Bottom of order produces as Bulldogs get victory over Tide
Mississippi State’s top half of the batting order has carried the team all season long.
On Thursday night, it was the bottom half’s turn.
The fifth-through-eighth-place hitters led the way as the Bulldogs defeated Alabama 6-5 at Dudy Noble Field.
“The longer we play, the more games we play, the more times we practice, that lineup is really elongating,” Mississippi State head coach Andy Cannizaro said. “Guys are having better at-bats top to bottom.”
While Jake Mangum, Brent Rooker and Ryan Gridley have become regular heroes for the Bulldogs, they all took a bit of a backseat on Thursday. Elijah MacNamee, Josh Lovelady, Harrison Bragg and Tanner Poole combined to go 5-for-13 at the plate with four RBI and a pair of runs scored. Mangum, Rooker and Gridley were just 2-for-12 with both hits coming off the bat of Gridley.
“Every single day, it seems like it’s somebody else,” Gridley said. “It’s awesome.”
The latter half of the order’s biggest moment came in the bottom of the fifth inning. With the score tied 3-3, Lovelady came through with a two-out single that drove in Gridley. When the throw home was wild, MacNamee scored too. Suddenly, MSU led 5-3. Bragg added a RBI double later in the frame to extend the Bulldog advantage to 6-3. State (26-14, 11-5) led Alabama (15-23, 2-14) the rest of the way.
“I’m at second base looking at Lovelady and I see him confident up there and he shoots the ball through a gap, then we have (Poole) shooting the ball through gaps," Gridley said.
Poole had a bigger day at the dish than any other Bulldog. He went 3-for-4 and drove in a run.
All the offense from MacNamee, Lovelady, Bragg and Poole served to support starting pitcher Konnor Pilkington on what was far from his best night. Pilkington (4-3) took the win, but labored through his 5 2/3 innings of work. The left-hander allowed five hits, five runs (four earned), four walks and struck out five.
“I was leaving the ball up and (Alabama) tagged a couple,” Pilkington said. “I try to keep the ball low in the zone, but I fell like I didn’t really do a good job of that. I just went out there and competed and we were able to come out with the win.”
Dylan Duarte (2-4) suffered the loss for the Crimson Tide.
The game went back and forth early on. Alabama cracked the scoreboard first when Chandler Taylor hit a solo homer off of Pilkington to lead off the second inning. State tied things up with a Poole RBI single in the bottom of the inning.
Cobie Vance put the Tide back in front with a run-scoring groundout in the top of the third, but again MSU answered with a pair of runs in the home half. Rooker tied the game when he came all the way around from first base to score on a throwing error following a Gridley bunt, then MacNamee gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead with a sacrifice fly.
Alabama responded by knotting the game at 3-3 in the fourth on an RBI double from Sam Finnerty.
“Both teams stood in the middle of the ring and threw punches back and forth,” Cannizaro said.
Fueled by the fifth-inning rally that put State up 6-3, MSU’s bullpen finally delivered the knockout blow. Alabama got to Pilkington and reliever Trey Jolly for a couple of runs in the top of the sixth, but Trysten Barlow, Riley Self and Spencer Price pitched a scoreless final 3 1/3 innings. Price notched his nation-leading 14th save by recording the game’s final two outs.
“We made some pitches there late and we were very fortunate to come out on the victorious end of things,” Cannizaro said.
State will look to add more wins today. In a schedule adjustment due to impending bad weather on Saturday, MSU will conclude its series with Alabama with a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m. today.
Cole Gordon will start on the mound for State in the first game of the twin bill, followed by Jacob Billingsley in game two. Gridley, who would’ve missed Saturday’s game had it been played on that day due to him attending his sister’s wedding, will instead now not miss any action.
As excited as Cannizaro is to have Gridley at the top of his lineup, he’s equally thrilled that, should Gridley get on, it’s starting to look like there are plenty of guys behind him to drive him in.
“You need as many weapons as possible to win games in the SEC,” Cannizaro said. “The top half of the order has done their share of damage. Now, I love that everyone else is getting better and better as well.”