HOOVER, Ala. – For eight innings, it looked like Mississippi State’s story would be one of missed opportunities. Heading into the ninth, the Bulldogs had left 11 men on base and had just two total runs to show for it.
But with the top of the lineup coming through in the top of the ninth and down 3-2, Mississippi State (36-22) had one last shot. Luckily, two of the best baseball players in the Southeastern Conference stepped in to spur a game-winning streak in the Bulldogs’ 4-3 win over Arkansas.
All-SEC first baseman Ryan Gridley fell behind 2-2 in the count, but singled to center field. That brought SEC player of the year Brent Rooker to the plate. Arkansas (39-16) subbed right-hander Cannon Chadwick just to face the .419 hitter. Rooker lived up to his billing and blasted a double to left center field. Gridley sped home and narrowly beat the ball to tie the game.
By that point, the Razorbacks’ bullpen was rattled. Outfielder Jake Mangum hit a single and Hunter Stovall was hit by a pitch to tie the bases. That brought Arkansas reliever Evan Lee to pitch against left fielder Cody Brown. Brown brought the pressure, going up 3-0 in the count. After a strike, Brown drew another ball and a bases-loaded walk to drive in the deciding run.
By every measurable, Mississippi State was the better team all morning. At one point, the Bulldogs were outhitting the Razorbacks 8-3, but still trailed on the scoreboard 3-1. The greatest missed opportunity came in the eighth inning.
The Bulldogs again loaded the bases with no outs by a combination of two fielding errors, a hit-by-pitch and single. Catcher Josh Lovelady grounded into a fielder’s choice, but the runner scored to tie the game at 3-3. Unfortunately, that’s all the Bulldogs could produce at that time. Luckily, it didn’t end up mattering.
Arkansas scored its runs on a two-run home run in the first inning and a series of hits in the second inning. After that, the Bulldogs’ pitchers were almost untouchable. Relievers Peyton Plumlee and Riley Self combined to throw five innings and give up just two hits.
Outfielder Elijah MacNamee led the Bulldogs with three hits and an RBI in five at-bats. Rooker and Gridley also added two hits each. Starter Denver McQuary allowed three runs in four innings pitched, all in the first two innings.
Now, Mississippi State has an even greater challenge. The Bulldogs will face 1-seed Florida in the next round of the tournament, but with some margin of error.
What’s next for Arkansas?
The Razorbacks have a rapid turnaround. Arkansas will play against 8-seed Auburn in an elimination at 4:30 p.m. ET today., or at the conclusion of the Missouri-South Carolina. It will be an intense showdown, as the loser of the game is out of the tournament.
What’s next for Mississippi State?
Mississippi State advances to the winner’s bracket and sets up a date with top-seeded Florida on Friday. The Gators are fresh off a narrow 5-4 win over 8-seed Auburn on Wednesday night after choking away a 4-0 lead. Perhaps, the Bulldogs might catch them at the right time.