STARKVILLE - Cody Freeman's go-ahead two-run home run in the eighth inning lifted the Mississippi State baseball team to an 8-5 Southeastern Conference win over Alabama Sunday afternoon at Dudy Noble Field.
Freeman's blast broke a 5-5 tie and highlighted a four-run eighth inning as the Maroon and White salvaged the final game of the weekend series. MSU also snapped an eight-game losing streak against UA. The Bulldogs have won the Sunday game four times in league play, while picking up at least one win in six of seven conference series.
With the victory, MSU improved to 25-18 overall and 8-13 in league play, while Alabama fell to 28-19 and 10-11. With three weeks remaining, the Western Division race is tighter than ever. Alabama and Arkansas each stand at 10-11, while Auburn and Ole Miss follow at 9-12. The Bulldogs trail that pair by one game and also lead sixth-place LSU by an identical margin. As it stands today, the Bulldogs are also one game back of qualifying for the SEC Tournament, as the top eight teams in the overall conference standings advance to Hoover.
The Bulldogs had some timely hitting on Sunday. The same could not be said a day earlier when Alabama won twice by 5-4 scores.
"We hit the ball hard again today," MSU head coach John Cohen said. "Some of them were still outs, but we got a few more to fall. We are right on the edge of knocking this door down. I say this all the time, but I really feel like we match up well with everyone from here on out. We ended the weekend almost where we started."
Alabama quickly sprinted to a 3-0 advantage. Bulldog starting pitcher Kendall Graveman was touched for a three-run home run by Tide shortstop Jared Reaves three batters into the contest.
The Bulldogs answered in the second inning when Brent Brownlee hit a two-run home run - his first of the season.
Graveman righted the ship and battled before giving way to the bullpen with one out in the fifth inning. UA scored once in the fourth inning, but Evan Mitchell snuffed the Tide threat in relief an inning later.
In the sixth inning, an RBI-single by Brock Bennett extended the Alabama advantage to 5-2.
The Bulldogs slowly rallied by scoring twice and then posting a series-best four-run eighth inning.
In the seventh inning, Cody Freeman started things with an infield hit. Jarrod Parks reached as a hit batsman. A single by Nick Vickerson loaded the bases. Jonathan Ogden followed with a sacrifice-fly, which was dropped by the UA right fielder. A follow-up groundball out by Ryan Collins cut the deficit to 5-4.
An inning later, the Bulldogs took control of things for good.
Jaron Shepherd, who homered twice in Saturday's 5-4 game one loss, led off the at-bat with a double down the left field line. Taylor Stark then followed with a bunt which was thrown away by the UA relief pitcher. That misplay allowed Shepherd to tie the game 5-5.
After another sacrifice bunt by C.T. Bradford, Freeman lined the first pitch he saw over the left center field fence. The Bulldog catcher's second home run of the year placed the Maroon and White on top for good, at 7-5. A Parks double, Vickerson single and wild pitch scored the additional insurance run in that frame.
In the Alabama ninth inning, the Tide stranded a pair as Caleb Reed came on to get the final two outs of the contest, earning his eighth save.
The Bulldogs finished with 13 hits. Freeeman and Vickerson each had three hits. Collins, Brownlee and Shepherd all added multiple hits. Parks extended his hit streak to 16 games. That marks the longest MSU hit streak since 2007.
The Crimson Tide finished with 10 hits. Bennett and Austen Smith each had multiple hits.
Graveman allowed seven hits and four runs (all earned) in 4.1 innings of work. Mitchell (4-1) worked 3.2 innings in relief to garner the win. Mitchell allowed two hits and one run (unearned). Daryl Norris started the ninth inning before giving way to Reed.
UA starter Taylor Wolfe allowed seven hits and two runs (both earned) in 5.2 innings of work. Wolfe struck out five, walked one and threw 110 pitches. Nathan Kennedy (0.2 IP), Adam Windsor (1.0 IP), Josh Rosecrans (0.0 IP) and Brett Whitaker (0.2 IP) followed in relief. Windsor (3-1) took the loss.
MSU plays at South Alabama at 6 p.m. Tuesday. The Jaguars are 22-21 overall and 9-12 in Sun Belt Conference play after dropping all three games to Florida International this past weekend.
Click here for more at Brad Locke's Inside Mississippi State Sports blog.
Florida 7, Ole Miss 2
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Rebels got men in scoring position, but couldn’t come up with the big hit when they needed to early as Ole Miss (24-20, 9-12 SEC) dropped the series finale to No. 4 Florida (34-10, 17-4 SEC) on Sunday by a score of 7-2.
Ole Miss put men in scoring position in four of the first five innings, but couldn’t get a run home until a Will Allen single in the seventh inning put the Rebels on the board. Matt Smith added a home run in the eighth inning to move into sole possession of second place on the all-time list for home runs at Ole Miss with 41 for his career.
Austin Wright (4-4) suffered the loss for the Rebels as he allowed four runs on five hits with a strikeout in 2.2 innings of work.
Karsten Whitson (6-0) grabbed the win for Florida as he held the Rebels scoreless through 6.0 innings and allowed three hits with two walks and four strikeouts.
“You have to tip your hat to Florida,” said Ole Miss head coach Mike Bianco. “They played terrific and got the big hits to extend the lead. We stayed out of giving up the big inning, but we just couldn’t stop them. Florida pitches well and their command is good, they got the big hits and make all the plays defensively. They just kind of smother you out there.”
Florida took the early lead, scoring in the first on a sac fly to left field from Nolan Fontana that brought Bryson Rose Home. Rose doubled down the left field line before a wild pitch moved him to third to set up the score on the Fontana fly ball. Mike Zunino then doubled before scoring on a single up the middle from Preston Tucker that put Florida up 2-0.
The Gators added to the lead in the third inning, pushing two more runs across the plate when Zunino came up with a two-RBI double that scored runners from first and third.
Zunino repeated the feat with his third double of the afternoon in the fifth inning to drive in two more runs and spark a Florida rally. Tucker then singled to drive in Zunino and put the Gators on top 7-0 after five innings of play.
With the Rebels threatening to put together another rally in the bottom of the sixth, Ole Miss turned to the bullpen for Jake Morgan. Morgan, who was seeing his first action since the March 20 game against Alabama, got the Rebels out of the inning with a groundout.
Ole Miss got on the board in the seventh when Allen singled to right field to drive in Matt Snyder from third. Snyder reached on a fielding error in left on a fly ball before taking third on a wild pitch to set up the score on the Allen hit.
Smith then hit his solo shot in the eighth inning to cut the lead to 7-2 which proved to be the final score.
Ole Miss will return to action on Wednesday when the Rebels travel to face Arkansas State in Jonesboro, Ark., at 6:30 p.m.