Mississippi State entered Saturday under heavy pressure. After winning the first two games over Arkansas, the Dawgs had to win game three over the Razorbacks and for Ole Miss to defeat Texas A&M in order to claim their first SEC title since 1989. Well, y'all, that's exactly what happened, as State defeated Arkansas, 9-4
Konnor Pilkington got the start on the mound for Mississippi State. He entered Saturday coming off of fantastic outings in each of his last three appearances, against Alabama, Missouri, and Auburn. This time, however, Pilkington struggled. In 2 1/3 innings, he gave up five hits, two runs, and struck out three; the two runs were from a home run in the 1st.
Ryan Rigby came in for Pilkington and absolutely dealt. In 4 2/3 innings, he gave up just two hits, no runs, and struck out six. Rigby has had a great regular season, and he certainly closed it out in style. Daniel Brown relived Rigby in the 8th but struggled mightily. In 2/3 of an inning, Brown gave up four hits, two runs, and struck out just one.
Blake Smith inherited a jam, facing men on 2nd and 3rd with two outs in the 8th. After walking the leadoff man, he forced a fly out, which gave State a five run cushion entering the 9th. Smith closed it out, striking out three men in the 9th to clinch Mississippi State's 11th SEC title.
State had a very solid performance at the plate on Saturday, scoring nine runs from twelve hits. Ten of those twelve hits came from the 1-5 hitters in the lineup (Jake Mangum, Jack Kruger, Nate Lowe, Gavin Collins, Jacob Robson).
The thing is, over the course of the entire weekend, State wasn't absolutely magnificent at the plate. The one thing they were able to do, which ultimately was the reason why we pulled this sweep off, was that we were able to take advantage of Arkansas' mistakes. Five of State's nine runs on Saturday were unearned, and State plated 11 unearned runs during the entire weekend. Arkansas committed 10 errors this weekend, three of which on Saturday, and State was able to take advantage in a big way.
In game three, Arkansas got off to an early 2-0 lead in the 1st, and I'm sure many of you (myself included) were a bit worried. But, State was able to rebound.
In the 2nd, State cut the lead to one run with a Ryan Gridley RBI groundout that scored Jacob Robson. The Bulldogs tied it up at 2 in the 3rd from a Jacob Robson sac fly that scored Jake Mangum. Mississippi State was able to separate itself from Arkansas in the 5th, an inning in which State scored four runs, three of which thanks to a dropped fly ball in deep center field. Mississippi State entered the 7th inning with a 6-2 advantage.
As the 7th inning started, Dudy Noble Field got the news that Ole Miss defeated Texas A&M, 3-2, to knock A&M out of the SEC title race. It was the loudest State fans have ever been after an Ole Miss victory. The thing was, South Carolina swept Alabama, so State still needed to close this game out in order to win the SEC.
In the 7th, Mississippi State blew the game wide open. The Bulldogs scored three runs, from a John Holland RBI single that scored Jacob Robson and a 2 RBI single from Jack Kruger that scored John Holland and Ryan Gridley. State gave up two runs in the 8th that could've been a lot worse, but three strikeouts in the 9th gave Mississippi State the 11th SEC title in program history.
Once again, this is the first SEC title for State since 1989. Mississippi State will be the 1 seed in Hoover for the SEC Tournament and will play the winner of the 8-9 matchup between Kentucky and Alabama at 5:00 PM CT on Wednesday.
The Bulldogs finish up the regular season 40-14-1, 21-9, which is the most conference wins in program history.