After taking game one in dominating fashion, the Diamond Dawgs of Mississippi State had to wait a day to attempt taking the series, due to inclement weather that passed through Tuscaloosa on Friday. But, although it made State fans uneasy, the Bulldogs were able to split the Saturday doubleheader and take the series.
Game one of the doubleheader was probably the most frustrating game of the season. It was scheduled to be a 7 inning game, same with game two, but it found itself going to "extras" and ending in a 4-3 State loss.
Austin Sexton started on the bump for the Bulldogs. He started off shaky, giving up a walk and a single in the 1st inning, but was able to recover. He faced four Crimson Tide batters in the 2nd and sat down the side in the 3rd. But then, the 4th inning happened. Sexton gave up two leadoff singles and a balk after a groundout to have men on 2nd and 3rd with one out. After an RBI groundout, there were men on the corners with two outs. Sexton had the next guy he faced, Will Haynie, on a 2-2 count before being pulled for Jacob Billingsley. His first pitched was laced center field for an RBI double to tie the game at 2-2. Sexton's final line was 3 2/3 innings, giving up four hits, two runs, and striking out three. An overall solid day that could've lasted much longer.
Billingsley was pulled for Ethan Small in the 5th after giving up a walk and sending him to 2nd from a wild pitch. That started a merry go round of pitchers that we haven't seen before this season, against a quality opponent. Small gave up a walk in the 5th, and his day was done. Ryan Rigby replaced him, and facing the bases juiced with one out, he forced a gigantic double play to get out of the inning unscathed.
Baja went three up, three down in the 6th and was done in four batters in the 7th. Brown replaced Rigby in the 8th, who struck a batter out, and was then pulled for Zac Houston. State scored in the 9th to take a 3-2 lead, and then it all fell apart.
Four different pitchers were used in the 9th inning; Zac Houston, Ryan Cyr, Paul Young, and Blake Smith. Combined, they gave up four walks in the inning, which ultimately led to two runs scored in the inning and a Crimson Tide victory. A total of nine pitchers were used in this game for State, walking ten batters. Alabama was able to scrape up only seven hits, but the ten walks were the difference. Pulling Sexton in the 4th will be looked back as critical to this loss.
But, game two was a different story. In what is normally the day in which the pitching is at its maximum of suckiness, the pitching was at its maximum greatness.
Konnor Pilkington started for State and had arguably the best outing of his career. In 5 2/3 innings, he gave up just three hits, one run, and struck out seven. He was replaced in the 6th by Daniel Brown, fresh off of a one batter faced, one strikeout performance in game one of the doubleheader, who finished the job for State. In 1 1/3 innings, Brown gave up no hits, no runs, and struck out two.
The main difference in pitching from game one to game two? Walks. I mentioned that the nine pitchers in game one gave up a combined ten walks. Well, the two pitchers in game two gave up a combined three walks. That's the difference between a win and a loss right there.
I thought we would get blown out of the water if we plated just two runs in game two. Lucky for us, that's what we did, and we got the win. We scored just two runs off four hits but were able to get clutch hits when we needed them. All of the scoring production came in the 2nd, starting off with a Reid Humphreys RBI single that scored Brent Rooker and a Ryan Girdley RBI single that scored Humphreys.
Looking back on this series, it seems more painful than joyful. We've won six of our first seven SEC series but haven't accomplished a sweep, and this was the closest we've gotten. Really, we should've gotten a sweep. It was ours; it slipped right through our fingers like sand through an hour glass. But, after that loss and what could've happened in game three with our pitching, thank the lord above that we were able to pull this series out. It's a series win over a quality opponent, and we're still playing very well in conference play.
Mississippi State improves to 30-14-1, 12-9 after this series win and will take the week off before facing Missouri in a Thursday-Saturday series in Starkville.