSU used six pitchers in all.
Alabama starter Charley Sullivan, an Oxford native, tossed seven innings, allowing two runs on five hits. Reliever Jake Hubbard (3-2) got the win.
“Our kids are competing their tails off,” Cohen said. “They take everything personally when it comes to representing Mississippi State and having it on their chest. If you just want them to hang their heads and walk out to the bus, you’ve got the wrong group of guys. You’ve got the wrong group of coaches, you’ve got the wrong group of players.
“We’re going to fight, fight, fight for everything, every minute, before, after and during the baseball game.”